Monday, June 28, 2004


We woke up this morning to news that the Iraqi interim government was handed the keys to the country by U.S. administrator Paul Bremer two whole days ahead of schedule. The idea in doing so, ostensibly, was to pre-empt insurgents from springing a nasty surprise on Wednesday and spoiling the transfer party – That would have been egg in the face for all concerned.

Does this mark the end of the occupation? I don’t think so, though many will say that it does. With more than 130,000 American troops and thousands from other nations still in Iraq, Iraq’s "sovereignty" will be severely circumscribed. And while they will be a less visible presence – the foreign soldiers will still be there.

So what has the five-minute ceremony brought Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and indeed Iraq? A head start on militants for one; but more importantly, it gives the interim government the moral ground to make sovereign decisions and bring their nation much-desired peace. This is also the first sign from the Bush administration that it recognizes the reality on the ground, and is moving to render unto Iraqis’ what’s theirs.

While the White House is congratulating itself on its perspicacity, the claims that first brought the U.S. into this war ring ever more hollow. The weapons of mass destruction, the principal reason for going to war, were never found. The much trumpeted aim of bringing freedom to Iraq is ever more distant – violence is endemic and all the signs that mark freedom, a distant memory. Iraq’s infrastructure is in the stone-age, jobs are scarce and Iraqis desperately poor.

The Bush administration’s prediction, at the start of the war, that it would be greeted as liberators now appears to have been premature. There is little love for the U.S. today in the fertile crescent. The Sunnis understandably hate the occupation, the Shias are suspicious and angry and Kurds in the north, once unquestionably allies, are questioning the administration’s motives.

The administration, it appears got the tactics right, but tripped over strategy. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was only partially right when he said, Iraq could be taken and held with a small, highly mobile force. Winning the war was fairly easy – it was keeping the peace that the allies failed miserably at.

The decision to disband the Iraqi army instead of simply purging the Baathist elements in hindsight appears to have been the perfect recipe for the chaos and unrest that followed. Into the void left by the army flowed in Islamic militants and other vested interests. Instead of becoming the crucible of democracy in the Middle East, that Bush publicly said it would, Iraq has become the proving ground for Jihadi elements.

In Iraq itself the mood is somber -- no celebratory bursts of gunfire, no speeches, parades or parties. The people are weary, worried and watching.