Auditing Arrogance

Auditing Arrogance

Mini Teaser: Three months before the start of the American operation in Iraq I visited the United States, where I met with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

by Author(s): Yevgeny Primakov

Three months before the start of the American operation in Iraq I visited the United States, where I met with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Our conversations were difficult. When I commented that the action in Iraq would lead to serious losses--and not simply during the military operations--the vice president smiled dismissively and said that I was exaggerating the danger. I posed the question as to whether the United States had thought through the Iraq operation "one step ahead" to Condoleezza, with whom I have met several times before, and she answered: "Yevgeny, don't worry. The political decision about the start of the operation hasn't been made yet...."

At any rate, I received a firm impression that in Washington nobody gave much thought to the problems that might arise after Saddam's regime was defeated. And events have confirmed this conclusion.

The Resistance

First and foremost, it is evident that the United States did not foresee that resistance to the occupation would take on such wide parameters. And the paradox here is that the armed struggle against the occupational government is not identical with the resistance by supporters of Saddam. This makes the American position that much more complicated. It deprives or significantly weakens international support for the U.S. approach. If the situation were different, then U.S. policy in Iraq would be better understood, even by the Arab countries.

One of the centers of resistance in Iraq is the so-called "Sunni triangle." Of course, the Sunnis formed the base of the population upon which Saddam's regime depended. However, current Sunni resistance is not predicated on loyalty to Saddam. Rather, it springs from their fear that, as a result of the occupation, Sunnis will be diminished and become a second-class minority in Iraq.

Nor should we overemphasize the role of the Ba'ath party remnants. Iraq lacks an organized Ba'athi resistance. Some of Saddam's supporters are undertaking actions, but only on an individual basis. We can reach a similar conclusion when assessing Saddam's army, the Republican Guard, the fedayeen and the police. None of these organizations of the former regime has become the overall center of resistance.

Indeed, it is those forces in society that did not fare well under the old regime that are more and more becoming part of the opposition and even taken part in armed resistance against the occupation. Here, the United States can sense Shi'a resistance the most. At first, the main Shi'a organization, comprising those spiritual leaders who returned from exile in Iran--leaders of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (sciri)--tried to adopt a stance of neutrality toward coalition forces under U.S. command. However, over time, Shi'a organizations that oppose the coalition have started to gain influence, the principal one of which is the Mahdi Army controlled by Moqtada Sadr.

At one time, the United States thought it could count on the support of the Shi'a, who had been oppressed under Saddam's regime and who made up 60 percent of the country's population. Now, the Shi'a can be considered as neither a "reserve" or even fellow-travelers for the Americans in Iraq.

The situation is aggravated by the notion of autonomy for the Shi'a, which in the end will solve nothing. The Kurdish model is not applicable to them. They are not territorially restricted to the south of Iraq; many reside in Baghdad itself and in other parts of the country. And they basically aspire to take control of the central government.

Furthermore, any decision to move forward with "federalizing" Iraq has to take into account the Iranian factor. Many leaders of Iraq's Shi'a lived in exile in Qom, the religious center in Iran. Giving substantial autonomy to Iraq's Shi'a could have a negative impact on the internal situation in Iran, strengthening the hand of religious-extremist forces in that country. Federalizing Iraq could also increase the chance that an Islamic state would be constructed in Iraq.

The Kurds

The U.S. could have used to its advantage not only the animosity of the Kurds toward Saddam's regime, but also the tensions between Iraq's Arab and Kurdish populations. At present, the Kurds have two main interests: establishing their own control over the oil-rich regions of Kirkuk and Mosul, and returning to the north those Kurds who were displaced under Saddam. However, finding solutions to these questions that benefit the Kurds is extraordinarily complicated.

During the military campaign in spring 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga were actively collaborating with the coalition forces. Now, that cooperation will continue only if the United States is prepared to side with the Kurds in their conflict with the Arabs. However, this cannot be done without creating a serious rupture with the Arab side. This once again was demonstrated when U.S. representatives, in order to please the Kurds, tried to insist on giving Kurds a "veto" in the temporary constitution--giving the Kurds effective equality with the Arab population that far exceeds it in actual numbers.

The Turkish position is far from encouraging vis-Ã -vis U.S. maneuvers concerning the Kurdish issue in Iraq. Ankara is afraid that Kurdish control over Kirkuk and Mosul will strengthen Kurdish efforts to establish an autonomous or independent state. under such circumstances--that is, if Turkey considers the plan for resolving the Kurdish question unacceptable to its own interests--there is a real threat that Ankara will bring its troops into northern Iraq. The possibility that its own territorial integrity might be threatened--since the majority of the world's Kurdish population lives in Turkey--would drive Ankara to take such a drastic measure.

International Terror in Iraq

The American government has said on many occasions that the arrival of coalition forces in Iraq marked a new and major step in the war against international terrorism. However, the statements that Saddam Hussein harbored Al-Qaeda or other Islamist extremists on its territory were either a disinformation or a mistake. Saddam Hussein--a very pronounced Arab nationalist--cruelly suppressed any attempts to try and promote radical Islamist ideology, not to speak of any attempt to put it into practice, in Iraq. After all, any strengthening of the Islamists could have resulted in the imminent demise of his dictatorial but secular regime.

After Saddam's downfall, Iraq turned into a "magnet" for international terrorists, who have entered the country in order to create a new platform for their activity. International terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda, want to keep the situation in Iraq as extremely unstable for as long as possible. This helps to reinforce their position in the region. After all, Iraq is more convenient as a center for international terrorism than Afghanistan, due to its advantageous geographic location, which borders on the countries where extremist tendencies are strong. under such conditions, the number of terrorist organizations and terrorist actions taken in different countries has increased--and will continue to increase.

Is Stability Possible?

My first point is this: Any hope for the sort of stabilization achieved by rapidly increasing the number of Iraqis willing to cooperate with coalition authorities is weak. This scenario could be possible only if there was a broad-based, national political force that was ready to take action and was inclined to cooperate with the United States--and this is not likely at the present time.

In theory, a national movement could have been created out of the former Ba'ath party. If the fact that under the previous regime most Iraqis joined the party to enhance their career prospects rather than out of ideological commitment had been taken into consideration, then it would have been clear that the most effective part of Iraqi society belonged to this party. Banning the Ba'ath without attempting to extract from it a viable political base for the future was probably a mistake on America's part.

Second, the growth of the resistance to the occupation has been caused mostly by the lack of significant progress in the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure, as well as the increase in unemployment and inability of coalition authorities to provide for the security of Iraqis in an efficient way. Yet solving this set of social and economic problems is complicated.

Returning to Collective Action

As a result of the failure of a policy of "unilateral regulation" of the crisis in Iraq, the United States has undertaken a course toward greater involvement of the United Nations in the process of stabilizing Iraq. This turnabout, something that President Bush assiduously avoided at the start of the Iraq operation, is now considered by Washington as a device that will, first, diminish criticism of the United States for its illegitimate use of force in Iraq and, second, to gain the political and financial support of many of the UN's members. under conditions of increasing antiwar sentiments among the American population prior to the election season, moving toward the UN helps increase George W. Bush's freedom of maneuver.

It is clear that the international community is interested in a rapid stabilization of the situation, as well as in the formation of a government in Iraq that would be run by Iraqis. In this regard it is important to take into account the fact that this is not achievable in the context of an abrupt departure of American forces unless its mission has first been transferred to the United Nations--a fact Russia understands very well.

Essay Types: Essay