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U.S. GUIDED RECONSTRUCTION AND DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ :But where are the weapons of mass destruction!


Paper No. 676                                01.05.2003

by K Gajendra Singh 

US Viceroy Jay Garner, a retired Major General, has continued his round of consultations with Iraqi leaders selected both from inside as well as those who were in exile, to first establish an interim administration at the earliest. At the last meeting with nearly 300 such leaders in Baghdad on 28 April, some tentative steps were taken and it was decided to hold another meeting in a months time. Till then US administrators with some British deputies would try to restore law and order and bring normalcy to civic life i.e. restoration of water, power and communications etc. US Ambassador Barbara Bodine would be the new US sub-ruler for central Iraq based in Baghdad. 

But not all opposition groups had been included in the discussions held so far.  Some did not participate; others will cooperate only for the period of reconstruction. Almost all want US forces to leave at the earliest and let Iraqis find their own solutions, with Shiites, who form nearly 60% of population demanding an Islamic regime. Every day there are demonstrations against US forces, which have often turned ugly ending in violence and deaths of Iraqi civilians, making Americans stay even more unwelcome.  To implant secular democracy in Iraq, after the devastation wrought by an illegal war, anarchy, looting, burning of property and destruction, following 12 years of sanctions implemented stringently, certainly appears to be a mission impossible. 

But a victorious President George W. Bush has offered an "optimistic vision of a liberated Iraq and how it can live in peace with its neighbors in democracy in which Iraqis of every ethnic or religious group, whether Shiite or Sunni Muslim, Kurd, Turkoman, Chaldean Christian or Jew, would now know freedom.  He added that USA had no intention of imposing "our form of government or our culture, yet we will assure that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government, and all citizens have a right to protection. ""The Iraqi people," he added, "will choose their own leaders. "But in a recent interview with NBCs Tom Brokaw, US President George W. Bush conceded that it could take as long as two years to bring democracy to Iraq.  Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a tour of the Middle East, has declared that US bases in Saudi Arabia were being wound up and  most of the operations would be shifted to Qatar.  Aircrafts and war material is being shifted from Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. The reports that USA will establish 4 bases in Iraq have been denied but it seems to be case on the basis of measures taken so far. 

There fore, the steps taken so far inspire little confidence in US promises.  In spite of proposals by other powers like Russia, France, Germany and others who had opposed the war on Iraq without UN sanction, US is least inclined to give any vital role to United Nations. Threats have been flaunted at France and Germany that they would pay the price for having opposed USA. Already contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, are being parceled out to US cronies like Bechtels, Washington Group International Inc., the Louis Berger group and Fluor Corporation, Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton of Vice-President Dick Cheney and others.  Most are associated with Republican leadership and contributors to the party funds. 

While Iraqi museums, heritage of human civilizations, were looted and destroyed, US forces had guarded Iraq’s Oil ministry and the oil wells have started production, thus high lighting US priorities.  But US proposal to lift sanctions and bring Iraqi oil on the market have been opposed by all major powers. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin were rebuffed in Moscow on 29 April.  Almost mocking Blair, Putin said: "Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if indeed they ever existed Perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and bring down the lives of thousands of Iraqi people. " He added that sanctions could not be lifted since they had been introduced because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. "It is only the Security Council that is in a position to lift those sanctions, after all they introduced them." 

