Month: August 2005

We Hold These Truths…

US troops won’t leave Iraq until the war is won, George W. Bush has said, but the notion that the US is “winning” in Iraq has become a joke, especially after last week’s Constitution fiasco.

If the draft Iraqi Constitution released to reporters on Monday, August 22, is representative of the Bush administration’s best efforts at “pursuing the political process” in Iraq, then those troops should have come home a long time ago.

Part One, Article Two of the draft Constitution says: “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation…No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.” It’s a prescription for religious courts and Sharia law, similar to the government of Iran or the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. Notably, the current US ambassador/viceroy in Iraq is Zalmay Khalilzad, who helped write the new Constitution of Afghanistan, which provides for religious courts that are only slightly less conservative than the Taliban’s.

The Bushies can’t claim–as they’ll try to do–that they didn’t have a hand in approving this. Khalilzad was involved in every stage of the process and pushed hard for all sides to agree on a draft constitution by the deadline of August 15 … or at least soon enough after the deadline so the Iraqi people will have something to vote on by October 15th. In fact, many members of the constitution committee complained that the Americans were pushing them too hard to come to an agreement and were almost more interested in getting a finished draft than the Iraqis were.

The provision for religious law is bad enough, but here’s what Part Three, The Judiciary, Article 90 says: “The Supreme Court will be made up of a number of judges and experts in Sharia (Islamic law) and law, whose number and manner of selection will be defined by a law that should be passed by two-thirds of the Parliament members.”

So much for separation of church and state. It’s surreal for George W. Bush to whine about how fundamentalist religious terrorists (represented by al-Zarqawi) are trying to take over Iraq and use it as a springboard to launch an Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East, while Shiite religious fundamentalists are being handed Iraq on a silver platter by Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the stupid neocons at the Pentagon.

George Bush’s version of the Domino Theory might appeal to unthinking Republicans, or unthinking people in general, but the facts tell another story. Part Five of the draft Constitution is an entire chapter devoted to the “Authorities of the Regions.” It says that a simple majority of voters in any two or more provinces can form a region, which can then write its own constitution, which will overrule the federal constitution in any matter where the two constitutions conflict, as long as it doesn’t pertain to federal powers (like foreign policy, for example). The region can set up its own government, courts, and security forces. This section doesn’t just cover the Kurdish autonomous region; it applies to any region, including the Shiite area in the south, a collection of 9 of Iraq’s provinces (about half the country) that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) wants to organize into an autonomous region.

Call this a prescription for civil war, if you like. It certainly encourages secession. Part Three of the draft Constitution takes this a step further with wording that sets up a “Council of Union” for the representatives of the regions to “examine bills related to regions and provinces.” The organization and powers of the Council of Union are left deliberately vague. This raises important questions about the balance of power between the federal government and the regions. Will the Council of Union operate in opposition to the Parliament? Who will win if they pass rules that conflict? What if the regions become stronger than the federal government? Will the Council of Union eventually supercede the Parliament, just as the regions can overrule the federal government?

One of the worst problems of this draft Constitution is that so many clauses are vague and open-ended. There’s far too much wording like the phrase “will be defined by a law that should be passed by two-thirds of the Parliament members” contained in the Supreme Court section. It’s clearly not a finished document at all; it’s a vague wish-list, pushed through in a hurry so that the Bush administration can pretend they’re getting things done in Iraq.

What they’re really getting done in Iraq is nightmarish. George W. Bush needs to admit that he has deposed a dictator and replaced him with a fundamentalist Islamic government closely aligned to Iran, and that this has been done against the express wishes of the majority of Iraq’s population.

Fortunately, those folks are beginning to speak out against the draft Constitution: Sunnis, secularists, women’s groups, and even a key segment of the Shiite population. The urban, economically downtrodden supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr turned out in the streets of several cities last Friday to protest against the Constitution and the current Iraqi interim government shepherded into power by the US.

It’s long past time for US troops to come home.

Time to Cut and Run

George Bush has once again shifted his requirements for US troop withdrawal from Iraq, now that public opinion is against the war and his approval ratings have dipped below 50%.

Initially, the war was declared “won” on May 1, 2003, when George Jr. landed on the infamous aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” emblazoned on victory banners.

But the military mission was just the first step, George assured us; the reconstruction mission was equally important. US troops would help refurbish a few schools, deliver some medical supplies, pose for NGO-style photos with lots of children in the background, etc. Then the troops could come home while the US-installed Governing Council could worry about the rest. But the deterioration of Iraqi infrastructure was much worse than US war planners had envisioned: a decade of sanctions had seen to that. And US troops, not trained for police duties, quickly ran into trouble with angry Iraqis peacefully demonstrating in Fallujah, with unemployed army veterans demanding their pensions, with ordinary Iraqis trying to navigate checkpoints.

