Governing council a tool for US control over Iraq

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Few doubt that the Iraqi Governing Council that met in Baghdad for the first time on July 13 exists primarily to serve the US’s objectives. The members of the council have been handpicked by L. Paul Bremer, the US viceroy in Baghdad, rather than elected by Iraqis, either directly or indirectly. They include political and community leaders whom the US hopes to keep on-side, such as Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Sayyid Muhammad Bahr al-Ulloum, a senior alim from Najaf, and Kurdish leaders Jalal Talebani and Massoud Barzani, as well as figures through whom the US hopes to be able to enforce its will on the Council, such as Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Council, whom the US had hoped would be their man in Iraq (he is widely known in Iraq as ‘the thief’), the former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi, and Akila al-Hashimi, a former Ba’athist who was a senior official in Iraq’s foreign ministry until April.

Despite all that, Washington’s plans for Iraq are not all going smoothly. The continuing hostility towards the US, the increasing attacks on US troops, and the difficulties the US has had in finding anyone to work with politically, have all increased the pressure on Bremer to make political progress, however limited. At the same time, domestic pressure is also growing on the Bush administration, and its allies, because of the military losses in Iraq and the growing controversy over the failure to find any WMDs. It is a sign of the US’s desperation to be seen to be making some sort of progress that even reinstalling Iraq’s Hashemite monarchy, overthrown in 1958, was considered. (The absence of the current pretender, Sharif Ali bin Hussein, from the governing council suggests that that idea has been shelved.)

Meanwhile, Washington is also pressing on with its main objectives of securing control over Iraq’s resources, mainly oil and reconstruction contracts. Washington’s control over Iraq having been legitimised by a UN Security Council resolution in May, on July 8 Bremer focused on the need to privatise Iraq’s oil industry (ie. transfer it to American oil companies) and secure investment in the country’s reconstruction (ie. give lucrative contracts to Western companies). This investment will be guaranteed by Iraq’s future oil revenues. He emphasised that the aim is to pursue these policies in such a way that they cannot be reversed by future Iraqi governments: “the dilemma will be to make changes in such a way that new laws will survive the elected Iraqi government.”

The US’s problem is that, having gone to war for one set of reasons, but used different ones to justify the decision, it is now not sufficient to be successful in their true objectives; public opinion demands that the war be seen to have succeeded in terms of the false reasons. Unfortunately for the politicians, there are no WMDs to be found, and there is no point in establishing a genuine democracy because that would undoubtedly produce a government opposed to Western interests.

Although the Western media are mostly happy to present the Governing Council as a step towards Iraqi self-rule, Bremer himself has made no bones about its true purpose, saying that “the governing council will be able to make statements that could be seen as more binding and the trick will be to figure out how to do this.” In other words, the US hopes the council will legitimise decisions that are politically unacceptable directly from the occupying authorities. Nonetheless, the council itself now becomes a political factor that the US has to deal with. Its widely-publicised first decision, to create a public holiday to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein, was only made after it rejected a US call for a resolution thanking George Bush for invading; it is perhaps a sign of the US’s political naivety that such a resolution was even proposed.

The governing council may have little independence, but then neither do the governing institutions of virtually any other Muslim country. What it may prove to be, because the US has had to accept representatives from groups like SCIRI and the Dawa Party, is a framework through which Iraqi leaders of various kinds can try to exert their will on Iraq’s affairs, and try to obstruct the US agenda. The US has plans for Iraq, but it cannot expect the Iraqis to co-operate. However it may try to consolidate its control, it can expect opposition from virtually all Iraqis. Despite its military domination, the US may find it is a long way from controlling the country politically, and that its problems will increase.

Mr. Iqbal Siddiqui is Editor of Crescent International and Research Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Contemporary Thought.

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