The first anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq is later this month.
It might be a good idea to do some stock-taking and to see what lies in store for the Iraqi people, for the United States and its allies, and for Iraq’s neighbors. Such an exercise would be useful for determining how events in the Middle East, a turbulent region at the best of times, are likely to unfold and with what repercussions for the peace and stability of that vital oil-rich region.
Very few people, barring diehard Saddam Hussein loyalists, were unhappy to see the back of Saddam. His rule was tyrannical, brutal and unpredictable. But was he the threat that the Bush and Blair administrations touted him to be? Opinion in the United States continues to be divided among the neo-conservatives and their opponents.
The lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, despite the strenuous efforts of the chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay, cannot but be a huge political embarrassment to President Bush. His statements, along with those of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, about the imminent threat that Iraq posed to the national security of the United States have proven hollow. For the first time in his tenure, Bush’s approval ratings have dipped below 50 percent.
The front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., although having voted for waging war with Iraq in Congress, now appears poised to pose a serious challenge to Bush in November. The American electorate is quite forgiving of the peccadilloes of its leaders, but it does not like being given information that appears to be wrong in retrospect.
Bush and his advisers are putting on a brave face, but they are hard-pressed to regain a modicum of credibility with the American people, who will decide in November whether to anoint him for a further four years or send him packing to his ranch in Texas.
The situation in Iraq is somber. The Pentagon had been led to believe by Iraqi exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi, now a member of Iraq’s American-appointed governing council, that American soldiers would be greeted as liberators.
More than 500 U.S. soldiers have been killed during and after the Iraq war and about 5,000 wounded, which has given the lie to that fond expectation. Thousands of Iraqis have been killed or injured in the past year for cooperating with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Law and order in Iraq are a distant dream.
Just as Joseph Broz Tito had kept a lid on Yugoslavia among its rival ethnic and religious groups, the dictator Saddam had kept Iraq from imploding through a combination of terror and brutality. With Saddam gone, it seems that the pent-up emotions of the Iraqis have surfaced with a vengeance.
The American occupation troops and those of its allied contingents have been unable to restore stability and order in a fractious country replete with opposing agendas: Shiite versus Sunni, Kurd versus Arab, Saddam remnants versus the Iraqi Governing Council. The Bush administration, after having sidelined and punished the United Nations for not sanctioning military intervention in Iraq, is calling upon the U.N. to help return Iraq to democratic civilian rule.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is understandably hesitant to reintroduce the United Nations into Iraq. The United Nations is not popular among many Iraqis for being the instrument that delivered the decade-long draconian regime of sanctions that brought misery and suffering to common Iraqis. Having lost one of his ablest international civil servants, Sergio Vieria di Mello, in August to a suicide attack, Annan cannot afford to put the prestige and credibility of the United Nations on the line again.
Based on the report of Lakhdar Ibrahimi, his newly appointed trouble-shooter for Iraq, Annan has reported that elections for a National Assembly will not be possible before the end of 2004.
The United States has announced that power will be transferred to the Iraqis by June 30. But to whom? Various formulas and proposals are under consideration.
Washington remains keen that it should transfer day-to-day affairs to a civilian authority, but whether this can be achieved by the self-imposed June deadline is far from clear.
If the civil war in Iraq does not abate — if American and Iraqi casualties continue to mount — the rationale and viability of Bush’s policy toward Iraq will come under increasing scrutiny and criticism. The best hope for the beleaguered Iraqis, for the United States, for the Middle East and for the international community is that there can be a peaceful transfer of power to an authority that is not seen as a U.S. puppet.
Also, a representative government should be established that takes into account the competing interests of the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. It is an enormously complicated and difficult undertaking, but all countries in the region and beyond have an enormous stake in returning Iraq to stability and peace.
The alternative — continuing chaos — is too horrible to contemplate. The last thing that the United States and its allies — the so called Coalition of the Willing — would want is to be stuck in Iraq without an exit strategy.
— S. Azmat Hassan is a former ambassador of Pakistan. He is a faculty associate at the Whitehead School of Diplomacy, Seton Hall University.
— From: The Daily Record, Morristown, NJ
— Published: May 7, 2004