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US in for a long haul in Iraq?

By:Abul Kasim Islam

The US is likely in for a long long stay in Iraq.

Like it or not, the war was fought,and won. Coalition troops are not encountering much resistance at the approaches to Baghdad, nor, inside it. Claims of the Iraqi information minister notwithstanding, it is difficult to see Baghdad holding out for more than a week without running water or electricity. As in the Gulf war, hitting the water supply has been a part of the coalition strategy. Sad in one sense for the Iraqi population but the war is won faster this way and that, in itself, may be no small relief for a beleaguered people. What happened to those many who had crossed into Iraq from other parts of the Arab world, hoping to defend their native city? We do not know. But street fight or no street fight, no city can hold on for long without running water. Not even a city of desert dwellers.

With the war almost won, then, Bush and Rummy generate visions of the post-war regime. But, unlike Afghanistan, there are more trenches and hurdles and more opinions. Reconstruction is about aid to those ravaged by the conflict. But it is also about more--business to the reconstructors and strategic influence. And reconstruction is big money, especially where an entire oil industry needs a major overhaul and not merely reconstruction. Given that this is so, the US at least has hard headed horse-sense on its side when it says it wants the major role in the process. War is costly business and money should not go waste.

The US has already declared Lt.Gen Jay Garner as the interim chief of civil administration of Iraq. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) is scheduled to start operations from Tuesday. The OHRA has also decided on three administrative regions, two of which, the North and South are to be presided over by retired US generals while the central region would be under a former US ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine. The interim administration, we are told, will make way for an interim Iraqi leadership. The US, in opting for a all American setup at the top of the new administrative structure in Iraq, seems to be painfully aware of the realities on ground.

Political reconstruction, is a dangerous and risky task, especially in the middle east. A friendly regime in Iraq would be just the thing the US is looking for in a region where anti-US sentiments run high and where erstwhile friends, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seem to be getting more ambiguous by the day. In addition, there is the Palestinian question and Iran, the second altar in the President’s axis of evil. But the agenda of regime change is fraught with more problems. Iraq, unused to democratic institutions, cannot make a swift and sudden turn. And the sudden demise of a iron-fisted military regime has left in Iraq, a power vacuum that cannot be domestically filled. In other words, the political future of the Iraqis, short of having a country, is highly uncertain except, maybe, to the Americans.

Bringing in exiled elites as in Afghanistan, but it is doubtful that such elites would exercise any degree of real power over a population they have hardly ever been in touch it. The possibility that many Saddam loyalists would survive the coalition coup must give cause for excruciating concern.

One corollary of political “freedom” is the “freedom” to differ and oppose the government and it does not look like any new Iraqi regime would deal with opposition any differently than Saddam did. Even more, it does not help the war-cause to have a political opposition for quite some time to come. The only viable and politically stable system for Iraq would have been a multi-party democracy and the immediate logical step for that would have been an interim constitution. The US could have stayed on until a Iraqi government was functional and aided the transition to a democratic setup. However, democracy is dangerous. It creates fertile ground for breeding anti-US sentiments. It is also expensive. This is precisely why we may not see any real democracy in Iraq in the years to come.

With both Saudi Arabia and Turkey refusing to allow US attacks from their soil in the current war, the US might well like to build and retain military bases in Iraq for West Asian operations. Moreover, Iraq without Saddam would necessitate the containment of Iran. The Iranians are well capable of hosting a coup in Baghdad and installing an Iraqi Shiite regime. Also, Syria’s continued demand on reclaiming the Golan Heights remains a problem and a threat to Israel. With Turkey only too willing to cut off Kurdish territory, the situation in the North is highly volatile.

An October, 2002, Heritage Foundation research paper by Black Spring and Jack Spenser recommends that the US should concentrate on the securing of war aims in a post-war Iraq without getting bogged down in “nation building” or "peacekeeping”. One of the war aims that the authors of that paper envisage is the securing of America’s oil interests (read Halliburton Co.) in Iraq. It is difficult to see how either this, or the maintenance of a regional power balance ( another war aim they cite) would be possible without an active engagement by the US in the political sphere, in the establishment and protection of a regime that is not hostile to the United States.

The other side to the political process in post-war Iraq is the Kurdish question. There are significant Kurdish populations in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and it is well-known that all these countries are opposed to the securing of a separate Kurdish state in Iraq. However, the Kurds have been aiding the coalition forces and would surely expect some political leverage out of this. Used to an autonomous polity for the last decade when no-fly zones were aggressively established over Kurdish areas, the Kurds might at least want to retain regional autonomy. Also, ethnic strife between the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs seems a very real possibility. In the event where US soldiers make a complete withdrawal from post-war Iraq, even if it is not in the near future, internecine conflict may become more violent threatening the very objectives of the war-geopolitical strategic interests and access to Iraqi oil. The Kurdish question is made more complicated by the fact that Iran may actually be able to engage the Shies and Shiite exiles in Iran to battle the Kurds. The establishment of a Kurdish autonomous district in Iraq or even the political ascendancy of the Kurds in Iraq is likely to foster insomnia in Ankara.

America’s best bets for an Iraqi administration are the Shiite, Ahmed Chalabi and the Kurd leaders, Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani. Chalabi, a Western educated genteel Shia has been living in London since 1958. On the other hand, the Shiite clergyman, Ayatollah al-Hakim, now in Tehran, enjoys considerable support amongst the Shiites of Iran who make up around 60 percent of Iraq’s population. Al-Hakim is likely to be the greatest obstacle to a peaceful pro-American order in post-war Iraq. Head of the Council for Islamic revolution in Iraq, Al-Hakim enjoys the backing of the Iranian government and any post-war dispensation that excludes him might have to deal with an insurgency problem. That the SCIRI has a well-trained military wing, The Badr Brigade, can be no comfort to the Americans. The greatest challenge facing the Anglo-American coalition is the forging of an effective consensus in Iraq among its many politico-religious-ethnic groups. This includes, as we have seen, the Kurds, the Shiite Arabs and the Sunni Arabs who have so far been politically dominant. To a country that has not seen any governance except an iron-fisted cliquish regime, effective and peaceful power-sharing is likely to be a daunting task, a task whose challenge is compounded by the existence of rival militias. The establishment of a stable, modern, and responsible political authority in Iraq appears to be a tall order. And a stable political authority in Iraq is absolutely vital to achieveing the Anglo-American coalitions war aims.

About the Author

A frelenace data-analyst and Internet Researcher, Kasim has only recently taken to writing on the NET. he has a passion for international politics, especially South Asia and the Middle East.

Article Source: http://www.redsofts.com/articles/

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