A Post-War Disaster in Iraq

"There you go again."
-- Ronald Reagan, 1984

When George W. Bush wanted the Taliban out, he issued an ultimatum: give up Osama or face the consequences.

Mullah Omar and his grim band of Islamist yahoos were fearsome literalists; in a now-forgotten last-ditch attempt to keep their jobs, they offered to turn over bin Laden. But Bush didn't really want bin Laden -- he wanted the Taliban gone. Days later, bombs began raining on Afghanistan.

Bush's ultimatums are, in fact, merely eviction notices.

A year later Saddam Hussein is sitting through the same "let's make this look good" ritual. Bush doesn't want arms inspections; he wants Iraq. Nothing Saddam does or offers to do will make a difference. War was likely before Election Day, but the Republican sweep makes it inevitable.

Bombs will fall. People will die. We Americans will mostly just care about the Americans who are killed -- and we won't be upset for very long. And what happens after the last oil-well fire has been extinguished? We will be like a dog that finally catches one of those passing cars. What the hell do we do with it? What will we do with the oil-rich, fractious country full of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds once we finally oust Saddam?

The U.S. didn't put much serious advance planning into who would run post-Taliban Afghanistan (remember King Zahir Shah?). Now we're about to take over Iraq without having clue one about what kind of government to install after the war or who will be in charge of it.

In 1998, Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act. Under that law, the U.S. officially recognizes six Iraqi groups as possible alternatives to Saddam Hussein's Baath regime: two Kurdish militias currently running Iraq's northern "no-fly zone," the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Teheran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and a small Hashemite monarchist group.

Riven by its own turf battles, the Bush administration is unable and unwilling to declare which -- if any -- of these outfits should rule Iraq after the coming war. On Oct. 28, The New York Sun, a new conservative daily newspaper, reported that the administration was considering naming a special presidential envoy to the Iraqi opposition. But, the Sun wrote, "The matter has become entangled in the vicious policy struggle between the Pentagon and the Vice President's office, on the one hand, and the State Department and the CIA, on the other hand."

The State Department and CIA are the reasonable moderates within the Bush Administration. They prefer giving UN weapons inspectors a real chance to avoid war, and deny any connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. (Al Qaeda operatives are active in Iraq, but in Kurdistan, where Saddam's government has no control.) They back the Shiite-aligned SCIRI and the Iraqi National Accord, which tried to depose Saddam in a 1998 coup attempt. The Defense Department and Dick Cheney, on the other hand, favor a pliant umbrella organization, the Iraqi National Congress, to manage the locals while the U.S. pumps out the oil.

"Tensions are so high," reports the Sun, "that ground rules have been established banning representatives of the State Department from meeting with representatives of the Iraqi opposition without a representative of the Defense Department present, and, likewise, banning representatives of the Defense Department from meeting with the Iraqi opposition without a representative of the State Department present."

U.S. officials have a hard time presenting a unified policy front even towards one fiefdom. "Americans agreed that the future Iraqi government should be an elected government," SCIRI leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim said on Oct. 21. "They also agreed that a military ruler wouldn't work." SCIRI's main supporter, Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, told the Associated Press exactly the opposite: "The United States is considering a model for post-war Iraq that resembles Japan after World War II, when Japan was occupied by an American-led military government." Another model, Powell said, is the postwar military occupation of Germany.

For its part the Pentagon is promising to help the Iraqi National Congress train 10,000 troops for combat against Saddam.

Lost among all the internal squabbling is the real possibility that none of the six approved groups may prove to be any better than the brutally autocratic Saddam Hussein. Human Rights Watch accuses both Kurdish militias of "a wide variety of human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of suspected political opponents, torture, and extrajudicial executions," as well as ethnic cleansing. Kurdish policy towards women is indistinguishable from that of the Taliban; the Kurds take hard-line Islamic fundamentalism even further by endorsing the "honor killing" of women who have sex outside marriage -- even when they have been raped.

The Taliban were bleeding-heart liberals by comparison -- they at least stoned the rapists to death.

All six of the approved groups subscribe to conservative Islam or fundamentalist Islamic values. Several endorse the same Sharia law used to justify stonings and burqas in Afghanistan, and all would curtail the rights of Iraqi women (who currently enjoy the most freedom among the Arab states). And only one can be called pro-American. Like Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, these factions will begin fighting one another as soon as they get the chance.

"Our objective for the long term in Iraq would be to establish a broad-based representative and democratic government," said Bush foreign policy adviser and special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. But most analysts believe that replacing Saddam with any, some, or all of these groups will accelerate the balkanization of Iraq and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism around the world. That is exactly what happened after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

Tell us again ... heck, tell us at least once exactly why we are about to do this thing.

Ted Rall's latest book, a graphic travelogue about his recent coverage of the Afghan war titled "To Afghanistan and Back," is now in its second edition. Ordering and review-copy information are available at nbmpub.com.

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