in the end, America's enemies set the date. The
handover of "full sovereignty" was secretly
brought forward so that the ex-CIA intelligence
officer who is now "Prime Minister"
of Iraq could avoid another bloody offensive by
America's enemies. What is supposed to be the
most important date in Iraq's modern history was
changed--like a birthday party--because it might
rain on Wednesday.
is the word that comes to mind. Here we were,
handing "full sovereignty" to the people
of Iraq ? "full", of course, providing
we forget the 160,000 foreign soldiers whom the
Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, has apparently asked
to stay in Iraq, "full" providing we
forget the 3,000 US diplomats in Baghdad who will
constitute the largest US embassy in the world--without
even telling the Iraqi people that we had changed
save of course for the Iraqis, understood the
cruellest paradox of the event. For it was the
new "Iraqi Foreign Minister" who chose
to leak the "bringing forward" of sovereignty
in Iraq at the Nato summit in Turkey. Thus was
this new and unprecedented date in modern Iraqi
history announced not in Baghdad but in the capital
of the former Ottoman empire which once ruled
Iraq. Alice in Wonderland could not have improved
on this. The looking-glass reflects all the way
from Baghdad to Washington. In its savage irony
Ibsen might have done justice to the occasion.
After all, what could have been more familiar
than Allawi's appeal to Iraqis to fight "the
enemies of the people".
was ritually handed over in legal documents. The
new government was sworn in on the Koran. The
US proconsul, Paul Bremer, formally shook hands
with Mr Allawi and boarded his C130 to fly home,
guarded by special forces men in shades.
was difficult to remember that Mr Bremer was touted
for his job more than a year ago because he was
a "counter-terrorism" expert and that
what he referred to as "dead-enders"
[Baathist diehards] managed to turn almost an
entire Iraqi population against the United States
and Britain in just a few months.
to Mr Allawi yesterday, the "dead-enders"
and the "remnants" belonged to Saddam
Hussein. Those of them who had not committed crimes
could even join the new authorities, he announced.
But it had already been made clear that Mr Allawi
was pondering martial law, the sine qua non of
every Arab dictatorship--this time to be imposed
on an Arab state, heaven spare us, by a Western
army led by an avowedly Christian government.
Who was the last man to impose martial law on
Iraqis? Wasn't it Saddam Hussein?
Mr Allawi and his chums--along with the convicted
fraudster Ahmed Chalabi, now dug up from his political
grave--are not little Saddams. Indeed, it is Mr
Allawi's claim to fame that he was a Saddam loyalist
until he upped sticks and fled to London. He almost
got assassinated by Saddam before--this by his
own admission--he took the King's shilling (MI6)
and the CIA's dollar and (again by his own admission)
that of 12 other intelligence agencies.
Mr Allawi was talking of a "historical day".
As far as the new Prime Minister is concerned,
Iraqis were about to enjoy "full sovereignty".
Those of us who put quotation marks around "liberation"
in 2003 should now put quotation marks around
"sovereignty". Doing this has become
part of the reporting of the Middle East.
most remarkable of all was Mr Allawi's demand
that "mercenaries who come to Iraq from foreign
countries" should leave Iraq. There are,
of course, 80,000 Western "mercenaries"
in Iraq, most of them wearing Western clothes.
But of course, Mr Allawi was not speaking of these
men. And herein lies a problem. There must come
a time when we have to give up cliches, when we
have to give up on the American nightmares. Al-Qa'ida
does not have an original branch in Iraq. And
the Iraqis didn't plan September 11, 2001.
not to worry. The new Iraqi Prime Minister will
soon introduce martial law --journalists who think
they can escape criticism should reflect again--and
thus we can all wait for a request for more American
troops "at the formal request of the provincial
government". Wait, then, for the first expulsion
of journalists. Democratic elections will be held
in Iraq, "it is hoped", within five
months. Well, we shall see.
Mr Allawi promises a future Iraq with "a
society of all Iraqis, irrespective of ethnicity,
colour or religion." But the Iraqis who Mr
Allawi promises to protect do not apparently include
the 5,000 prisoners held in America's dubious
camps across Iraq. At least 3,000 will remain
captive, largely of the Americans.
were many promises yesterday of a trial for Saddam
Hussein and his colleagues although, not surprisingly,
Iraqi lawyers felt there were other, more pressing
issues to pursue. Paul Bremer abolished the death
penalty in Iraq but Mr Allawi seems to want to
bring it back. Asked whether Saddam might be executed,
he remarked that "this is again something
which is being debated in the judicial system
in Iraq". He said, however, that he was in
favour of capital punishment.
to American sources, the United States has been
putting pressure on Mr Allawi for at least two
weeks in the hope that his ministries could--in
theory, at least--function without US support.
American advisers had already been withdrawn from
many Iraqi institutions. Yet when he appeared
yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke with words
that might have come from George Bush. He warned
"the forces of terror" that "we
will not forget who stood with us and against
us in this crisis". As the new "Cabinet"
stepped forward to place their hands on the Koran,
a large number of Iraqi flags lined the podium
behind them--though not the strange blue and white
banner which the former Interim Council had concocted
two months ago.
real problem for Mr Allawi is that he has to be
an independent leader while relying upon an alien,
Western and Christian force to support his rule.
He cannot produce security without the assistance
of an alien force. But he has no control over
that force. He cannot order the Americans to leave.
But here is the real question.
Mr Allawi really intends to lead Iraq, the most
powerful demonstration he could show would be
to demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign
forces. Within hours, he would be a hero in Iraq.
The Americans would be finished. But does Mr Allawi
have the wit to realise that this ultimate step
might save him? Who can tell, at this critical
and bloody hour? America's satraps have been known
to turn traitor before. Yet the whole painful
equation in Baghdad now is that Mr Allawi is relying
on the one army whose evacuation he needs to prove
his own credibility.
Western occupying powers have left behind a raft
of dubious legislation. Much of it allows Western
companies to suck up the profits of reconstruction
--an issue over which the Iraqis had no choice--and
many people in the country have no interest in
continuing Mr Bremer's occupation laws. No one,
for example, is likely to spend a month in jail
for driving without a licence. But why should
US and other Western businesses have legal immunity
from Iraqi law? When a British or American mercenary
shoots dead an Iraqi, he cannot be taken to an
Mr Allawi relies upon these same mercenaries.
Which is why, sadly and inevitably, he and his
government will fail. The insurgency now has a
life of its own--and a plan. If it can continue
to maintain an independence struggle for nationalists
within the Sunni Muslim areas north and west of
Baghdad, then the Sunnis may also claim that they
have the right to form Iraq's first independent,
Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author
of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to
CounterPunch's hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
Posted: July 1, 2004