Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Iraq: a way to go yet

Alright, so there’s been some progress in Iraq. I’ve been reluctant to criticise the reconstruction because it was always going to be hard and slow. Major towns now seem to have an electricity supply, but much of the civil infrastructure is still a mess (especially hospitals, and very obviously the police). Still, as recently as a week ago the New York Times could fairly say:

Iraq is a mess because the Bush administration failed to plan adequately for the postwar period. ... Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his aides seemed to think that Iraq would emerge from the war as a functioning country that could then be led toward democracy by American officials. Now, more than a month after the fighting subsided, Iraq remains a lawless land without basic services ... Instead of serving as a model for enlightened American rule, Iraq is turning into a symbol of American maladministration.

Even some Republican Senators are getting agitated about Iraq:

“I am concerned that the administration’s initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate,” said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who heads the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee. “The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war.”

Indeed, in terms of critical infrastructure, Shiite clerics seem to be doing the best job of restoring services - but they are not necessarily in favour of either the American presence or a secular state. (They are certainly against unveiled women and alcohol.)

At least the new UN Security Council Resolution will end sanctions, give UN inspectors a limited role and place a high-level UN envoy in Iraq to collaborate with the US-led interim administration. None of this makes the war legal, but it may legitimate outcomes and dilute impressions that Iraq is to be forever a US client state.

However, the Bush administration’s desire to see a democratic domino effect sweep through the Middle East following an Iraqi democracy is a utopian fantasy. Indeed, if it is even going to come to pass in Iraq a power struggle lies ahead between civil administrators and the influential and effective Shiite clerics. It's also looking like democracy, or even an all-Iraqi transitional government is off the cards for the time being - and Iraqis aren't exactly thrilled about a US-British occupation authority (UN mandate or no) running Iraq indefinately.

And what about the war’s justification? It now looks like Saddam never had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Donald Rumsfeld wants a CIA review of US intelligence to see if repots of Iraqi WMD were exaggerated. As Maureen Dowd at the NY Times puts it, this is like “O. J. vowing to find the real killer” as it was Rumsfeld who set up a special taskforce to find WMD evidence to fit the Hawkish case. Frankly, when a dictator who was not afraid to use chemical agents against his own population in the past is backed into a corner by US forces – well, if he’d had WMD, he’d have used them.

The new US inspectors are discovering Hans Blix wasn’t just some Scandinavian whimp. There’s just not anything to find. To quote Maureen Dowd again:

“Stymied U.S. arms inspectors are getting ready to leave Iraq, having uncovered moldy vacuum cleaners, pesticides and playground equipment, but nary a WMD. … One of the weapons hunters compared his work to a Scooby-Doo mystery - stuff seems pretty scary at first, but then turns out to be explainable.”

The law of unintended consequences, I suspect, states that moments of farce and tragedy are far from over.

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