In a move seemingly designed to infuriate Europeans and others suspicious of the motives of the United States in Iraq, the U.S. and Britain have told the Iraqi oppositions that plans to put in place an interim government led by the opposition groups have been put on hold “indefinitely.”
As _The New York Times_ reports, American proconsul L. Paul Bremer and British diplomat John Sawers told Iraqi political figures “that the allies preferred to revert to the concept of creating an ‘interim authority’ — not a provisional government — so that Iraqis could assist them by creating a constitution for Iraq, revamping the educational system and devising a plan for future democratic elections.”
Believe it or not, this is probably the best idea the Coalition has had since it decided to turn Iraq into the 51st state. Iraqis don’t want democracy right now. Well, they do, actually, but they want security a whole lot more. And they want economic development. Hemin Sultan, one of my translators in Arbil, told me that given a choice between democracy and jobs, the Iraqi people would take jobs. And he’s a Kurd in the relatively prosperous part of the country! There’s no widespread looting in Iraqi Kurdistan, nor are there roving militias claiming turf and threatening to turn that part of the country into a 21st century Lebanon.
This also sends the reassuring signal to the region that the United States is in this for a longer haul than some imagined. It’s exactly the opposite what happened in Afghanistan, in which America was so anxious to hand over power to the loya jirga and Afghanistan’s “government” that poor Harmid Karzai has been reduced to being the Mayor of some parts of Kabul instead of the president of his country.
This is a crucial signal to send, for if there’s one thing Iraq’s neighbors want to see _less_ than an extended U.S. presence in Iraq is a too hasty retreat that leaves the country shattered and refugees pouring into Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey. It will also send a message to the Kurds, so they don’t get the idea they can leverage their newly ascendent position in Iraq to wring _de facto_ independence from a weak interim government.
The story reports that Iraqi opposition figures (it doesn’t mention names) are “disappointed” over the United States’ reversal.
Opposition leaders were “very respectful” to Mr. Bremer and Mr. Sawers, a participant said, “but I think everyone was also pretty forceful about the need to have full sovereignty for the Iraqis.” A question they kept posing, he added, was, “Do you want to run this place, or should we?” …
Today’s decision was a disappointment for the former opposition forces and their supporters in the Pentagon and the Congress, where officials had been pressing for an early turnover of sovereign power to a government formed by the opposition groups.
Also of note is that this decision is a victory for Colin Powell’s State Department, which has been fighting a not-very-private war of its own with the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. State has _never_ trusted INC head Ahmed Chalabi, who is wanted in Jordan for fraud in connection to the collapse of Petra Bank. State has never liked the idea of turning Iraq quickly over to the fractious opposition, knowing full well it and not the Pentagon ultimately would be the department that would have to clean up whatever messes Chalabi and his cronies would leave.
This is second such victory by the State Department recently in this internecine war in the Bush administration. The first was the appointment of Bremer, who, while reporting to Rumsfeld, is a State Department man, having spent 23 years in the diplomatic corps before retiring as a diplomat-at-large for counter-terrorism in 1989.
(I hinted at something like this back in February, and while I was outraged then, I have to reluctantly admit that this is probably the best solution at the moment. Security must come first. Only by building the foundations of a civil society can democracy have a hope of withstanding the buffets of the region’s politics, and that foundation can’t be laid in a country dominated by militias, raping, pillaging and the probable plunder of the nation’s treasury by a cabal of corrupt exiles leading an impotent interim government.)
It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be from the neocons and other hawks at the Pentagon — including vice president Dick Cheney — who supported Chalabi and the Iraqi opposition throughout the 1990s. It will be even more interesting if Bremer can keep the United States’ eyes on the ball and still in the game.
I’m sure several readers have already pointed this out in the comments — I haven’t read them yet; I will! — but the obvious and better solution would be to turn Iraq over to the United Nations to be governed as a trust, sort of like Kosovo. This would have the added benefit of encouraging more countries to send peacekeeping troops, something few are doing now. This, however, would require the Bush administration to do the Right Thing, which it has proven remarkably adept at avoiding. And since waiting on the White House to come around to that point of view will lead to a lot of Iraqis being killed as the country falls into chaos, what is the better choice? I’m not advocating Bremer’s “Shoot the Looters on Sight” policy, but security, order and basic services must be established first and foremost before a crony-filled, puppet government is established.