In another instance the appointment of Dan Amstutz to be in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq has brought scathing attack from the well known NGO Oxfam.  Amstutz is a former senior executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in the world.  Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's policy director, said that Amstutz was more likely to try to dump cheap US grain on the potentially lucrative Iraqi market than encourage the country to rebuild its once-successful agricultural sector.  US agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman, while announcing the appointment said that it would "help us achieve our national objective of creating a democratic and prosperous Iraq while at the same time best utilise resources of our farmers and good industry in the effort, both for the interim and the long term". Could this also serve as a model for other countries of the region and elsewhere as proclaimed and Viceroys would be sent there too! This the world must accept on the basis of what rightists driven US administration supported by Tony Blair and a few others have ordained for the world.  In spite of the best efforts by US and UK forces and agencies, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have still not been found.  WMD had posed a danger to USA and UK, according to its leadership and was the causes belli for invading Iraq.  Like various false dossiers in the past, the two administrations are now trying to discover these WMD but outside a UN dispensation, which few in the world would believe.  A saddened Hans Blix, chief UN Weapons inspector said recently that a decision to invade Iraq had been taken much before the inspections were resumed by him a few months ago. Gen. Garners earlier meetings were not very successful in Baghdad (24 April) and south Iraq, so he went to north Iraq, where he had helped create an autonomous region for the Kurds after the 1991 Gulf War.  He was received most warmly by the Kurds, reminding one of the receptions to Lawrence of Arabia by the Arabs in early 20th century. But the people of the region remember western promises before the first World War.  The Arabs were promised freedom for rebelling against the Ottoman Sultan and Caliph and a possible independent state for the Kurds was included in the Treaty of Sevres.  But the secret Sykes-Picot agreement had divided the Arab lands between the British and the French. And emigration of Jews into Palestine allowed the creation of the state of Israel.  After the 1991 war US president George Bush had asked the Iraqi Kurds and Arabs to rebel against Saddam Hussein but then USA did not come to their help.  The Iraqi forces ruthlessly suppressed the rebellions. The Kurds have been let down many times. Any move towards independence or federal state in north Iraq would invite Turkey’s wrath and possibly an intervention. The people of Iraq, battered and malnourished they might be, but they have refused to accept this blatant neo-colonisation with its ugly and brutal beginning with chaos, destruction and looting of their cities and heritage. Anglo-American TV channels first broadcast the explosion of Shiite power and demonstrations during the pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, to show how the Shia? S in Iraq are now free to celebrate their religious freedom. These were banned under the secular regime of Saddam Hussein, when the 1977 celebrations got out of hand.  So had been of other religions and sects. But the Shia fervour must have reminded TV viewers in USA and elsewhere, of the Ayatollah Khomeini led Shiite revolution in Iran and taking hostage of US diplomats in 1979.  So the broadcasts were stopped. But the US administration has been surprised at the disciplined demonstrations and a demand for a central role for Islam by Iraqi Shias.  Bush administration officials have admitted that they had underestimated the Shia’s organizational strength and are afraid of the emergence of anti-American feelings and Islamic fundamentalist government in the country. They thought, at least the Pentagon which is calling the shots so far, that the could install Chalabi because he is Shia, but he has no base in Iraq, having lived abroad for 40 years. He was convicted in 1989 of bank fraud in Amman and was again denounced by Jordan? s foreign minister a few days ago. Even US administrations choice of Ur near Nassiriya, for the very first mid-April meeting to guide and construct a new transitional administration might turn out to be as inappropriate as Operation Iraqi freedom (ask the Iraqis).  This ancient city, birthplace of prophet Abraham, founder of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths might have meaning for Jews and Christian followers of the Bible, but it was better known for the stranglehold of the bureaucrats. The meeting was boycotted by well organized powerful Shia groups. Ahmed Chalabi sent a deputy but it did not fool any one. He is keeping a low profile and had reached Baghdad fast, having been earlier airlifted to Nassiriya.  Apart from the fact that the meeting did take place it did not achieve much. It produced a statement underscoring that a future Iraqi government must be democratic and based on the rule of law.  The Iraqis also discussed the extent of religions possible role in Iraq’s political affairs, but failed to reach any agreement on this issue. It has brought home how much more difficult reconstruction of Iraq into a secular democracy would be than just overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Nearly 15 to 20,000 Shiite Muslims marched through Nassiriya, shouting: "No to America, No to Saddam". Like many Iraqis, they were ecstatic that Saddam Hussein has gone but they do not want the US either. They do not refer to "liberation" but to "aggression". The demonstrators want not western-style democracy but a government by their ayatollahs. The Shia opposition groups command much support throughout southern Iraq.  Even a spokesman for one of the other opposition groups described it as a "grave setback". The specter of Iran style rule in Iraq is already sending shivers down the western spines.

