Iraq now a “failed state”


Since 9/11, a familiar refrain coming out of Washington has been that “terrorists” flourish in “failed states”, where they have the freedom to organise and train unhindered by the security apparatus of a state.  Doing something about “failed states” was said to be central to winning the “war on terrorism”.  It is ironic therefore that the US/UK have now created a “failed state” in Iraq.  There may never be a functional state in Iraq again.


Before the invasion, the Bush administration successfully convinced around half of the US population that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the events of 9/11.  It succeeded despite a complete absence of evidence.  The purpose was, of course, to increase popular support for action about which many people were sceptical then, and more are sceptical today.


The administration has returned to the old mantra that the US mission in Iraq is part of the “war on terrorism”.  Now, there may be a real truth in that.  The administration says that al-Qaeda operatives have entered Iraq from the surrounding states.  It’s impossible to say whether this is true or not, but it would make sense if they have done, since there are 150,000 American targets there, targets which are much easier to get at than ones on the US mainland.


More troops killed

More US troops have now been killed in Iraq, since President Bush declared on 1 May 2003 that “major combat operations” were over, than were killed in the war itself.  The number (160) is still tiny, and it includes troops killed accidentally as well as those killed as a result of offensive military action.  And it is microscopic compared with the thousands of Iraqis killed by US/UK military action during the war and since, not to mention the tens of Iraqis who are being killed every day in the general mayhem, which the US/UK destruction of the Iraqi state has brought about.


The problem for the US administration is that there is no sign of light at the end of the tunnel.  The military aspect of the occupation is costing the US Treasury a billion dollars a week, and the oil bonanza which was optimistically expected to pay for Iraqi reconstruction, and much else besides, has not got off the ground.  More US dollars may have to be found by the US Treasury for civil purposes, until oil revenue materialises – which may never happen while the occupation lasts.


All this is worrying for a president seeking re-election next year, particularly when for the first time in his presidency an opinion poll has shown a majority for AN Other for his successor. 


Multi-national occupation

To alleviate their costs in men and money, the US/UK are desperate to get other countries to share the burden of occupation.  On Newsnight on 21 August 2003, Jack Straw boasted of their success to date – 30 countries have pledged troops, he said, and 17 already have troops on the ground in Iraq.


Fortunately for him, he was not asked to name the countries, and the numbers of troops each has promised: in many instances, the numbers are pitifully small (for example, 43 from Lithuania and 120 from Mongolia), and their presence is merely political window dressing.  And the US Treasury is having to pay for the window dressing as well.


In all, the promised numbers total about 15,000, with around 9,000 from 15 countries under Polish command in their occupation zone in central Iraq, and a further 5,500 or so from 9 countries under British command in their occupation zone around Basra (see details here).  And there have been hints that some of these countries are having second thoughts after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad.


What about the UN?

Most of these countries were part of the “Coalition of the Willing” that in theory supported the US/UK invasion of Iraq.  Most countries that opposed the invasion, for example, France and Russia, are unwilling to supply troops to supplement the US/UK occupation forces.  There are only willing to supply troops as part of a UN force, if then.


Six months ago, the US administration was insisting that those countries who refused to support the “liberation” of Iraq would not be allowed a share of the spoils afterwards, and the administration was threatening to “punish” France for its leading role in opposing the invasion.  Now, the administration is wooing France, and other opponents of the invasion, to supply forces, and has gone so far as to say that it is prepared to consider putting the occupation forces under UN command, albeit with a US commander.


It is to be hoped that France and the other permanent members of the Security Council resist this attempt to give further UN endorsement to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and refuse to supply occupation forces under any guise.  The US/UK invaded Iraq and produced the bloody mess: they, and the states that have submitted to their bullying and bribery to join the occupation, should be left to bear the burden of clearing it up.  Then they may think twice about dismantling other states in future.  For other countries to shoulder the burden of attempting to put Iraq together again under the banner of the UN would be an encouragement for the US/UK to engage in further adventures, in the expectation that the UN would again pick up the pieces afterwards.


The Security Council has already gone far too far in endorsing the occupation in resolution 1483, which gave UN blessing to the occupying powers governing Iraq and selling its oil and spending the proceeds for the foreseeable future.  The UN has already been tainted with responsibility for occupation, and it is not obvious that forces nominally under UN control, but largely American, would be any less subject to attack than the present occupation forces under overt US control. 


Iraqi Governing Council

In July, the occupying powers appointed an Iraqi Governing Council, which is supposed to pave the way for representative government in Iraq.  Paul Bremer, the head of the US/UK administration in Baghdad, had been dragging its feet on this, but the growing resistance to the occupation persuaded him to get on with it, in the hope that this would convince Iraqis that US/UK occupation was temporary.


The Council has 25 members: 13 are Shia (of whom 5 or 6 are Islamist), five are Kurdish (of whom 1 or 2 are Islamist), five are Sunni Arabs (of whom at least one is an Islamist), one is Christian and one is Turkomam.  (See here for list of the Council members and their backgrounds compiled by Glen Rangwala).


(The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has one representative on the Governing Council, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim.  He is the brother of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, who was killed along with around 100 others in Najaf in the Polish occupation zone on 29 August 2003.  It may be that he was killed because of his co-operation with the US, which it should be said was rather reluctant.)


Theoretically, the Governing Council has the power to appoint ministers, rather than merely act as an advisory body to the occupiers.  For what it’s worth, this power is thanks to Sergio de Mello, the UN Special Representative in Iraq, who died in the bomb explosion at the UN headquarters in Baghdad.  He persuaded Bremer, who wanted it to be advisory only.The Council was supposed to have a president, but it couldn’t agree on one.  Instead, the presidency has 9 members and the presidency will rotate amongst them in alphabetic order, with each member serving as president for one month at a time.  The presidency consists of two Kurds, one from each of the two Kurdish factions, two Islamist Shias, including the SCIRI representative, two secular Shias, one of whom is the Pentagon’s favourite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, and two Sunnis, one religious and one secular, plus one other.  It’s an indication of just how difficult it will be to put together a government in Iraq – if it can be done at all.


Prophetic words

Before the US/UK invasion, there were many warnings about the difficulties of establishing an alternative regime to that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but few were more prophetic, and succinct, than the following:


“If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you will do with it.


“It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Ba'athists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists.


“How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for the government, and what happens to it once we leave?”


Those were the words of Dick Cheney, then US Defense Secretary, in an interview in the New York Times on 13 April 1991, explaining why the US administration baulked at going to Baghdad after the first Gulf War.  How did he become a cheerleader for regime change in Iraq?  It’s a fair bet that he’s regretting it now.



Labour & Trade Union Review

September 2003