Iraq: the end of occupation?


On 30 June next, the US/UK occupation of Iraq is to end.  The occupying powers are going to hand over the government of Iraq to Iraqis.  At least that’s what they say they are going to do.


But don’t Iraqis already govern Iraq through the Iraqi Governing Council and the ministers appointed by it?


That’s what we were told when objections were raised to the occupying powers rewriting the laws of Iraq to allow non-Arab foreigners to own Iraqi companies, action which is forbidden to occupying powers under Article 43 of the Hague Regulations.


Then it was said that, although Paul Bremer signed Order 39 changing the law of Iraq, the Iraqi finance minister, Kamel al-Keilami, appointed by the Governing Council, was responsible for the measures contained in the order.


And the Security Council reinforced the view that sovereign power in Iraq resided with the Governing Council and the ministers appointed by it, when it passed resolution 1511 on 16 October 2003.  Paragraph 4 of this resolution said:


“[The Security Council] Determines that the Governing Council and its ministers are the principal bodies of the Iraqi interim administration, which, without prejudice to its further evolution, embodies the sovereignty of the State of Iraq during the transitional period until an internationally recognized, representative government is established and assumes the responsibilities of the Authority;”


So, has the occupation not ended already?  And if not, isn’t Order 39 illegal?


Ceremonial “handover”

What’s going to happen on 30 June?  It can be guaranteed that there will be an elaborate ceremony in Baghdad at which it will be said that the occupation is now at an end and henceforth Iraqis will govern themselves for the first time in a generation.  Conceivably, Bush and Blair will perform the “handover” personally.


The name of the game is to persuade the US electorate that there is light at the end of the tunnel with regard to Iraq, that Iraq isn’t another Vietnam.  Without that, Bush’s chances of re-election in November are slim.  That is why the “handover” is timed to occur before the presidential campaign gets under way.  It is a holding operation designed to get Bush into the White House for a second term.


Of course, nobody expects significant numbers of US (or other) forces in Iraq to be withdrawn when the “handover” takes place, or the cost to the US taxpayer to fall dramatically.  The new Iraqi “government” will, it is said, make an agreement with the occupying powers that US (and other) forces will remain in Iraq indefinitely, in other words, that the occupation will continue in all but name. 


No direct elections

Despite Bush’s well-known commitment to bringing democracy to the Arab world, the new Iraqi “government” is not to be directly elected, nor will its powers be prescribed in a democratically approved constitution.


The US opposed direct elections on the grounds that there was no prospect of an electoral roll being available in the near future.  But it has now emerged (New York Times, 4 December 2003) that the Iraqi Census Bureau submitted a plan to the US authorities last October to take a census of the Iraqi population next summer, leading to an electoral roll being available by 1 September 2004.  However, the US authorities sat on the plan.  What is more, they kept it from the Iraqi Governing Council and persuaded the Council to accept, albeit reluctantly, an indirect form of elections via public meetings on the grounds that an electoral roll wasn’t available.


A suspicious mind might conclude that the US doesn’t want direct elections in Iraq, and certainly not in the middle of its own direct election campaign.  The last thing Bush wants in the run up to the November election is political, and military, turmoil in Iraq, culminating in a result that demonstrates the Shias are in an overwhelming majority.  The Shias are particularly keen on direct elections as soon as possible in order to demonstrate their numerical superiority, but it looks as though that is not going to happen until next year at the earliest, and perhaps much later than that.


So, the US has decreed that the new Iraqi “government” will not be the product of state-wide elections by secret ballot.  That plus US control of the purse strings for reconstruction and the continued presence of 100,000+ US troops will enable the US to keep the new “government” on the straight and narrow, and persuade it of the benefits of privatisation, the free market etc and everlasting friendship with the US.  A properly elected government would be more inclined to flex its muscles against the occupying powers.


Kurdish autonomy stays

In a highly significant step, the occupying powers have decreed that the new Iraqi “government” will not have even the pretence of authority over the two semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, where Baghdad’s writ has not run since 1991.  The two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Massoud Barzani, have insisted on this, and Bremer has had to concede, because the last thing he needs in advance of the “handover” is conflict with the Kurds.  Bremer and his deputy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, traveled to the Kurdish city of Irbil shortly after New Year to meet Talabani and Barzani (who are both on the Iraqi Governing Council) and agreed the concession.


This has important implications for the future shape of Iraq.  It has always been on the cards that the Kurds would refuse to give up control of their semi-autonomous areas, and would maintain their militias to ensure that their continued control.  But their ambition is much greater than that:  it is to secure an autonomous Kurdistan which is about twice the size of the area they control today, and includes the city of Kirkuk with its surrounding oilfields.


Such a development would be fraught with danger, not least because Turkey wouldn’t stand for an Iraqi Kurdistan with oil revenue at its disposal, which, unchecked, has the possibility of forming the nucleus of a must larger Kurdish state in the region.  There are perhaps 20 million Kurds in Turkey, 8 million in Iran, 1.5 million in Syria and between 4 and 5 million in Iraq, that is, well over 30 million in all in the region (compared with a total Iraqi population of around 23 million).  Whether Turkey would stand for the continued existence of the present (oil-free) autonomous areas within Iraq is unknown.


The presence of Turkoman people in northern Iraq, and in particular around Kirkuk, gives Turkey an additional interest in the political developments in the area.  Kirkuk and its environs has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans.  It is said that Saddam Hussein had a policy of expelling Kurds from the area, and replacing them with Arabs.  The Guardian (6 January 2004) reported that the US/UK has agreed to the return of 200,000 Kurds who were expelled from the Kirkuk region under Saddam’s rule.  That of itself would be a recipe for increased ethnic conflict in the area, where there has been sporadic ethnic conflict since the fall of the old regime.  (In response to an outbreak in late December in which 8 people were killed, US troops raided the offices of the PUK and KDP in Kirkuk and confiscated weapons).


Kurdish ambitions in northern Iraq will, if pursued, bring them into conflict with the other ethnic groups in the region, and with Turkey.  It is unlikely that a greater Kurdistan including the Kirkuk region could be established without interethnic bloodletting on a considerable scale.


It is said that the US is opposed to regional autonomy in Iraq on an ethnic basis, which might lead to the breakup of the state.  Its preferred system is a federal arrangement based on the existing 18 Iraqi governates, most of which would end up in Shia control and only 3 in Kurdish control.  However, conceding that the existing Kurdish autonomous areas be left alone in the short to medium term keeps the prospect of an autonomous Kurdistan alive.  No doubt, as ever, the Kurds will lose out in the end.


Of course, this is a decision for the Iraqi people, when they come to draw up a new constitution, and the US/UK will remain benignly neutral on the matter.



Labour & Trade Union Review

January 2004