By August 2003, a guerrilla insurgency forced the Bush administration to backpedal on the “mission accomplished” boast. Now the mantra was “we defeat the insurgency, then the troops can come home.” But 2004 brought the Abu Ghraib scandal, the farcical caucuses that put the unpopular and largely unknown Ayad Allawi and his corrupt government into power, US military attacks against Moqtada al-Sadr’s supporters in Najaf and Karbala, the rise of a fundamentalist jihad in Iraq staffed largely by suicide bombers from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and an intensification of the Sunni guerilla war. By the end of 2004, the US drive to end the insurgency was clearly failing. The new mission became a simpler one: train Iraqi troops to fight the insurgency instead, and then US troops could come home.

But eight months have passed since that time, and the US mission to train Iraqi troops and police forces is as much a failure as the mission to defeat the insurgency. In late July, the Inspector Generals of the State Department and the Department of Defense released a report on the status of the training mission, which optimistically called it a “qualified success.” Yet, all but one of the key judgments in the report were negative. Many Iraqi recruits are only marginally literate, have criminal records, or have physical handicaps that make them unsuitable for police work. The vetting procedures are abysmal; the report openly acknowledges that insurgents have infiltrated the Iraqi police forces. In addition, the training program was set up by US and Coalition forces without any input from Iraqis–a major problem, because no one within the Iraqi government is willing to own or take control of the program, or take responsibility for its success.

But those are not the worst problems for the program. The highest hurdle is the lack of money. The new Iraqi government can’t pay the salaries of its current employees, much less an army of new recruits. Already, Iraqi government employees have joined street demonstrations against the new Iraqi government, demanding their back pay. Adding armed police and soldiers to that mix will create a powder keg.

US goals for the training program are in direct opposition to the Iraqi government’s needs. The Iraqi government wants to put a freeze on hiring new police recruits until the current recruits can be properly equipped and money found to pay their salaries. Donald Rumsfeld, however, has openly put pressure on the Iraqi government to back down. Rumsfeld, himself, is under pressure from Congress to make good on his promise of training large numbers of Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible. The US has spent $1.8 billion so far–and hundreds of millions more in Iraqi funds–on the training program, with unsatisfactory results.

In the past month the Bush administration has simply stopped talking about training Iraqi troops. It’s no longer the standard by which we can gauge whether the mission is successful. There’s now a new yardstick; the current phrase is “pursue the political process”–which, when translated, means getting the interim Iraqi government to adhere to UN deadlines for writing and approving a new Constitution and holding full, nationwide elections by December. Then US troops can come home.

August 15th is the UN deadline for a new Constitution to be written and approved by the Iraqi parliament. On August 1st, representatives of the Constitutional Committee agreed to seek a six-month extension to draft the Constitution, given that some very important issues have not been resolved. Those issues include the rights of women, how much power the new nation will allow its regional assemblies (the Kurds want a strong regional government and weaker federal government, while the Sunnis want the opposite), and what role Islam should play in the new laws governing the nation. These are highly contentious and difficult issues to resolve, and not likely to be tackled in two weeks. In other words, Iraqis can have a slow and carefully drafted Constitution or they can have a quick and sloppy one.

The Bush administration favors the quick and sloppy one. The US ambassador to Iraq told the Constitutional Committee in no uncertain terms that they had to be finished by August 15th. No exceptions and no extensions, even if it causes problems later.

In other words, the Bush administration is digging to find some kind of victory from a war that has been a defeat on all fronts, from the military aspect to the reconstruction aspect to the political aspect and even the overall “War on Terrorism” angle. We’ve been hearing for months that the nightmare scenario is a US troop withdrawal that leaves a civil war behind: Iraq turned into a country with no government mired in a conflict that will eventually draw its neighbors into a regional war, or even a Third World War.

The truth is not nearly as bad as that. All sectors of Iraqi society are heavily invested in rebuilding their country without outside intervention. Efforts by the US-installed Iraqi government to negotiate with the Sunni insurgency have given rise to several Sunni political organizations, and most of them will participate in Iraqi politics once the occupiers have left. Iraq’s neighbors are more eager to see a stable Iraq than we give them credit for.

No, the real nightmare scenario is the one that keeps George Bush and the leaders of the Republican Party awake at night: US withdrawal with our tail between our legs, and a US public that knows the war was a mistake from the beginning.

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