Month: July 2003

A Council Already Divided

With US troops dying daily in Iraq, the Bush administration has been pushing its viceroy, Paul Bremer, to jump-start Iraqi democracy. The product of this pressure is the new governing council. But two weeks after its formation, questions remain about its makeup, effectiveness, and whether the Iraqi people will eventually accept it as a new governing body.

Reporters in the field say that Iraqis are split over the new council, expressing a mixture of hope and doubt. Their hope is for an Iraqi government that will bring an end to the US occupation. Their doubt is based on an acknowledgment that the council is nothing more than a figurehead that has done little so far to address their problems, while simultaneously helping to legitimize US rule on the international stage. The fact that Paul Bremer chose the members of the council and will retain veto over its decisions certainly doesn’t help its credibility. Nor does the fact that its meetings are not public, but are held under tight security to prevent Iraqi guerrilla attacks.

Another problem is that two-thirds of the council is composed of Iraqi exiles and Kurdish leaders (who’ve spent the past 13 years living in northern Iraq, outside of Saddam Hussein’s influence). This was to be expected, given that Bremer met exclusively with exile groups–many of them funded and supported by the Pentagon–while he drew up the list of candidates to sit on the council. But this dominance by “outsiders” has left Iraqi citizens convinced that the new council is out of touch with their needs and concerns.

The non-exile members of the council are a mixed bag of professionals: doctors, judges, lawyers, businessmen, writers, etc. None of them have much political experience and few are well-known among ordinary Iraqis. This has made it easier for exiles to dominate. During the council’s first press conference, for example, the exiles took control, answering questions from the press and defining the council’s agenda, while the non-exile members sat by quietly watching.

In fact, the only members of the council with any political experience at all are Adnan Pachachi, an 80-year-old exile whose last diplomatic job was to serve as foreign minister of Iraq for only two years back in the mid-1960s, and Akila al-Hashimi, a former Baath Party official who worked for Saddam Hussein’s former deputy prime minister, Tareq Aziz.

This hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from making glowing pronouncements about the future of the council, based mostly on its “diversity.” In one sense, that’s correct: the council’s ethnic makeup is an accurate reflection of the Iraqi population (as far as can be known without a census). Iraqis, however, have plenty of complaints regarding the diversity of the council, particularly its religious and political composition.

There are three religious figures who sit on the body: two Shiites and one Sunni. Of the two Shiites, both are former exiles: Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, a liberal religious scholar from Najaf who fled the country in 1991, and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, brother of the Ayatollah Mohammad Bakar al-Hakim, who runs the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI, based in Iran, has a long and stormy relationship with the Pentagon and the CIA. The CIA believes that SCIRI has accepted arms and training from the Iranian government; certainly SCIRI’s goal is for an Iranian-style fundamentalist revolution in Iraq. But the Pentagon knows it can negotiate with SCIRI and, in the current context, SCIRI’s exile status is a plus. Without a broad base of support in Iraq, SCIRI won’t be as much trouble as, say, a popular fundamentalist religious leader from Najaf.

This exclusion of local Shiite religious leaders has not gone down well in the holy city of Najaf and other southern areas of Iraq–supposedly the most trouble-free region for US troops. Fiery rhetoric, demonstrations, and threats of a religious war have ensued. Even the popular, moderate Shiite cleric Ali Husseini al-Sistani has issued a fatwa demanding that the US allow the representatives of a constitutional council to be elected by popular vote, instead of being chosen by this non-representative governing council.

Among the nine Sunni representatives on the council, two are exiles (Adnan Pachachi and Ghazi al-Yawer, a civil engineer who lived for 15 years in Saudi Arabia), four are Kurds, one is a secular human rights lawyer, one a secular businessman, and one a Koranic scholar and head of the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sunni tribal leaders, popular religious leaders, or former Baath Party officials with real hands-on political experience need not apply (unless they’re Shiite, like al-Hashimi).

Al-Hashimi is one of only three women on the governing council. This has disappointed Iraqi women’s groups who had called for 30% representation on the council. (Iraqi women make up at least 55% of the population.) In addition, the most popular women’s candidate, feminist Lina Aboud, was dropped from the roster at the last minute at the insistence of the fundamentalist SCIRI representative. Only one of the three remaining women on the council, Sondul Chapouk, is a women’s rights activist.

If the council lacks religious, gender, and political diversity, it does replicate a form of diversity that will negatively impact its effectiveness in the future: it includes all of the major political players who formed the first Iraqi National Congress in 1990. It risks duplicating the factional fights that tore apart the Iraqi exile community over a decade ago. Ahmed Chalabi, for example, is not even on speaking terms with his rival, Ayad Allawi, yet both of them sit on the council. And both of the major Kurdish representatives on the council, Massoud Barzani of the KDP and Jalal Talabani of the PUK, have spent the past decade waging a civil war for control of northern Iraq.