Regime Change in Baghdad 

As far as most of the Anglo-American media and many in the leadership were concerned they had organized their regime change in Iraq on 9th April, 2003.  It was broadcast on western TV channels in a long drawn out orchestrated hanging and toppling of Saddam Hussein’s giant bronze statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square and given massive publicity in western media for days.  Never mind if the coalition of the willing and the sleeping partners, in spite of many attempts had failed to assassinate the target of opportunity, Saddam Hussein. There is still no idea about his whereabouts or if he were alive or dead, although many of his aides, including Iraq’s most well known public face Tariq Aziz have either surrendered or been captured.  Unfortunately from available evidence Firdos square regime change appeared to be a stage managed show near the Palestine Hotel, where the international press corps were putting up.  Even theWashington Posts TV critic noted that it was either splendid luck or brilliant planning on the part of the military. Or, as Robert Fisk of the British newspaper the Independent described it, the most staged photo-opportunity since Iwoa Jim. Comparing it to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the liberation of Paris in 1944 is a gross insult to those defining moments in history.  And the East Berliners, in spite of their own disillusionment later, have protested.. The BBC reported that only dozens of Iraqis were involved.  Some said that many were Shiites and Kurds. It was reported that one of the aides of Ahmed Chalabi, Pentagon’s favourite candidate to take over in Iraq and flown into Nasiriya 3 days earlier was present at the spontaneous celebrations. 

Even this crowd fell silent and disapproved when a US Marine initially draped the statue’s head with an American flag.  An Iraqi onlooker supplied his own country’s flag, and there were cheers when this replaced the Stars and Stripes.  It was ironical that after having failed to even shake the statue in their clumsy efforts to bring it down, these Iraqis had to be helped with the full motive power of an armoured carrier of the occupying US forces, The statue did not topple down the first time round and another Effort was necessary. The Los Angeles Times quoted one Iraqi bystander that while some Iraqis in the square were praising Bush in English to the American media; many others were denouncing the US president in Arabic.

Anarchy and Chaos

Supercilious coverage by CNN and BBC anchors and news readers of all hues made the whole scene at Firdos square nauseating. They were gleeful at the celebrations to mark the statues decapitation, having parroted their masters pre war declarations that US and UK troops would be welcomed as liberators.  Not much of that happened, instead there is growing resistance and anger at the lawlessness and anarchy and looting and destruction wrought after the entry of US troops into Baghdad.  Whatever euphoria might have been there in Baghdad (as happens whenever instruments of coercion disappear, even in down town Los Angeles) and elsewhere, it has turned to fear and anger directed at the US occupation forces. 

ABC News on 11 April showed outraged people of Baghdad denouncing the US for unleashing chaos and a wave of killings and looting.  Some were shouting that the hell like conditions in the city proved that the US had come not to liberate the country, but rather to steal its oil wealth. (Yes, Oil ministry is one of the few buildings well guarded by GIs). Arab channels - Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi Television, Al Arabiya and LBC adopted a more balanced and objective stance, which did not please Washington and London.  But because of the emerging and independent TV channels in the Arab world even the Anglo-American TV channels have been forced to be less blatant in their pure propaganda. Non-embedded media persons and independent journalists, even from USA and Britain have been harassed, imprisoned and finally some were shot dead. It happened to the journalists of Arab TV channels like Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi, and others from Reuters etc. International media staying at the Palestine hotel, which was also targeted, were unanimous in their view that the attack was unwarranted as there was no fire from there as was claimed by trigger happy US forces.  The war has exposed the complete transformation of Anglo-American media specially the TV Channels as unadulterated propaganda tools of the administrations and corporate interests.  Much of the Indian media in English which is still remained embedded in Anglo-Saxon mould, as far as foreign news coverage is concerned, did send some journalists to Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq and learnt the truth about the duplicity of Western media and have so commented in Indian media.

