One year after invading United States and British forces
consolidated their control over Iraq, the administration
of President George W Bush appears to be back at square
one, if not in negative territory, over how to ensure
that control in the short to medium term.
problem, however, is that the administration lacks any
comprehensive strategy and remains internally divided
over precisely what to do.
hawks centered in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick
Cheney's office and their allies outside the
administration remain strongly opposed to giving the
United Nations a major substantive role in any aspect of
the occupation or abandoning plans to ensure that their
Iraqi collaborators, notably Iraqi National Congress
(INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, retain power in any
The administration's latest policy
revision was confirmed in Baghdad on Friday with the
announcement by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)
chief L Paul Bremer that the "de-Ba'athification" policy
he carried to Iraq almost 11 months ago had been "poorly
implemented" and needed to be reviewed.
plain meaning of his remarks, despite his continued
insistence that the policy "was and is sound", was that
thousands of former senior and mid-level members of the
Ba'ath Party of former president Saddam Hussein will now
be brought back into the government, especially the
military and the police, presumably to secure the
stability and order that some 160,000 US and British
troops and their auxiliaries from the ever-shrinking
"coalition of the willing" have been unable to impose.
Bremer's announcement followed by just a few
days another by Bush himself that United Nations special
envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will be given the lead to
determine the shape and composition of a new
transitional authority that will replace the current
Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) from June 30, when
"limited sovereignty" will revert to Iraqis, until
elections for a new government can be held, hopefully in
The hope is that Brahimi's and the
UN's imprimatur on the interim government will provide
it with the international - and, more important, an
Iraqi domestic acceptance and legitimacy that have also
eluded the widely discredited IGC.
steps have been in the works since last year, the past
month's setbacks - especially the unprecedented violence
that has taken the lives of more than 100 US troops and
more than 1,000 Iraqis in Fallujah, parts of Baghdad and
the predominantly Shi'ite south - made them all the more
Suddenly the administration, which was
in the process of drawing down its troops from 150,000
to about 100,000 by the June 30 transition date, was
facing what many now call popular uprisings in both the
Sunni triangle' and among the majority Shi'ite
population, whose acquiescence in the US-led occupation
has long been seen as absolutely indispensable to the
success of Washington's Iraq agenda.
to suppress the insurgency in Fallujah were, by all
accounts, politically disastrous. With hundreds of
Iraqis - including women and children - killed in the
fighting, the city quickly became a rallying cry for
both Sunnis and Shi'ites, and also for nationalists and
Islamists fed up with the CPA's incompetence and the
humiliations of occupation.
"I am convinced now
[that the CPA] created a situation where Iraqis are in
total psychological revolt," Gailan Ramiz, a US-educated
political scientist in Baghdad, told the Christian
Science Monitor last week.
That US-trained and
supervised Iraqi military and security forces by and
large failed to back up coalition troops during the
fighting has added to the sense that Washington's hopes
of transferring security duties to Iraqis and
withdrawing most of its forces to discreet bases away
from population centers were based on wishful thinking.
US generals in Iraq have admitted that as much
as 10 percent of Iraqi security forces worked with or
joined the rebels, and that an additional 40 percent
simply melted away or refused US orders. Other analysts
say those estimates are low.
security plan must be thoroughly re-examined", noted
analysts Jessica Mathews and Marina Ottaway of the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who wrote in
the Financial Times that Washington's political and
security strategy is now "in tatters".
problem is that the US reaction - including Bush's
delegation of authority to Brahimi and Bremer's
recruitment of former Ba'athists - appears driven more
by ad hoc emergencies than an overall strategy for both
stabilizing the country and implementing a credible exit
As a result, each policy issue is
likely to be the subject of major internal fights
between the "realists", based in the State Department,
the uniformed military and the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), and the neo-conservative hawks around
Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, fights of the
kind detailed in reporter Bob Woodward's new insider
account, Plan of Attack.
really well-thought-out strategy that has the support of
all the major players, the administration is going to
have a really hard time getting anywhere," said one
State Department source who asked not to be identified.
"I see lots of room for sabotage by one faction or
another if they don't get what they want."
Indeed, neo-conservative forces, such as the
editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and former
Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, concerned
about reports that Brahimi is unlikely to recommend
Chalabi - who has led and championed an aggressive
de-Ba'athification campaign - to a position in the
interim government, are loudly complaining that the
Algerian diplomat is the spearhead of a UN-State
Department-CIA plot to take control of the transition.
They also worry that greater UN influence could result
in a less aggressive military policy toward Iraqi
The lack of a comprehensive strategy
was underlined in the reaction of Republican Senator
John McCain, who emerged from a closed briefing with
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice muttering
"There is no plan."
Three days of hearings on
Iraq policy on Capitol Hill last week, which culminated
in testimony by Under Secretary of State for Political
Affairs Marc Grossman, also confirmed to many analysts
that the administration is engaged in wishful thinking
and ad hoc planning.
Pressed for details,
Grossman repeatedly stated that the shape and leadership
of the interim government will be determined by Brahimi
next month - less than 60 days before the scheduled
transition - but that Washington will remain in charge
of all security and military forces and oppose any
attempts by the new body to pass new laws or amend
existing ones during the interim period.
noted by David Ignatius of the Washington Post, "The big
problem with the new Iraqi policy is that it's at war
with the old one." At a time when the administration
appears to be embracing a more UN-centered approach, it
is also imposing strict limits on the ability and power
of any new authority to depart from policies put in
place by the CPA and the neo-conservatives' favorites on
Democrats also suggested that the
proposed "limited sovereignty" framework risked a major
backlash by Iraqis, who have been told that real
sovereignty would be returned to them as of June 30.
Iraqis are "going to wake up [on July 1] and
there's going to be 160,000 [US] troops and a US
ambassador pulling the strings," noted Senator Joseph
Biden. "How does that take the American face off 'the
That point was echoed by British
professor Toby Dodge, an author of two recent books on
Iraq, who also warned in testimony this week: "There is
so much uncertainty in a very uncertain and disturbed
country that June 30 may well add to our problems, not
detract from them."