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Another Whopper: Iraqi “Sovereignty”

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Published on Friday, July 2, 2004 by CommonDreams.org

Another Whopper: Iraqi “Sovereignty”

by Carolyn Eisenberg

“The Iraqi people have their country back,” proclaimed President Bush at the June 28 NATO conclave in Turkey. Shortly before, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice had slipped him a note: “Mr. President, Iraq is sovereign,” upon which he scrawled a message, crafted for the history books “Let freedom reign!”

When it comes to Iraq, Bush has a demonstrated penchant for embellishment. The official news from Baghdad was that the Coalitional Provisional Authority (CPA) Administrator L. Paul Bremer had turned over political authority to a new Iraqi interim government. However, in reality the White House has no intention of allowing the new government to make independent decisions any time soon.

For the administration, a key development was the U.N. Security Council passage on June 8, 2004 of a U.S.-U.K. resolution welcoming the formation of a “fully sovereign and independent interim government of Iraq.” On the surface, this gave credibility to the president’s claim that he possessed a genuine plan for Iraqi freedom.

Despite the fanfare about Iraq’s “full sovereignty,” it is striking how many limitations remain. The devil is in the details and one of these details is the small clause in the U.N. resolution, prohibiting the new Iraqi government “from taking any actions affecting Iraq’s destiny” beyond the interim period. This might seem innocuous, except that it leaves in operation the 97 “Orders” already promulgated by the CPA encompassing such crucial items as the privatization of state-owned companies, the rights of foreign investors and the regulation of Iraqi communications and media.

Meanwhile, there are an estimated 160,000 foreign troops on the ground in Iraq under American command. This military has infuriated even sympathetic Iraqis by its authoritarian, at times brutal, behavior. Yet the SecurityCouncil resolution legitimizes the continuation of the “multinational force” and recognizes its “authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.”

The real American attitude was on display during the run-up to the Security Council meetings, as their negotiators upended U.N. emissary Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts to appoint apolitical Iraqi technocrats to the interim government. Instead, Bremer teamed up with members of the U.S.-selected Governing Council to install another roster of pro-American politicians into the top positions.

The consequence is that the new Iraqi government looks remarkably similar to the old. At the helm is Prime Minister Dr. Ayad Allawi, a physician whose outstanding qualification is his long association with the CIA--a credential that does not enhance his connection to the Iraqi citizenry. Allawi immediately demonstrated his pliability by proclaiming the need for a strong American military presence in his country.

The White House has talked up the exchange of letters between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Prime Minister Allawi, outlining a “partnership” and providing for extensive consultations between the Iraqi government and the Americans. Yet Powell was careful to specify that the American-led “multinational force” would retain final jurisdiction over Iraqi “security.”

To an American audience, this might seem a minor infringement. However, in the quest for “security,” the U.S. military has felt free to shut down Iraqi newspapers, ban protests, open fire on threatening crowds, barge into homes and haul off “suspicious” men and boys without specific charges or access to lawyers. It was in the service of “security” that some members of the American armed forces permitted or participated in the torture, assault and possible murder of people incarcerated in U.S.-run prisons.

In the “sovereign” Iraq that is being born, there is no practical limit on how the “multinational force” may be used. Nor is there a clear date for departure. The U.N. resolution refers to the “completion of the political process,” by which is meant the adoption of a permanent Iraqi constitution. On that timetable, the earliest the troops will leave is by January 2006 and if there is no agreed constitution, they will remain even longer.

There are multiple signs that the Bush administration is planning for a substantial increase in the size of the force. Within a day of the Security Council vote, the Pentagon announced that 5,000 additional Marines would be going to Iraq and there is fresh talk of another 10,000-15,000 that will be available as needed.

The sad truth is that the Iraqis do not “have their country back” and for that, matter neither do we. Iraq policy is still being set by an administration that will not level with the American public about its plans. Still missing is a serious national debate about whether the majority of our public wishes to underwrite the real Bush project – a long occupation in defiance of Iraqi wishes, which will drain our treasury and sacrifice our troops.

Carolyn Eisenberg (hiscze@aol.com), professor of U.S. foreign policy at Hofstra University, is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and of Historians Against the War. She is the author of Drawing the Line: the American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944-49 (Cambridge University Press, 1996).