Unequal War

As far as USA and UK are concerned, for all practical purposes the 1991 Gulf war had never ended. UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has based his advice on the legality of the current war on Iraq on 1990 security council resolution 678 (along with 1441) which provides for express security council authorisation for use of force. Goldsmith? S reasoning has been trashed by legal experts from all over the world Even his deputy adviser resigned on the issue. Since the surrender of the Iraqi forces in 1991, north Iraq has been practically detached from Iraq, where US and other operatives could move in and out to organize military coups and rebellions against Saddam Hussein. Regular bombing of targets in Iraq beyond the so called no fly zones, and later almost any where had continued as if the 1991 war had never ended.  It has been like a modern day version of 12 year long siege around the rest of Iraq. No air flights out and in of Iraq’s civilian aircrafts, nor of even others accept till very recently when many countries called the bluff.  The Iraqis had sold, $60 billion worth of oil under oil for food program. 

However, they received less than $20 billion worth of food, medicines, and basic equipment for utilities as water, agriculture, education and healthcare.  Some $40 billion had gone to Kuwait for compensation, to pay for Unscom, Unmovic, and military inspections. The lack of medicines and nutrition caused at least half a million deaths of the Iraqi children according to UN agency reports. The pictures on TV screens before and during the war clearly showed the toll of malnutrition on the Iraqi population and the general decay in the quality of civic life in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere’s spends nearly $350 billion every year on defence (almost equal to its trade deficit), as much as the rest of the world put together compared with a bare $1.5 billion available to Iraq.  After the degradation of the Iraqi military hard ware carried out during the 1991 war and strict sanctions implemented by US and UK there was little chance of renewing the military hardware. It has been the most unequal major war in history. It was only lack of physical intelligence which made most experts go wrong about the state of prepared ness of the Iraqi armed forces. It is now clear that even lubricants were not there.  The upkeep of tanks and armoured carriers even in Tikrit showed it.  No wonder there was little conventional resistance, with US monopoly of the skies with its bombers and gun ships.

Any conventional military move would have been suicidal and would have led to sheer butchery.  Even then many fought bravely for a lost cause. Death and Destruction; Before the attack on Baghdad proper, Pentagon spokesmen said that 6 divisions of the 80,000-strong Iraqi Republican Guard outside the city had been degraded or rendered ineffective by aerial and ground bombardment. Dan Goure, an analyst for the Lexington Institute, told the Associated Press on April 8: It may never be known how many Iraqis were killed.... It would have to be over 10,000 uniformed Iraqis and more if you include irregulars. Dana Dillion, a military analyst for the Heritage Foundation, commented:

It is difficult to verify, especially when you are dropping bombs on people and you don’t go and count the bodies. Ted Koppel of ABC TVs Nightline program, which has spent the war embedded with the US 3rd Infantry Division, told the New York Times: This war is fought in many respects at arms length. The damage is done, people are killed, but without the people who do the killing seeing very much of the consequences until hours or days later, when they advance. By then, the Iraqis have taken many of the bodies away for burial. With columns of US tanks and other armored vehicles rampaging down the City's highways and through its suburbs and US American aircraft and helicopters stalking the skies above at least 2,000 Iraqis were killed in clashes from April 3 to April 4, as many as 3,000 Iraqis on April 5 during a three-hour assault through southwestern Baghdad by tanks and at least another 1,000 Iraqis are believed to have been killed on April 7 during the US tank assault on the Republican presidential palace on the banks of the Tigris. 

