Friday, December 03, 2004

Elections

In two months, elections are scheduled to take place in Iraq. What will they bring? Two recent articles offer interesting perspectives into this questions.

From counterpunch.com, Ron Jacobs offers some conspiracy-like theories regarding recent assassinations of Sunni clerics who want elections postponed. He alleges these people were assassinated either by Allawi or by the US ambassador John Negroponte, reasoning "only if Allawi and his circle can maintain some kind of dominant role in the 'elected' Iraqi government that Washington will be able to achieve its primary goals in Iraq."1 Jacobs offers no evidence for this claim beyond claiming that Negroponte used similar measures while ambassador to Honduras, so I am not inclined to believe these allegations. Nevertheless, his point that the US has historically used extremely nefarious and counterproductive means to prop up governments it can control is well taken. If Iraq is to be a viable nation in the future, the US must re-examine if the ends justify the means. If free elections occur in Iraq and the US does not allow the elected government to dictate policy, then the situation in Iraq will become even worse.

Juan Cole, writing in Electronic Iraq, also discusses the elections. He outlines how they will never be successful without full participation by the three major groups in Iraq. If Sunnis do not participate in the framing of a new constitution, then any new government will never be legitimate. If Sunnis boycott the elections, Shiites will have a disproportionately large control of the political process, Sunnis will object, and the insurgency will not stop. He writes, "It isn't that the government is elected that lends stability, but rather widespread acceptance of the government's legitimacy. The Sunnis are unlikely to grant that if they end up being woefully underrepresented. And then you will just have to reconquer Fallujah again next year."2

The US and Iraqi government need to find some way to convince everyone to join the political process. I do not believe, however, that additional troops are the answer. Escalating the military presence to 150,000 will do nothing to secure the region. Sunni cleric Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, according to Juan Cole, asserted "that there can be no legitimate elections under the shadow of foreign occupation."2 This statement's implications are profound, since compliance with it would require that the US leave Iraq in tatters, which does not seem like a viable option. On the otherhand, imagine if elections were held in the US with armed troops from a country you despised were on every corner. Would we consider elections under such conditions legitimate?

1Ron Jacobs. Elections and Death Squads: The Mysterious Murders of the ASM Clerics. Counterpunch.com. November 27, 2004. <http://www.counterpunch.com/jacobs11272004.html>
2Juan Cole. Dead Wrong on the Iraqi Elections. Electronic Iraq, 3 December 2004. <http://electroniciraq.net/news/1740.shtml>

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hope or hopelessness?

From what I have heard by speaking with my friends here at school, many of us here are none too optimistic regarding Iraq's future. We hope for the best. Most of us have our own ideas about how the US and Iraq's interim government should handle Iraq's problems; some believe nothing will help. But how do Iraqis feel? Are they hopeful for the future or resigned to conditions as bad as ever?

A recent Washington Post article sheds light on the outlook of some in Sadr City.1 The article begins with contrasting images. Images of hopelessness (mile-long lines at the gas station, streets covered in sewage, "carcasses of cars") juxtapose with images of boys playing soccer and people praying. Living in Sadr city was never pleasant during Saddam Hussein, but it appears little has changed despite the US's pledge to spend $330 million fixing up the area. The author describes the area as dispirited and hopeless. One Sadr City resident describes the city as a corpse: "Whatever you do to make it beautiful, the body is still dead."

Will elections change the course of these people's lives and give them hope instead of despair? Some believe such a step is possible, while others do not expect elections will change anything. Many wait to see what will happen. Personally, I imagine elections will fail as a panacea to all Iraq's ills. More than elections are required to make a country prosperous and safe. The Shi'a clerics preaching in Sadr city do not focus on elections. Paramount in their sermons are demands for the US to leave, and they will support nearly anyone who works towards this goal.1 The US has gotten itself into an incredibly difficult situation by miscalculations from the beginning. How we can extricate ourselves from this mess remains a mystery, and I do not believe elections will be the solution.

