Robert Fisk: The Handover
- Restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - or Alice in Wonderland?
by Robert Fisk
29 June 2004
So 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.
Pitiful 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 the date.
Few, save of course for the Iraqis, understood the cruellest paradox
of the event. For it was the new Iraqi Foreign Minister - should we
not put his title, too, into quotation marks? - 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
Power 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.
It was difficult to remember that Mr Bremer was touted for his job
more than a year ago because he was a "counter-terrorism" expert -
this definitely should be in inverted commas - 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.
According 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?
No, 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.
Yesterday, 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.
Perhaps 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 clichés, 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.
But 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.
True, 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.
There 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.
According 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.
The 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.
If 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.
The 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 Iraqi court.
But 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, post-American
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