The casualties among Iraqi civilians have been horrific. Journalists for Arab television networks and newspapers, the British Guardian and Independent and the Washington Post have all testified that large numbers of civilians were killed and wounded by the US and British forces as they crushed resistance in Baghdad, Basra and other Iraqi cities and towns. A Washington Post article on April 8 headlined At Intersection, Army’s Mission Turns to Chaos? Detailed some of the carnage inflicted by US forces during their forays into Iraq’s capital:? The Bravo company convoy drove past dozens of burned-out vehicles and charred bodies on the way to downtown Baghdad.... Civilian passenger cars and trucks were also among the blasted vehicles, some with corpses inside. Whether they were fighters heading south to engage the Americans or luckless civilians trying to escape the city remained unknown. According to the World Health Organization, 100 civilian casualties per hour were being brought into Baghdad hospitals following the April 5 US armored assault. Morphine and other medicines were running out, staff were exhausted and operating facilities were stretched to the limit. The WHO reported amputations being performed without adequate anesthesia. Arab News reported on April 9 from a residential neighborhood of Najaf that had been devastated by US aircraft attempting to destroy a column of Iraqi military trucks:? Many Iraqi military vehicles were abandoned, burned out after being targeted by US planes. A resident of the street, who said his uncle and sister were killed in the bombings, told Arab News: I think the Americans wanted to destroy these military trucks, but in order to do that they had to destroy our neighborhood three streets deep. Just yards from these trucks lay the rubble of what once were civilian homes, completely destroyed houses, shelters and cars. Unexploded cluster bombs are strewn throughout the area. The city’s hospital reported to Arab News it had processed 287 civilian corpses and treated 920 wounded. On top of the loss of life inflicted on the Iraqi people, many of their cities and towns have been devastated. The power generation and communication infrastructure has been destroyed or damaged. Water and drainage mains have been ruptured, cutting off water supplies and flooding suburbs with raw sewage. Bridges, highways and hundreds of government and civilian buildings have been reduced to rubble, along with hundreds of houses and office buildings. A hapless Kofi Annan, UN secretary general reiterated many times that it was the duty of invading powers to provide security and safety and other humanitarian help to the civilian population. But US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that looting was part of the transition process. He accused media reports of exaggerating the scale of the chaos. "Freedom is untidy," he added. "And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." This was the line taken by US spokesmen and women (like Victoria Clarke) from the Pentagon, State department or the White House. Tony Blair was upset that BBC was showing anarchy and chaos and his office issued a reprimand.


It is strange that many Arab leaders and masses expected that for their vain glory tens of thousands of Iraqis should have become pointless cannon fodder. However, not even token resistance at the gates and inside Baghdad has raised some doubts. Even well informed experts like Edward Said wonder if there was a deal between US forces and the Iraqi regime. There was no insurgency or rebellion by the masses or others against their rulers in Arab countries, many partners with USA in the invasion of Iraq. But then from Morocco to Oman most Arabs have cheered on the Palestinians to resist the Israelis to the last Palestinian. The main resistance was put up by Iraqi grenade launchers and machine gunners specially Feddayeen and security forces and many suicide bombers from various Arab countries who had gathered in Iraq as they used to in 1980s in Afghanistan against USSR. 

So the lessons have been learnt. The fight would be hit and run guerilla warfare in Iraq and Al Qaida type actions elsewhere .The type Ben Laden has advocated all along. For example in Mosul on 15 April when US special forces tried to impose order after a public address by the self-styled governor of Iraq's third largest city, it descended into rioting involving several thousand people, in which 12 persons were reportedly killed and scores injured when US forces reacted after some fire came from the crowd. 

Regime Change by Iraqis 

As for the rulers not acceptable to Muslims in history, the very first Jihadis in Islam called Kharijites had emerged from Iraqi tribes, who did not accept the hereditary claims of the Quraish tribe or even the descendents of Prophet Mohammed through his daughter Fatima, to be the Caliphs, unless they followed the true tenets of Islam. And when Ali, the 3rd Caliph and the first Imam according to Shias failed in their eyes, he was assassinated. In 1958, Iraqis killed King Feisel from a dynasty descended from Prophet Mohammed, but foisted on them by the British. They got rid of later rulers like Brig Kassem and others they did not like, in the same summary fashion. A pro-West Shia Cleric Ayatollah Abdul Majid El Khoi, who had recently returned from exile to the Shia holy city of Najaf, as brutally stabbed to death inside the Imam Ali Mosque. Another Cleric Ayatollah Ali El Sistani was under pressure to leave Najaf. 