Recent reports by NBC when a soldier shot a badly wounded insurgent for no reason other than that he was pretending to be dead will further galvanize the Iraqi people against the United States' presence. I imagine many Iraqis have already been exposed to the problems and tragedies that accompany any large military operation, and the widespread news coverage regarding this incident and of the invasion in Falluja will make them dislike the US even more. Another article in The Washington Post describes this concept.2 Using the memoirs of Lawrence of Arabia to gain insight into guerilla warfare, the author explains that the key ingredient to a successful insurgency is psychological support from the population at large. Lawrence of Arabia understood that and used it to his advantage. The US military, evidently arrogant to the extreme, has only recently recognized this principle. He reports: "In recent months the Army and Marines have radically altered their tactics, abandoning many that alienated the Iraqi population. It remains to be seen whether those changes will be too little too late." My guess? No US presence, especially as an occupying force, will ever be tolerated in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

1Anthony Shadid. The Washington Post. From an Iraqi Pulpit, Prayers and Politics; Shiite Clerics Give Voice to Urban Poor. November 20, 2004.
2Thomas E. Ricks. The Washington Post. Lessons of Arabia. November 26, 2004.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

State of Emergency

State of emergency...martial law...

These are ominous words. Ayad Allawi claims to be sending a message to insurgents that his government is "serious." Such a declaration certainly does send a message, but it may not have the effect Allawi intends. To issue martial law as a mechanism to have free and legitimate elections does not make a lot of sense to me. It is difficult for democracy to blossom without proper cultivation, care, and nourishment. Do Iraqis have a sense of political culture, which demands rights and freedom? Will they be successful in holding their leaders accountable, or will the old patterns of patronage and elitism reassert themselves? With the massive sums of money flowing through the country from oil revenues, some serious thought about the future is needed. While such debate is critical, especially before elections, is it even possible if the country is under martial law? It is not the type of environment conducive to democracy, and democracy demands that certain conditions exist before it will work. Without these requirements, democracy will fail. I believe the leaders of Iraq and their American advisors are, albeit inadvertently, setting democracy up for failure.

To further hurt democracy's chances, prevalent government corruption has blighted Iraq for years, and the current government may not be free of corruption either. While their rhetoric is sensational and may not be based in any kind of truth, a recent radio address by the "Voice of the Mujahidin" on November 15 denounces the government's announcement of a state of emergency and urges action against governmental corruption.1

Many people in Iraq wonder what the future will bring. Are they hopeful or cynical? Will they participate in a democratic process, unlike anything Iraq has witnessed? Measures must be taken to facilitate democracy before it can succeed. Declaring a state of emergency is a step in the wrong direction and may indicate that attempts at real democracy are premature. I am not suggesting elections should be delayed, but there should certainly be a strong and viable backup plan if the upcoming elections are not perceived as legitimate by the majority of Iraqis.

1IRAQI RADIO URGES ACTION TO COMBAT CORRUPTION. BBC Monitoring. November 15, 2004. http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/document?
_m=2ff34381f19961848494beeb1cd3b045&_docnum=2&wchp=dGLb
Vtb-zSkVb&_md5=d0e5fb186bcfd151b1c14bf379eb36c8

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Questionable intentions for invasion

As I have been reading more about recent history in the middle east from the Cleveland textbook, I have of course taken note of the US's role and tried to compare its past influence in the region to the recent invasion of Iraq. What I have discovered is that I still do not fully understand why we went to war. In the seventies and eighties, the Cold War dominated US policy. It is tempting to use 9/11 to explain American presence in Iraq, but I do not accept this as a reason. It is also tempting to argue that bringing Saddam Hussein to justice is a worthy result of the war. Recent articles in The Guardian have seriously questioned these too reasons/justifications for the war in Iraq, and I think it is worth exploring these articles.

Many maintain that one positive consequence of the war in Iraq is the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the possibility of allowing those whom he oppressed to try him in a court of law. Bringing leaders like Hussein who have committed horrendous crimes is a just and important responsibility, but unfortunately this task is far from a priority for American forces in Iraq. The Guardian reports that key evidence that could be used to convict Saddam Hussein was lost by occupation forces. Documents were looted and mass graves destroyed. Human Rights Watch describes the behavior of American personnel as alarming negligence.1 I believe a smart American leadership that really intended to improve Iraq and help move it past the problems it faces would take steps to ensure it could make a convincing argument in a legal setting that the previous leadership was inhumane. Perhaps this formality is not important for Iraqis, who probably know all they need to know about their former dictator, but I still think it is a good idea, for now and for the future. For some reason the Bush administration does not seem entirely committed to this approach, even though it would be in their best interests politically.