A paralysis has already settled over the council. Its first acts have been largely symbolic: announcing a new holiday, banning a few old holidays that celebrated the Hussein regime, and announcing the formation of a new tribunal to try former Baathists for human rights abuses (without giving any timeline or details of how the tribunals would function or who would run them). Two of its foremost duties have fallen by the wayside: selecting a leader for the council and choosing ministers for an interim government. Clearly, too many old rivalries dominate the proceedings for even the most fundamental decisions to be made. Instead of a single leader, the council has opted for a rotating chair. Of course, the first chairperson has yet to be selected.

The council has made one decision, however. Paul Bremer pushed the governing council to select a delegation to the UN to ask for international recognition. The US desperately needs UN recognition so that Bremer can begin signing oil contacts and the Pentagon can persuade reluctant allies to send troops to Iraq to replace exhausted US soldiers. The fact that the council has jumped to fulfill Bremer’s priorities hasn’t been wasted on ordinary Iraqis, who are still waiting for electricity, clean water, and security.

The three candidates selected for the UN mission are a reflection of who dominates the council’s proceedings: former exile Adnan Pachachi (rumored to be the Pentagon’s favorite for Iraqi president), former exile Ahmed Chalabi (the convicted thief who would love to slip right into Saddam Hussein’s shoes), and former Baathist Akila al-Hashimi, sent along to mediate between the two. Even within this three-person delegation, the council’s divisions were readily apparent. Chalabi threw a tantrum when his Pentagon handlers told him that he wouldn’t get to address the UN, but that Pachachi would instead.

If this is a sign of things to come, then the road to democracy in Iraq will be a long and treacherous one, and US involvement will not end in two years, three years, or five years. Even a decade may not be long enough to straighten out this mess.

If you would like sources for this article, please send an e-mail to and reference the title of the article and the issue number.

This Is What a Guerrilla War Looks Like

While it’s now apparent that The Pentagon made no substantial plans for how to run post-war Iraq, somebody else in Iraq has certainly made plans for how to sabotage US rule.

Before the war began, military strategists insisted that they had a plan for Iraq after the fighting was over. Their plan was to swoop in, seize or kill Saddam Hussein and his top cadre, and leave the mid-level government managers, city officials, village mayors, and police forces in place to run the country. The Pentagon expected the Iraqi military to refuse to fight, to depose Saddam in a coup, and to maintain control of the security situation in Iraq so US troops could waltz into Baghdad and set up a new government.

None of these optimistic scenarios has played out as planned. In fact, while Congress slowly nibbles on the intelligence data from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency in search of the people who overestimated Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, no one has thought to demand hearings over which military planners or upper level Bush administration officials took us into a war with a long-term plan that resembles a Harry Potter novel.

As US troops advanced during the invasion, Baath Party officials and police abandoned their posts and went into hiding, leaving behind chaos and looting. In many of the smaller villages, particularly in the southern Shiite region, Baath party officials were killed or deposed by the village residents themselves, whose hatred for Saddam was intense. Powerful local families or sheiks took their place, setting up their own militias and spawning inter-tribal feuds. As US and British troops have stepped up raids and house-to-house searches, confusion about which militias control which towns or neighborhoods has led to attacks and ambushes against US and British troops, including the shootout that killed six British soldiers last week.

Security and looting remain the single biggest problem for the US interim authority. If the security problem were solved, aid agencies would be able to bring food into Iraq, and civilian contractors would be able to rebuild damaged infrastructure. On June 19, however, the US Agency for International Development released a report saying that security at the port of Umm Qasr, the first city taken and “secured” by the invasion force, remains “a major problem” and “has become even more problematic.” USAID reported that armed men have been stealing bags of flour directly off humanitarian ships docked at the port (which, by the way, is a very cheap and efficient way to feed a guerrilla army).

The escalating sabotage of oil and gas pipelines in Iraq is an even bigger problem. Nearly everything in Iraq runs on oil and gas. Oil powers the main electricity generating plants, which in turn power everything from water pumping stations to ice factories to the gas pumps at fuel stations. Meanwhile, exported oil pumps much-needed cash into the Iraqi economy; the Bush administration had hoped that resuming oil exports would provide most of the cash for reconstruction.

Initially, the Bush administration estimated that Iraq’s oil exports would be brought back up to pre-war levels within two weeks of the end of the war. That deadline was postponed to mid-June. Now, however, two months have passed since George Bush declared the end of major hostilities in Iraq and oil production is barely high enough to cover domestic supply. Distribution, it turns out, has become almost impossible.

On the same day that the US announced it would resume exporting Iraqi oil from the port of Ceyhan, Turkey, the main export pipeline between Iraq’s northern oil fields and Ceyhan was bombed. Oil from the north can’t be shifted south to Umm Qasr because the main pipeline south was destroyed in a US bombing raid during the war; it won’t be fixed until the end of the year, at the soonest. On June 23, saboteurs located a pipeline junction buried in the ground about 200 yards off a main highway from Iraq into Syria. They dug down to the line, planted explosives, and blew a hole in the pipeline that carries oil from the northern fields in Iraq to ports in Syria and Lebanon, effectively cutting off exports from the north.

