April 9, 2004 — AS expected, the latest spate of fighting in Iraq has triggered a chorus of demands for “a radical change” in the U.S.-led Coalition’s policy on the newly liberated country.
The key radical change most often recommended is that the Coalition hand over Iraq to the United Nations while continuing to provide the troops and the money needed to stabilize and rebuild the country.
That, however, is a recipe for disaster.
The U.N. remains divided over the justice of ending Saddam’s rule; some members, notably Russia and France, have a direct interest in an at least partial restoration of Ba’athist rule. The U.N.’s best-case scenario for Iraq is to install a less sanguinary version of the fallen regime. The only positive role that the U.N. can play in Iraq is administrative, especially in helping organize and supervise elections. Give the U.N. a political role, and you will plunge Iraq into years of uncertainty, if not actual instability.
Others who call for “radical change” in policy want the Coalition to abandon the June 30 deadline for formally ending the occupation by handing over power to an Iraqi transitional government.
The argument is that no Iraqi authority capable of assuming power has yet emerged. This is partly true. But the reason is that many Iraqi politicians still doubt that the deadline will be honored. Abandoning the deadline altogether would remove the incentive for the Iraqi leaders to close ranks and prepare to assume power. The deadline must be seen as a guillotine, the sight of which concentrates Iraqi minds.
The battles in the Sunni Triangle and against Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia in a suburb of Baghdad and three other cities are nothing but overdue pacification operations.
The Coalition never tried to impose control over Fallujah, allowing it to become a hideout for Saddam loyalists, including members of his Presidential Guard, who had fled from the battlefields of the liberation war. It is a mystery why the Coalition allowed the Saddamites the luxury of a safe haven in which to regroup, rearm and plot attacks against the Americans. Ramadi and other towns where the Coalition kept a low profile have also attracted a motley crowd of professional criminals, contrabandists, and, more recently, self-styled jihadists from outside Iraq.
Experience has shown that wherever the Coalition has been prepared to come in big and strike hard, it has won a decisive victory.
The latest example of this came last month in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, which was once the center of the Ba’athist insurgents and their foreign terrorist allies. By taking off the kid gloves, the Coalition forces were able to flush out the insurgents and protect the local population against terrorist blackmail and extortion. Tikrit is not a haven of peace as yet – but neither is it a safe haven for the fascists.
Why the Coalition allowed Sadr to organize his militia and carve off a fiefdom in parts of Baghdad is also a mystery. In the early days of liberation, Coalition forces watched as Sadr’s henchmen looted the arsenals of the disbanded Iraqi army and police. Later, everyone knew that Sadr visited Iran at least four times and that he had received money and arms from a network of radical mullahs in Tehran and Qom. His family and political ties to the Lebanese branch of the Hezbollah were no secret, either.
Yet even when an Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant issued against Sadr and six of his aides on charges of participation in last year’s murder of Abdul-Majid al-Khoei, the CPA did not move against Sadr.
The idea was that, excluded from the Governing Council, Sadr should not be unduly antagonized. This echoed the arguments used to justify the softly-softly approach to Saddamites gathered in the safe havens of the Sunni Triangle. In every case, U.S. restraint was mistaken for weakness, encouraging the Saddamites and the Sadrites in their agitations.
Provided the Coalition reduces the number of symbolic patrols (which often turn its troops into easy targets for bombs planted on roads at night), its commanders in Iraq have enough force to crush any attempt at organized insurgency either by the Saddamites or by Hezbollah-style Shiite militants.
As things stand, the Coalition does not need large numbers of fresh troops because the overwhelming majority of Iraqis still support its policy, including the promise to end the occupation by the end of June. If the Coalition lost that support, no amount of troops would be able to control a country of 27 million.
Both the Saddamites and the Sadrites fear elections and will do all they can to prevent them. Their fears are not groundless. In every one of the 17 cities where municipal elections have been held so far, victory has gone to democratic and secularist parties and individuals. And it is no accident that these are precisely the cities where attempts at fomenting insurgency have failed.
Democratic and secularist figures have also won all the elections held by professional associations representing medical doctors, lawyers, teachers, academics and businessmen.
Despite the fact that Sadr and his friends have spent vast sums of Iranian money, often entering Iraq in the form of crisp notes in briefcases, even the theological seminaries of Najaf and Karbala have kept their doors shut to his brand of religious fascism. Numerous opinion polls, including some financed by the opponents of the liberation, show that in any free election the overwhelming majority of the Iraqis will not vote either for the Saddamites or the various brands of Islamist fascism.
The scoundrels trying to prevent the handover of power to the Iraqi people may pose as Arab nationalists and/or defenders of the Islamic faith. But the truth is that they are making a naked bid for despotic power for themselves.
In a sense, therefore, the Coalition, having liberated Iraq from one form of fascism, is now fighting to make sure that other forms of fascism do not emerge to threaten the nation’s democratic aspirations.