“We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture or … kill them until we have imposed law and order on this country. We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country.” This is US proconsul in Iraq Paul Bremer, speaking from Baghdad last Saturday.
“I appeal to you, O Iraqis, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, Shi’a or Sunni, Christians or Muslims, it is your duty to expel the aggressor invaders from our country.” This is allegedly Saddam Hussein in his new audio-tape broadcast by Lebanon’s al-Hayat-LBC channel (only a few days after the July 4 tape broadcast by al-Jazeera).
The question is inescapable: whom are Iraqis listening to? The “occuliberator” or the invisible former dictator? For Pentagon masters and their faithful lieutenant Bremer, there is no such thing as legitimate Iraqi indigenous resistance to foreign occupation. But Asia Times Online has reported that the resistance spirit previously confined to the Sunni belt around Baghdad has also “contaminated” Shi’ite religious leaders.
Whatever the spin, and whatever the cost – at least in the short to medium term – in US casualties, the game plan remains to occupy and control Iraq for years. Iraqi sources inside the country and in Jordan and Egypt have confirmed information already circulated by the Israeli website DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the Americans are spending US$500 million to build two giant intelligence facilities: one north of Mosul, in Kurdish territory, and another in Baghdad’s middle-class Saadun neighborhood on the Tigris River’s east bank. This massive military presence may be a throwback to when the United States had a faithful regional gendarme, the Shah of Iran. But the facilities are necessary in order to enforce the economic agenda that really matters to Washington: the privatization of Iraq’s economy and most of all the exploitation of its immense oil reserves.
This will mark the end of an era, and will be the ultimate graphic demonstration by the United States of what happens to regimes that dare to defy the superpower – or outlast their usefulness, as was Saddam’s case. The Iraq Petroleum Co was nationalized in June 1972. It was a progressive nationalization: first the oilfields in the northeast, then – during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war – what was controlled by Exxon, Mobil and Shell. Finally, in 1975, what was controlled by British Petroleum and the Compagnie Francaise des Petroles. From 1975 until the embargo applied in response to the invasion of Kuwait, in 1990, Iraq controlled 100 percent of the exploitation of its oil resources.
Anglo-Americans have never forgiven Iraq for this move. The British have never forgiven the Ba’ath Party for ending their more than half a century of influence in Mesopotamia – and making it even worse by opening the doors of Iraq and the Persian Gulf to France. The United States for its part has never forgiven Iraq for setting an example to the developing world and for taking the lead in a sort of front of Arab export countries when the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries (OPEC) was created in 1973.
The dismantling of the Ba’ath Party and the dismantling of the socialized economy the party put in place since the end of the 1960s are indications that the US has already begun to refashion Iraq to its liking – strengthening its role as successor to Britain as the dominant Western colonial power in the Middle East.
Proconsul Bremer announced that his appointed “governing council” of 25-30 Iraqis should be in place by mid-July. Faced with very strong opposition from all quarters, Bremer has somewhat agreed to grant Iraqis the power to appoint and supervise an Iraqi council of ministers, to set oil and economic policies, issue a new Iraqi currency and appoint new Iraqi ambassadors. But strenuous weeks of negotiations might have been a smokescreen: nobody at this point can guarantee whether the new ruling council will be directly appointed by Bremer or will emanate auspiciously after tumultuous “consultations” among Iraqi political leaders.
The Arab world scoffs at the notion of trusting Pentagon people to introduce democracy to Iraq. The inevitable example is Pentagon pet Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Chalabi is widely despised inside Iraq. The US State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) never trusted the slick operator. But the Pentagon and the oil lobby love him: he has always said what Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Co want to hear – things like how he thought the US “liberators” would be welcomed by the Iraqi population with roses and showers of rice.
In a joint statement issued this Monday in Salahuddin, Kurdistan, the seven main Iraqi political groups that form the leadership council of the former Iraqi opposition have decided to join an interim Iraqi government. But they have also made it clear that their tortuous negotiations with Bremer are not over yet. For the first time, Bremer has been forced to acknowledge that the members of the leadership council will have a “governing” role – although the supreme powers remain the Americans and British.
The seven main Iraqi political groups also claim to have support for an Iraqi security force from General John Abizaid – who is taking over the United States Central Command from General Tommy Franks – and from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in the Pentagon. This would be a paramilitary army trained and equipped by the United States – with a mission to fight the so-called “remnants of the Ba’athist regime” that are waging a guerrilla-style resistance against the Americans.
Many Iraqis are certain that the resistance is being waged not only by Saddam sympathizers and former Ba’ath officials but by a coalition of popular-resistance forces. The problem is that Iraqis don’t know what is really happening in this behind-closed-doors form of democracy because of the newly established committee for press censorship. The US is exercising censorship of the press in Iraq. This means that the media can publish anything that talks of Saddam’s years of terror, but they cannot write freely about such current events as Bremer’s maneuvers, US inertia to restore basic public services, resistance against the occupation, dissenting views about democracy imposed by invasion, etc.
Americans have to be aware that the key to understanding Iraq is religion and tribe. The emerging New Iraq will reflect how religious, tribal, national, regional and ethnic identities are integrated in a national political system that includes everybody – and reflects real power balances. Religion, ethno-nationalism and statehood should find a better balance than the one imposed on Iraq by British colonialism in the 1920s.
The United States may try to import its preferred leaders – or force them down Iraqis’ throats. It may impose an alien governance system. It may marginalize powerful indigenous Shi’ite religious leaders or tribal elders. It may try to grant privileges to tribal and commercial elites who enjoy disproportionate local power. It may use locals and then get rid of them when they are no longer useful. May the US try any one of these things, it’s possible that former minister of information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, aka “Comical Ali,” will be proved prophetic: “They’re coming to surrender or be burned in their tanks.”