Will U.S. lose control of Iraq?
The U.S. government finds itself in an increasingly difficult position in Iraq. None of its efforts in the country seem to be proceeding according to plan. Physical reconstruction, political reorganization, and the provision of ordinary security are all facing significant roadblocks. Most worrisome for Washington is the relentless pace of the attacks on U.S. soldiers, foreign relief workers, UN representatives, and local police forces reconstituted by the Americans. The deadly car bombing of the Italian military headquarters in Nasiriya on Nov. 22 showed that even minor partners of the U.S. occupation are confronted with serious risks.
The entire U.S. adventure in Iraq has had an improvisatory character, and this latest turn is no exception. The drafting of a constitution has been tabled for the time being, and instead the schedule for turning over political power to Iraqis has been sped up. According to a plan announced by the Iraqi Governing Council on Nov. 15, an interim government elected by a national assembly will assume responsibility for the country in June next year. U.S. forces will remain in Iraq in strength, but on paper at least, the occupation will be over. Not coincidentally, this formal change of arrangements will take place when George W. Bush's reelection campaign will be in full swing
IRAQI GOOD WILL RUNNING OUT
At the same time as these plans were announced, the U.S. launched a major military response to a serious wave of attacks that, among other things, brought down two helicopters over the northern city of Mosul. This military crackdown--referred to as Operation Iron Hammer--is not likely to win the U.S. friends among ordinary Iraqis. The intensified checkpoint stops and intrusive searches of the offensive have increased the number of everyday indignities inflicted on the residents of Baghdad and other cities.
Furthermore, the handling of technical matters at which the U.S. was supposed to excel, like the restoration of reliable electrical power and the improvement of the water and communication systems have not impressed the Iraqi people. Despite the best efforts of the U.S., Baghdad still doesn't enjoy electricity 24 hours a day.
The reality facing the U.S. is this: whatever store of goodwill for the removal of Saddam and his cronies is left among ordinary Iraqis is close to exhaustion.
VIETNAM ANALOGY DOESN'T HOLD UP
Despite the ongoing attacks and the growing antipathy toward the occupying forces, it is important to recognize the flawed nature of the analogy with U.S. involvement in Vietnam that many on the left have invested so much of themselves in. The conflict in Vietnam was inherited from French colonialism, not eagerly and unilaterally embarked upon. At its height, it involved a prodigious commitment of U.S. military personnel, while the Iraq war is remarkable for the relatively few numbers of troops involved.
The chief difference, however, lies in the nature of the forces combating the U.S. soldiers. In Vietnam, the U.S. faced both guerrilla and regular forces operating under a centralized leadership with one aim: to bring the country under a unified political rule that, however authoritarian, had considerable popular support. The combatants in Iraq are linked to a discredited political regime with little hope of making a comeback. Their persistent and bloody attacks seem focused on simply making Iraq as unstable and as close to ungovernable as possible rather than attempting to win the confidence of the country's people.
In this respect, the situation in Iraq much more closely resembles the current one in Afghanistan than it does Vietnam circa 1970. In Afghanistan the remnants of the Taliban are succeeding in making the south and east of the country dangerous places for humanitarian workers and UN representatives, but have little prospect of returning to a position of power over the whole country.
It is still too soon to tell whether or not the Iraq adventure will turn out a success or failure for the Bush administration. In some respects, Iraq now more closely resembles the picture of it painted by Bush before the war, that is, a dangerous and chaotic place in which terrorist plots are hatched. It is however, not impossible that Iraq's people will actually succeed in formulating a democratic and sustainable political structure.
OPPORTUNITIES AND DANGERS
But if this development takes place, it will be despite the plans of the U.S., not because of them. The top-down political consolidation the Coalition Provisional Authority is implementing is incorporating traditional and conservative elements of Iraqi society. Together with the resurgence in power of the ayatollahs, this development spells grave danger for the freedom of women, who have already suffered from the deterioration of safety on the streets.
A democratization that goes beyond the control of the U.S. and the conservative figures that hope to assume control of Iraq is an outcome that, if it takes place, should be welcomed by friends of the Iraqi people worldwide. A real democratization will be one that permits workers to organize in their own interest, women to safely participate in public life and one that will allow Iraq's ethnic minorities to determine their own destinies. This development would expose the hollowness of the democratic rhetoric employed by the ideologues of the Bush administration and could have consequences far beyond the borders of the country.
Published by News and Letters Committees