By JONATHAN STEELE
BAGHDAD, May 6 (The Guardian)——American efforts to foist new rulers on the people of Iraq are becoming increasingly grotesque. In some cities US troops have sparked demonstrations by imposing officials from the old Saddam Hussein regime. In others, they have evicted new anti-Saddam administrators who have local backing.
They have mishandled religious leaders as well as politicians. In the Shia suburbs of Baghdad, they arrested a powerful cleric, Mohammed Fartousi al-Sadr, who had criticised the US presence. In Falluja, an overwhelmingly Sunni town, they detained two popular imams. All three men were released within days, but local people saw the detentions as a warning that Iraqis should submit to the US will.
The Pentagon's General Jay Garner has taken an equally biased line in his plans for Iraq's government. He held a conference of 300 Iraqis in Baghdad last week and excluded almost every group which has an organized following.
In a Freudian slip at a recent press conference, Donald Rumsfeld smugly explained democracy as a competition in which rival politicians try to "garner support". His message in Iraq looks like the opposite - Operation Support Garner. Otherwise, you are cut out.
Washington's failure to hold broad-based consultations at central and local levels is provoking resistance, sometimes armed. In response, US troops have used excessive force, further raising tensions. Ten people died in Mosul when soldiers fired at crowds of protesters on successive days in mid-April. In Falluja the death toll from American shootings over two days last week was at least 16.
The massacre in Falluja was symptomatic. The town was quiet for two weeks after Iraqi troops and local Ba'ath party leaders fled. The imams halted the looting and got much of the stolen property returned. A new mayor arranged for schools to re-open and persuaded police to return to work. Then the Americans arrived, arrested imams, put up roadblocks and occupied a school - all without prior discussion with local leaders.
They seemed to be working from a one-size-fits-all Pentagon textbook. First "liberate", then move in and provide policing whether people want it or not. In Baghdad there were indeed security problems after Saddam's forces vanished, and many residents asked why US forces did so little to halt the looting of key buildings. Having failed initially there, the US over-compensated elsewhere. It came down too hard in Falluja and other cities where people did not want a US hand.
The contrast with Afghanistan is sharp. For months Afghans pleaded for the US to deploy international peacekeepers beyond Kabul to cities where warlords held sway or were fighting for power. The US refused, either for fear of taking casualties or because of lack of interest in a poor country once its anti-western regime was toppled.
In Iraq, where there are no warlords and people feel they have the expertise to run the country themselves, the US insists on moving in and staying.
It has excluded Iraq's best-known forces from consultations on forming a central government. The Islamic Da'wa party, which was founded in 1957 and suffered repression under Saddam in the early 1980s, was not invited. Nor was the Iraqi Communist party, which also lost thousands of its activists in the old regime's prisons. Both opposed the US attack. The communists are weaker than they once were, as a result of decades of propaganda that they reject Islam. But they are part of the Iraqi spectrum which needs to be recognised.
Washington's biggest omission is its refusal to make overtures to Iraq's clergy. The Shia Muslims in particular are enjoying a strong revival and cannot be pushed aside. There are family and other rivalries between the main groups. The al-Hakim family, which founded the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq after escaping to Iran 20 years ago, now faces criticism for going into exile. It has a volatile policy towards the US, sometimes meeting officials, sometimes denouncing them. The al-Sadr family, which stayed in the sacred city of Najaf, is gaining ground. Both groups must be brought into discussions on the future.
It is not too late for the United Nations to play a role. There is no need for foreign troops. Iraqis have shown a high degree of post-war unity and can provide their own security. The much-predicted clashes of Sunnis v Shi'ites, or Kurds v Arabs have not happened.
But the UN should come in, with a short-term mandate, to convene a genuinely representative conference of Iraqis which would choose an interim government and an assembly to draft a constitution. Only the UN can give legitimacy and impartiality to this process. Instead of supporting Washington as Mike O'Brien, the Foreign Office minister, did when he joined Gen Garner in co-chairing last week's highly selective meeting of Iraqi politicians, Britain should work with the security council to give the UN the same kind of government-brokering role as it had in post-war Afghanistan.
Source: The Guardian