The southern oil fields in Rumaila, which were expected to produce export oil immediately, have faltered. Widespread and systematic looting has severely damaged the nearby water pumping stations. (Water is injected into the oil wells to create enough pressure to pump out oil and to flush salt out of the oil so it can be refined.) Halliburton contractors are convinced that the looting is intentional sabotage and not for economic gain. Said one, “There have been other attacks on facilities that seem senseless, except to impede the development of the oil sector.”

But the sabotage has gone further than that. On June 22 an explosion hit the main oil pipeline linking the southern oil fields to Baghdad’s main Dura oil refinery. Subsequent attacks in the past week have damaged the lines that bring gas to electrical stations that power all of central Iraq, including the capital city. Residents of Baghdad and the surrounding areas have suffered a complete lack of electricity, running water, air conditioning, and refrigeration since June 23, while day-time temperatures in central Iraq have soared to 115 degrees.

In addition, utility managers in Baghdad have come under attack. On June 24, the head of a power station that covers all of western Baghdad was assassinated in her home, and the Baghdad director of electrical rehabilitation was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while traveling in a guarded convoy to meet with Western journalists to discuss electricity problems in the city.

Such well-coordinated, knowledgeable attacks don’t happen by accident. They point to an organized guerrilla movement–in spite of what Pentagon officials say. And despite coordinated sweeps by US troops through towns and villages in the “Sunni Belt” west and north of Baghdad, daily attacks against US soldiers continue to mount, with 25 separate ambushes and attacks reported in one day alone last week.

Who is behind these attacks? The Pentagon claims that remnants of Saddam’s militias and Baath Party loyalists are the culprit. But the isolated “pockets of resistance theory” seems weak, even with a careful examination of Pentagon statements on the subject. “What once appeared random is now looking somewhat organized,” a senior administration official admitted to the Washington Post. A “loose network” of armed fighters from Saddam Hussein’s security agencies have formed a group called “The Return,” which is being funded by rich Sunni families, other officials say. Two other militias–The Snake Party and The New Return–are also cited as suspects.

Other groups have stepped forward to take credit for attacks against US troops. A videotape made by a group calling itself the Iraqi National Front of Fedayeen was aired on Lebanon’s LBC TV. The Iraqi Resistance Brigades sent a statement to Al-Jazeera claiming credit for all attacks against occupation forces since the end of the war. US officials admit that “Muslim organizations, arms smugglers and other common criminals, and Iraqis seeking revenge for the deaths of kin at the hands of Americans are also involved in attacks against U.S. forces.” (Washington Post, 6/22/03.)

But civilians seeking revenge on American troops are not responsible for the strategic destruction of infrastructure timed to coincide with major policy statements by the US interim authority. The day after Paul Bremer stood before the World Economic Forum in Jordan and announced that he would unilaterally sell off Iraq’s national assets to foreign private companies, saboteurs blew the gas pipeline that cut off electricity to Baghdad and all of central Iraq. This sets the stage for a major uprising in the days to come as residents begin to succumb to searing heat, thirst, starvation (because of the lack of refrigeration), and disease from drinking and bathing in polluted rivers and pools of stagnant water.

Clearly, someone has a plan for Iraq, but it’s not the Bush administration.

Some sources for this article:

“Thefts Plague US Contractors’ Efforts in Iraq,” Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, 6/20/03,; “Fire, Explosions Hit Iraq-Turkey Pipeline,” Michael Georgy and Steve Bryant, Reuters, 6/13/03; “Iraqi Pipeline Blast and Fire Are Laid to Sabotage,” Neela Banerjee, New York Times, 6/14/03,; “Key Iraq Pipeline Won’t Reopen Before Year’s End,” Keith Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 6/18/03, A14; “Attack on fuel pipeline in western Iraq: oil official,” Agence France Presse, 6/23/03; “Explosion in Iraqi oil pipeline, residents claim sabotage,” Agence France Presse, 6/22/03; “Rash of Pipeline Fires Is Keeping Workers Busy,” Neela Banerjee, New York Times, 6/23/03,; “Iraq Pipelines Easy Targets for a Sabateur,” Warren Vieth and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, 6/25/03,; “Gunmen shoot dead Baghdad power-station boss; Explosion damages oil pipeline,” Agence France Presse, 6/25/03; “US soldier killed, 8 hurt in attack,” Ellen Barry and Rebecca Bou Chebel, Boston Globe,

tml; “Facing Well-Planned Attacks, US Alters Tactics to Military Sweeps,” Bradley Graham, Washington Post, 6/18/03, A16; “Attacks in Iraq Traced to Network,” Daniel Williams, Washington Post, 6/22/03, Al; “Unknown Iraqi Group Vows to Kill US Soldiers,” Reuters, 6/23/03; “Four killed in new clashes in Baghdad, London warns of lack of security,” Agence France Presse, 6/18/03; “Overseer in Iraq Vows to Sell Off Government-Owned Companies,” Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times, 6/23/03,

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