Another leading explanation for the war in Iraq is that the country was a safe-haven for terrorists, it might supply them with weapons, and it was a dangerous and unstable element in the Middle East. It is clear that Iraq is very dangerous today, but is it more dangerous to the world now or before, when Saddam Hussein was in power? The very fact that I am asking such a question may indicate the nefarious intentions of the Bush administration. If the goal was to make Iraq a less dangerous place, how is it possible that they have failed so miserably? A recent article in The Guardian discusses this failure: "Shortly after the invasion, when US troops were busy protecting Iraq's oil ministry and pipelines, Greenpeace reported that not one soldier was guarding Tuwaitha, a nuclear research base near Baghdad with nuclear equipment that had also been sealed by inspectors."2 The implication from the article is clear: oil stakes, not stopping terrorism, was the real point of the war. I find it extremely alarming that such claims are not written off as conspiracy theories and in fact may be better reflections of the truth than our own government's portrayal of the war.

1Richard Norton-Taylor. The Guardian (London). Missing evidence could foil Saddam prosecution, claims report. November 4, 2004.
2Richard Norton-Taylor. The Guardian (London). Comment & Analysis: Analysis: Axis of failure: The war in Iraq has realised Tony Blair's worst fear: the creation of another country where terrorists can easily find weapons of mass destruction. November 3, 2004

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Disbanding Iraqi Institutions

This journal entry represents my thoughts from articles I read two weeks ago, which I did not record since it was a busy week.

Two recent articles in The San Jose Mercury News and the New York Times have criticized the United States' actions immediately following its victory in Iraq, specifically targeting Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi military and to fire most Baath party officials, including teachers and low-level civil administrators.

In The New York Times, Michael Gordon reports that Major General Petraeus, then commander of the 101st Airborne, questioned the decision to "abolish the Iraqi Army and to forgo paying 350,000 soldiers." Gordon wrote, "General Petraeus said that the decision to leave the soldiers without a livelihood had put American lives at risk." Left without jobs, former Iraqi soldiers contributed to the roughly 60 percent of unemployed Iraqis, and with progress slow to rebuild the Iraqi military, many joined the budding insurgency.

General Patraeus' statements represent a strong condemnation of US policy. Bremer's administration, however, defended its actions, maintaining that disbanding the army was integral to remove corruption and make the army acceptable to ethnic groups like the Kurds.1 Given the history of the Iraqi military, such arguments are compelling.

I question how loyal the Iraqi military would be to the United States. Nevertheless, considering the problems the US has encountered, some measures to leverage existing institutions in Iraq probably would have been a good idea.

An October 19 article in The Mercury News reports similar problems. It reports the following:

A comprehensive Knight Ridder review of the 14-month U.S.-led occupation and interviews with more than three dozen current and former U.S. officials and military commanders identified some of the major mistakes:

• Disbanding the Iraqi army.
• Purging tens of thousands of former Baath Party members from the government, many of whom had joined the party only to feed their families, instead of rooting out only Saddam's most loyal henchmen.
• Failing to restore public services and underestimating the mammoth task of rebuilding Iraq's shattered economy.
• Waiting too long to recognize the gravity of the insurgency, then reacting at times with excessive force that caused numerous civilian casualties, broke cultural taboos and turned Iraqis against the U.S.-led occupation.2

Removing Baath Party members, despite their possible complicity in Hussein's regime, hurt Iraq. These people ran Iraqi institutions. When the US removed these institutions and failed to provide replacements in any sort of reasonable timeframe, looting, power failures, chaos, and armed insurgency resulted. Faced with a stark reduction in the comforts of life, many Iraqi's opinion of the US hit alltime lows. The Mercury News reports, "on June 28, 80 percent of Iraqis wanted the Americans to leave...."2

If US policies had been successful, I am sure I would applaud them as respectable plans founded in values that leave no room for collaboration with a brutal dictatorship. With the utter failure of these policies, however, such a hardnosed approach indicates a severe miscalculation on the part of US officials regarding the needs of Iraqi citizens.

1Gordon, Michael R. Debate Lingering on Decision to Dissolve the Iraqi Military. The New York Times. October 21, 2004.
2Jonathan S. Landay, John Walcott, Joseph L. Galloway and Warren P. Strobel. U.S. blunders offset war victory. San Jose Mercury News. October 19, 2004. http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/2004/
10/19/news/9956461.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Perceptions

One of the most fascinating aspects of this week's reading, lectures, and section regard the perceptions the people in the Middle East have towards foreigners. The article on Egyptian nationalism1 describes how Egyptians saw the British as greedy foreigners interested only in exploiting Egypt. After such abuse, Egyptians were eager to free themselves of British influence and quick to group with other Egyptians, even if nationalism itself would not solve their problems.

