Washington’s freshly minted plans for Iraq are fragmenting as soon as they begin to take shape. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan torpedoed the Bush administration’s draft resolution before it was tabled at the Security Council. Annan said he could not send UN staff - who has been withdrawn - back into Iraq unless the world body is in charge of reconstruction and the restoration of Iraqi rule. Following the devastating truck bombing at the UN headquarters and a foiled attempt in the UN parking lot, Annan made it clear that he was not willing to risk the lives of UN humanitarian workers as long as Iraq was run by an increasingly unpopular US occupation regime. Furthermore, Annan will not appoint a replacement for the UN special envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the August attack, until the UN is in charge and can put some distance between its operations and the occupation regime.
France, Russia, China, three permanent council members, and Germany, its current president, took their cue from adamant Annan and rejected the US draft, saying it did not provide for the transfer of responsibility in Iraq to the UN. This means that the Bush administration is unlikely to secure either significant troop contributions from other countries, to bolster and replace overstretched US forces, or substantial funding for reconstruction from the European Union. Until Annan took his firm stand, all four powers had been wobbling.
Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the Iraqis should quickly name a commission to draw up a new constitution so that its text could be submitted for approval to the populace in six months time. Thereafter, a new government could be elected and the occupation administration could be dissolved, leaving Iraqis - presumably friendly to the US - to rule Iraq. Iraq’s US-appointed Governing Council, which advocates a rapid transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, responded by saying that a constitution cannot be rushed.
A 25-member committee of experts appointed two months ago has been trying, without success, to come up with a formula for a constitutional commission or assembly. The committee, which mirrors the sectarian composition of the Governing Council itself (13 Shiites, five Sunnis, five Kurds, one Christian and one Turkoman), is divided by disputes not only over the make-up of the commission but also over how delegates are to be selected. Are they to be appointed or elected?
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the supreme Shiite cleric in the country, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) to the effect that the constitutional body should be elected. He also insisted that a census should be taken so that the Shiites - who claim to be 60-65 per cent of the populace - can assume a dominant role in the future government. Some Sunnis, the community which formerly dominated the political scene, strongly favour a census because they argue that the Shiites do not constitute such a large majority. Other Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and Turkomen fear that if Shiites are given a democratic choice, they will impose an authoritarian Shiite clerical regime on Iraq, based on the Iranian model. As an alternative to elections, Sunni council members proposed that the selection of the constitutional assembly be conducted at district level in the country’s 18 provinces. This has been rejected by the Shiites.
Deadlock on the election issue is not the only problem. There is also a tussle between Arab Iraqis, who want a strong central government, and the Kurds, who want the country to have a federal constitution which will preserve the large degree of autonomy they have enjoyed in the north over the past decade. An Iraqi academic based in Washington has proposed leaving aside the contentious issue of the constitution and proposed the early election of a provisional government which would work out an acceptable formula for the constitutional commission or assembly. The drafting of the constitution, he said, could take several years. Meanwhile, sovereignty would be restored to a recognised Iraqi government, the US occupation regime could yield power and US troops could gradually cede responsibility for security to the Iraqi police and armed forces. If adopted, this plan would supplant the seven steps to Iraqi self-rule laid by the US chief administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, who strongly defends his right to rule and tolerates no interference from Iraq’s interim Governing Council or Cabinet.
Handing power to the Shiites under a new “democratic” constitution was the central pillar of the US-engineered plan to rebuild Iraq. This pillar has already been toppled by Sunnis, secular Shiites, Kurds and others who are determined to block the transformation of Iraq into a Shiite Islamic republic. Having promised the Shiites so much, the US could alienate them by failing to deliver democratic dominance. Angry, frustrated Shiites - who have not taken up arms against the occupation - could then join the Sunni secular and religious resistance, rendering the US military occupation untenable.
Reports are now appearing on a daily basis in the quality US press about the unhealthy and perhaps illegal financial connections between members of the Bush administration and US multinationals - Halliburton and Bechtel - and other firms. To make matters worse, major US contractors for reconstruction projects are not restoring the electricity or rebuilding destroyed, looted or damaged infrastructure. Bremer is awarding contracts which are costing the US taxpayer millions without any transparency or accountability. Last month, The New York Times reported, he approved a contract to buy $20 million worth of new revolvers and Kalashnikov rifles for the Iraqi police, at a time the US army was finding large numbers of these weapons at abandoned arsenals. Last week, the Governing Council “challenged” Bremer’s decision to pay Jordan $1.2 billion to train 35,000 Iraqi police, at a time France and Germany had offered to do this for free.
An Iraqi woman blogger wrote last month that her cousin, a structural engineer who had built bridges in Iraq for the past 17 years, was asked to estimate the cost of repairing the Dyala bridge in southeast Baghdad. He said that the cost would be $300,000 for plans, labour and materials. The cousin had worked on 20 of the 100 bridges rebuilt by the former regime after the 1991 war, so he was very well aware of local costs and conditions. A US company was awarded the contract on a bid of $50 million. If this level of overpricing continues, the appropriation of $20.3 billion the Bush administration has made for reconstruction will not go very far. Congress is investigating.
Finally, the Bush administration all too clearly expected to find banned weapons of mass destruction, which it used as its justification for war. But after six months of scouring Iraq for weaponry, remnants of old programmes and proof of new developments, US inspectors have failed to find what they were looking for. Even the recently appointed David Kay, a former UN inspector who became chief of the new operation, has not been able to turn up much of anything but the “detritus” the former head of the UN inspectorate, Hans Blix, spoke some weeks ago. A man very eager to please the Bush administration, Kay is now seen as a great disappointment. Having invested $300,000 without result, the administration is proposing to spend another $600,000 chasing the illusion of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
George Bush and his neoconservative warriors waged their campaign in Iraq in the expectation of four more years in the White House. But with approval ratings sinking on a weekly basis, it looks as though Bush may lose his bid for a second term, particularly if the anarchy in Iraq persists and US voters see their dollars go down the drain and their sons and daughters die in vain.
Courtesy of The Jordan Times