The Looming Credibility Crisis of the IIG
BAGHDAD — Stumbled on an interesting story yesterday. It’s no secret that there are a lot of squatters in Baghdad who have taken over formerly government buildings. But what’s interesting is that after June 30, the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) is looking to take its property back under a Governing Council decision made back in January to reclaim all government property. This applies to all squatters, from poor families who live in the old Air Force building to the INC, which has taken over some of Baghdad’s prime real estate outside the Green Zone.
This goes to the heart of sovereignty and, more important, legitimacy. It’s one thing to challenge the power of a government with car bombs and suicide attacks. That’s a challenge that’s easily comprehended — and easily solved, frankly. Fight back, and you gain legitimacy. But what happens when a legal court issues an opinion that a family has no right to a room in a former ministry it has occupied since April 2003 because the original workers abandoned it? Now, enlarge the problem to include political party leaders who are members of the committee to choose the interim national assembly. What happens if they just, say, ignore the order? Who is going to enforce it? Who is going to force them out? The ICDC? The U.S. Army? In short, who will enforce the rule of law when the majority doesn’t respect it?
Last night I visited with Sayyid Ayud Jumaliddin, who took over Iraqi VP Izzat Al-Douri’s house shortly after the war. Jumaliddin was an advisor to L. Paul Bremer in the early days of his term, but quickly fell out with the Americans. Now, he’s on the committee to choose the interim national assembly — which means he will be in the new parliament when it’s seated — and bivouacked in a phat pad on the Tigris, complete with a garden, a Marsh Arab reed house and a mini-militia. Who is going to kick him out? Next door is the Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who also won’t take kindly to an eviction notice. And these guys are going to be part of the new ruling aristocracy! What is the general populace to take away when they’re forced from formerly Ba’athist apartments on Abu Niwass street on the Tigris while their neighbors — who have a lot of guns and can get audiences with the British ambassador — sit around smoking excellent Cuban cigars (in the case of Jumaliddin) and thumbing their noses at the law? And that’s not even mentioning the number of Saddam-era generals who have decamped to swank apartments formerly held by government officials. Their location? Scattered throughout the Green Zone overlooking the trailer parks that currently house a large number of CPA workers.
Of course, the American presence in the Green Zone and at the Republican Palace is kind of the ultimate squatter outside the law. No one knows when that property will be returned to the Iraqi government — if ever. And if not, what kind of rent will be paid? The new government desperately needs to establish itself by reclaiming what is rightfully its property. But it doesn’t have the muscle to force people out and if it calls on foreign militaries to help it out, it looks weak to the people, further undermining its own legitimacy. What to do?
A big part of the problem is the relationship of Iraqis to the idea of government. They’re kind of like Texans taken to an extreme in their anti-governmental feelings. For 1,400 years, with only one recent exception in the form of Abdul Kareem Qasim (1958-1963), Iraqis have felt like their governments are an enemy, according to Jumaliddin, and fiercely resisted them.
“People hate the government and anything that belongs to the government,” he said as peacocks wandered among the date palms and the Tigris bubbled behind us. “Therefore, we have a long history of hating the government or the leaders.”
This is reflected in my driver’s attitude toward the new government. He hates it. He thinks they’re all thieves. How does he know this?
“I don’t know,” said S., “but I don’t like them.” (Here he shrugs.) “They are bad men.”
The land that produced the first code of laws has come to ridicule the idea that laws can govern a populace. It is the leaders who are the source of power, not the law. And to many in Iraq, the leaders now are outsiders and thieves, regardless of whether they’ve actually done anything to reinforce that opinion. (This is not to disparage S.’s judgment; he may be right in his opinion. My point is that he has no evidence to back up his claims other than his gut feeling.)
Is this the legacy of Saddam? Or was Saddam the product of the mindset?
This is a huge challenge in the New IraqÂ®, potentially more serious than any posed by Zarqawi or any other _bogeyman du jour_. The Iraqis I’ve become somewhat friendly with, including A. in the computer store where I buy my printer cartridges, all want someone to take control.
“We need strength,” said A. “We need the force to make people do what’s right.”
He’s referring to rumors that PM Allawi will institute emergency measures come July 1 in order to stabilize the country. That includes press restrictions, curfews, aggressive policing, etc. In effect, much of the same restrictions on civil liberties seen during the Saddam-era. I get the idea that most people wouldn’t mind it so much. At least it would be familiar.
But A.’s comment about using force really saddens me. And his mindset is part of the problem for establishing legitimacy for any new government here. In established democracies, the Law is more or less respected — not because people are particularly afraid of police thuggery or harsh punishment, but because the majority of people think it’s the just right thing to do in order to live their lives. Force isn’t required to _make_ everyone do what’s right (obey traffic laws, not shoot people, etc.); it’s required to _deal_ with those who have upset the public order. (Hm. Sounds a bit like preemptive war and defensive war, actually.)
In the middle of all this is the idea that justice is something to be administered personally, not by the hands of the judicial branch. For example, last week, six day drivers hired by the CPA to drive some trucks to Fallujah were murdered in that little Taliban-enclave. (This is legitimate resistance?) Anyway, today, their families turned up at the main Baghdad bus terminal and set every car from Fallujah on fire. Luckily no one was killed, but the families called for the head of the Fallujah imam who issued the fatwa used to justify the killings. The rule of law administered by a court system is meant to prevent this kind of thing. If Iraqis reject the Iraqi Interim Government as illegitimate, they will reject any court orders or verdicts that are handed down. And that way lies chaos.
I hope to have more on this later. But for now, the TIME Magazine project I spent the last week and a half researching is available “here”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040628-655426-1,00.html.