I wonder how much of this same sentiment exists in Iraq today. President Bush would like us to believe that Iraqis are happy Saddam Hussein is not in power, and that is the end of the story. I imagine most Iraqis are pleased that their country is not ruled by a dictator, but recent news stories and editorials indicate that they are as displeased with foreign presence as the Egyptians of the late 19th century.

One such editorial is by Robert Fisk2 from counterpunch.com. Towards the end of the article, he comments on the American military and how some Iraqis may perceive it. He writes, "The Americans have a professional army in Iraq, but it is becoming frighteningly casual about the way it kills women and children in Fallujah, simply denying that its air strikes are killing the innocent, and insists that all 120 dead in their Samarra operation are all insurgents when this cannot possibly be true." He goes on to say that Iraq is so unsafe reporters "can scarcely travel in Iraq..." Who would want to live in a place where soldiers can kill you if they believe you are an insurgent? Who would want to live in a place where reporters, even with the resources and courage typical of such people, are too scared to go? If such conditions continue, Iraqis will grow more and more upset with a foreign presence, which they may blame for all the country's problems.

On October 16, The Guardian reported another reason why Iraqis might question the intentions of foreigners in their country. The article reports that on October 21, Iraq will pay $200 million in war reparations--reparations Saddam Hussein's regime was forced to pay after its invasion of Kuwait.3 I am no expert on how such matters are handled, but it seems inconceivable to me that a war-torn nation which just accepted a $437 million loan from the IMF would be paying reparations. Even the United States and Britain receive portions of these reparation payments ($68.9 million). This defies common sense as far as I am concerned, and I imagine many Iraqis would find this news equally disturbing. In another article, The Guardian reports that former US Secretary of State James Baker "has been touring the world demanding debt relief on behalf of President Bush." The article continues by pointing out that Baker is a member of the Carlyle Group, which allegedly "offered a confidential deal to use its political influence to collect a $27bn (£15bn) debt owed by Iraq to Kuwait, despite US pleas for debt forgiveness from other countries."4 Consequently, Baker has a considerable personal stake in reparation payments from Iraq and has absolutely no business in being the US's chief spokesman in arguing for debt relief. With news like this, if I were an Iraqi I would be furious and would want foreigners with such nefarious motives out of my country as fast as possible. Even if all foreigners had nothing but the best intentions for Iraq, I believe it would be exceedingly difficult to convince Iraqis of this, especially given the Middle East's history in relation to foreign presences.

1Zachary Lockman. The Social Roots of Nationalism: Workers and the National Movement in Egypt, 1908-19. Middle Eastern Studies #4, Vol 24, Oct 1988.
2Robert Fisk. Iraq Disaster Will Haunt Future Generations. Counterpunch. October 11, 2004. http://counterpunch.com/fisk10112004.html
3Naomi Klein. Why is war-torn Iraq giving $190,000 to Toys R Us?. The Guardian. October 16, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5040740-103550,00.html
4David Leigh. Carlyle pulls out of Iraq debt recovery consortium. The Guardian. October 15, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5039939-103550,00.html.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Iraqi discontent and Turkish aspirations

According to an October 7 article from Al Jazeera1, some Iraqis (their identity is not mentioned) may sue the United States over the legitimacy of its invasion of Iraq. They cite a report by Charles Duelfer, the chief US weapons inspector in Iraq, which states that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction at the time of the invasion, and that Iraq was actually becoming less of a threat as time passed, instead of a greater threat as President Bush claimed. The Iraqis are demanding an apology and a withdrawal of US forces, calling the war illegitimate.

These Iraqis are voicing many of the same concerns raised by Westerners, which I brought up last week. According to this article, some in Iraq view the US invasion as an imperial bid, strategically planned by Mr. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, among others. This assertion, even if untrue, has profound implications on the perceptions of Iraqis towards the United States and helps to explain their resistance to US presence.

An October 7 article from the San Jose Mercury News, titled "Inspector: No sign of Iraqi stockpiles," gives more detail on the same topic. It describes how sanctions in Iraq were effective in preventing Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction. The most interesting part of the article describes Hussein's reasons for being secretive about his weapons program: "But Duelfer concluded that Saddam's efforts to mislead the United Nations and the West about his illicit weapons were aimed mostly at deterring Iran, his arch rival."

