10 July 2004

'Iraqi Sovereignty' or 'Arab Façade'?

By Ian Sinclair

The recent handover of 'full sovereignty' to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) begs too many questions.

Why would the west be pumping billions of dollars into the country and risking the lives of their armed forces for project Iraqi Freedom? Are we really that altruistic or is there an ulterior motive? The west imports most of its oil and Iraq just happens to have the world's second largest oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, our constant and ruthless ally in the oil business, is now threatened by instability. As former US Assistant Secretary of Defence Lawrence Korb said regarding the area in 1991 "If [it] grew carrots we wouldn't give a damn."

If we are helping to create a democratic and free Iraq why is the 'coalition' sending thousands more troops? South Korea, the UK and the US have pledged up to 10,000 this summer, bringing the total in Iraq to around 160,000 - there at the "request" of the IIG, apparently. Do they really need that many troops in a country which has been "liberated from tyranny"? Surely they should have been welcomed with "open arms" as the Bush Administration predicted. And why that many troops if, as pro-occupation politicians insist, the "terrorists" are a small minority comprised of former "Ba'ath party remnants" and "foreigner fighters"? In an agreement already made, the Coalition forces are exempt from prosecution in Iraq. Operating above the law of the land they will be free to commit any crime, torture or rape without fear of prosecution; only by their own governments.

Why, in a country liberated from tyranny is there now at least 4,000 to 5,000 Iraqis held in detention camps across the country without charge or legal representation? The dark shadow of Abu Ghraib and Saddam Hussein's feared secret police, originally recruited by the 'coalition', will continue to operate under the IIG. To further darken the picture the IIG, with the agreement of the US, is proposing the imposition of martial law - the calling card of every respectable Arab dictatorship. No prizes for guessing who the last person was to impose martial law on Iraq.

The oil revenues placed in trust for the Iraqi people are being spent on reconstruction contracts handed to mainly US firms. These contracts for reconstruction - running the oil industries, and privatizing water and electricity - were already signed off before the "handover of power".

Why, when the Iraqi people were polled and the majority chose Ayatollah Ali Sistani as their most popular leader has he been sidelined and Prime Minister Allawi been placed in power? Is it because the popular Sistani represents the Shia majority in Iraq and might create a powerful alliance with the Shia population in Iran - part of Bush's so called "axis of evil"?

Who is Allawi and how was he selected? Once a Ba'ath Party member, Allawi was exiled from Iraq in the 1970s and has been on the payroll of the CIA and MI6. He headed the CIA-funded Iraqi National Accord, which, we should not forget, was the source for the discredited claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Originally the members of the IIG were to be chosen by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in consultation with the US and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. However, Brahimi publicly noted his ability to choose the IIG had been "sharply limited" by American officials. Brahimi also called Paul Bremner, the US occupation administrator, "the dictator" of Iraq, arguing "nothing happens without his agreement in this country."

In all meaningful senses then, the occupation will continue under what Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary from 1919-22, called an "Arab façade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff." The new ruler of Iraq in the real world is John Negroponte, the new US ambassador, who will head the largest US embassy in the world, fittingly situated in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

If we really want a democratic Iraq, the mantra that Tony Blair is fond of repeating, then we should gradually withdraw troops, not escalate their numbers, offer the mechanism of a democratic election process via advice through the UN or NGOs (should the majority wish that) and allow the Iraqi people to choose for themselves. However, this does not suit the aims of the Bush Administration or its appointed IIG because the majority, as the polls show, would choose Sistani above Allawi, and favour restoring Iraq's resources under its own true sovereignty.

I would like to thank Peter Offord for the inspiration and much of the content of this column.