Barring a few decades of Iranian rule twice; in Najaf, Kerbala and other holiest Shia shrines in Iraq, these places have always been under the control of Sunnis, beginning with 4 century long Sunni Ottoman rule. This explains the continuation of rule by Sunni Arabs (25% of population) in Iraq, which was created by Britain created after the first World War. But Iraq’s territorial integrity has remained violated since the 1991 Gulf war by the creation of autonomous north Iraq for the Kurds, who now hope for full freedom .For them it, is now or never. On the other hand the Turks feel that perhaps the time has come to redeem the unfulfilled dream of Turkey's founder, Kemal Ataturk, who salvaged the republic from the ashes of the Ottoman empire in 1923. In 1919, when Ataturk and his comrades had begun organizing a war of resistance for Turkey's independence, then under the heels of World War I victors led by Great Britain, their map of a sacred new nation included, apart from the present-day boundaries of Turkey, the Kurdish province of Mosul (with Kirkuk). Much of this area had been occupied by the British forces after the ceasefire in 1918 and was later joined with the former Ottoman Arab vilayets (provinces) of Baghdad and Basra to create Iraq and dividing the Kurdish homelands. 

US has unleashed powerful religious, national, ethnic and other forces it does not comprehend. But it should serve as a warning to pretenders, proxies and other such claimants to be the new rulers of  Iraq. Perhaps the last comparable destruction on the city of Baghdad was wrought by Mongol hordes under Hulegu in 1258. Haroun El Rashid? s fabled capital of one thousand and one nights? was sacked and Caliph El-Musta'sim trampled .The Mongols massacred hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents. They destroyed the surrounding dikes and head works, making restoration of the irrigation system impossible, thus destroying the future prosperity of Baghdad and making it a back water for centuries. But the destruction of Iraqi nay human heritage in 2003 is unpardonable, worse than by Hulegus hordes. Libraries with precious Qurans and historical documents have been burnt, which had escaped Hulegu. Whatever the responsibility of international organized crime or disorganized ordinary Iraqis, there are likely to be many who will hold the United States ultimately accountable. Its armed forces were bound by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Many have said that  "The U.S. troops are guilty of crimes against humanity for not protecting the Mesopotamian treasures, many of which stem from the cradle of civilization," German art historian Michael Petzet was quoted as saying by on 18 April. "A minimal effort would have been enough to prevent the events.  "Baghdad’s regeneration started slowly in end 19th century and it recovered some what when the independent state of Iraq came into being. The best period of affluence in recent history was in 1970s, following quadrupled increase in petroleum prices after the 1973 Arab Israel war.  But then Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980 .He was supported and funded by almost all Arab states and many western nations including USA: Then he was caught in the misadventure of invading Kuwait and the slide downhill has continued with Baghdad’s denouement now.  Is might is right then human destiny? In homo sapiens progress towards the rule of law away from the animal kingdom, at the beginning of 21st century, international law and legitimacy lie destroyed in a place where Hammurabi the first ruler of ancient times had codified the laws for the protection of the week.  And the United Nations, the most advanced and consensual international organization possible created to ascertain the views of the international community, with all its faults, has perhaps been damaged beyond repairs! The Anglo-American leadership is not fooling any one. It is a pure case of crusade against the Muslims, at least the Muslims so believe. They have unleashed terrible religious forces which they will have to contend with now .You do not need Sir Issac Newton to tell you that to every action there is a reaction.  Sooner or later. 

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal.. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.)