I find this statement startling. Saddam Hussein viewed Iran as a greater threat to his regime than the United States! In retrospect this seems crazy, but from a historical perspective he had sound reasons for this belief. I look forward to studying the interaction between Iraq and Iran to better understand this.

On a different subject, recent news reports indicate Turkey is moving closer to eventually joining the European Union. The BBC reports, in an article titled "EU paves way for Turkey to join",2 that Brussels has recommended talks begin on the admission of Turkey to the EU. For the predominantly Christian and wealthy European Union, the addition of a large, relatively poor, and mostly Muslim country like Turkey would be a huge change. The EU commission cites Turkey's strides towards democracy and improved concern with human rights as strong steps towards admission to the Union. I imagine there will be much debate in the future on this topic, especially considering the prejudice some Europeans hold towards Turks. The BBC article also mentions that some in Europe are concerned that with admission to the EU, Turks would flock across the border to wealthier countries. I imagine Turkey will have to reach more of an economic parity with the rest of Europe before it is offered admission to the EU. Nevertheless, this move shows how Europe will likely strongly impact the future of the Middle East and vice-versa.

Footnotes:
1http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/
2E5CE52A-F5CE-433A-9F9F-3AA603B6F0DF.htm

2http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/3719052.stm

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Britain ready to send more troops for Iraq election: Fears grow for safety of civil engineer kidnapped in Baghdad

comments on article from September 18, 2004's The Times (UK).

While the title of this article concerns future troop deployment to Iraq and the fate of a kidnapped British subject, it actually mainly discusses the British government's release of "secret papers" created before the beginning of the Iraq war. The contents and implications of these reports by senior officials in the British government bring up several key questions vital to the future discussion of the war in Iraq.

I intend this journal (Blog) to be a weekly discussion of news stories regarding the Middle East, with a focus on Iraq. The news article from The Times referenced above serves as an ideal introduction to some of the issues I currently find interesting and important in Iraq, including the questionable reasons for going to war, the uncertainty of what to do after victory, and the demands placed on the United States (and Britain) because of the war.

Unfortunately the article is entirely vague about the source or identity of the "secret papers" it mentions, but the unknown authors of these reports were particularly insightful regarding the possible problems the US and UK would face in Iraq. To begin, The Times reports that senior officials warned Blair that British forces would have to stay for "many years" to establish a reliable state in Iraq. Having just finished reading how the Entente powers divided up the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, this statement struck me as particularly troubling. With no strategy to leave Iraq in a timely fashion, I wonder how much the situation today differs from the situation in 1919. While today the US and the UK may not have quite the same sort of imperial designs on the Middle East, the effects of the war and the problems bringing stability to the region may not be all that much different from the challenges after the First World War. I know this is a simplistic way to think about the wildly different problems that exist today, but it might still be helpful in thinking about the potential ramifications of the war.

Connected with this thought is the report's assertion that no one knew what would happen when Saddam fell from power. Obviously, no one could know for sure, but it seems like no one even had a plan to deal with taking over once the Bath party fell apart. Ideally Iraq would transition quickly and efficiently to a Democratic system, but that seems unlikely given the history of the country. The report goes on to say that "Iraq has no history of democracy," which should suggest to anyone that the installation of a democracy would be a laborious, expensive project. Given what I imagine to be a lack of a strong political culture accustomed and committed to the notion of ruling itself, it is no surprise that the upcoming elections are in serious peril.

Finally, the report brings up the fundamental problem I have with the war in Iraq: the reasons for war. The article says the authors of the report have "'real problems' over what Mr Bush was seeking to achieve in overthrowing Saddam, since nothing had happened in recent years to make WMD more of a threat." This sentence evokes the greatest problem I have to understanding the current war. If one accepts that the US and UK went to war to prevent Saddam from using or obtaining WMD, then it becomes possible to understand why there are so many problems in Iraq today. If WMD were the primary reason for war, then it is slightly more understandable why plans to manage the victory were so sorely neglected. If the reason for war was to remove Saddam from power and make Iraq a better place, then the absence of any plans for the victory is complety inexcusable. That is the reason I find President Bush's assertions that Iraq is better off today because of the war so disturbing. Equally disturbing is the implication from the statement above that even senior officials in the Blair administration were also not entirely sure why President Bush and the United States wanted to invade Iraq.

Next week I hope to focus on the effects of the war for the people of Iraq, and hopefully address some of the points raised above in that context.