Monday’s transfer of authority—two days before the June 30 date—is being touted as the date of Iraqi independence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The unfolding political transition in Iraq will keep sovereign power in the hands of Americans in every relevant sense.
Iraq’s interim government was appointed by a troika of outsiders: U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi, Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer and his deputy Robert Blackwill. Some members of the interim government, like interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, have more experience representing the CIA than they do representing the Iraqi people. A CPA-commissioned poll conducted prior to the interim ministers’ appointment in mid-May shows that many of them enjoy shockingly low levels of popular support.
Allawi, who has spent most of his political life on the payroll of either Saddam Hussein’s secret police or U.S. intelligence, received support from only 5 percent of the Iraqis polled.
When asked whom they would back for president, only four out 1,093 respondents supported the actual interim president, Ghazi al-Yawir—a total that the despised ex-dictator Hussein beat by 33 votes.
Many of the figures who scored highest in the CPA-sponsored poll are not part of the interim government, including the moderate Shiite leader Ali Sistani, who received over 51 percent support. Much to the continued frustration of Iraqis, the national elections Sistani and others have been calling for will not take place until January 2005 at the earliest.
The story of Iraqi finances is no less discouraging. A recent report from the Iraq Revenue Watch project of the Open Society Institute reveals that the CPA has committed nearly $2 billion from the Iraq Development Fund, the repository of Iraqi oil revenues, to bankroll ill-conceived projects. These decisions were made hurriedly before the handover of authority but nevertheless are binding upon the interim government. Not only do these transfers endanger standards of transparency, but they also undermine the fiscal independence of the interim government.
Most importantly, the U.S. military will not be withdrawing from Iraq any time soon. After much diplomatic wrangling, a clause was inserted into the new U.N. resolution that allows for the interim government to call for a review of the presence of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq. Yet, since the interim government appears dependent on the U.S., it is an unlikely candidate for such an exercising of autonomy. Defense Department statements that many of the 140,000 troops stationed in Iraq will remain “for years” support the notion that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is only becoming more entrenched. It is no small irony that in Arabic the interim president’s last name, al-Yawir, means “aide de camp,” the junior officer who assists the general.
Day-to-day security arrangements will also remain in the hands of Americans.
Although Iraqis will control mundane military matters such as appointments of officers, U.S. commanders will hold the real reins of the Iraqi military, having the power to order troops in and out of combat. Moreover, Iraqi governmental authorization would not be required for U.S. operations similar to the airborne assault on residential areas in Falluja that attempted to kill alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi but instead killed tens of civilians, according to local reports.
Some of the most intrusive aspects of the U.S. occupation, such as house-to-house searches and the indefinite detention of suspected insurgents without charge, could continue under the U.N. resolution. In a step that clearly undermines Iraqi sovereignty, the Bush administration extended Order 17 that granted immunity to all foreign personnel from prosecution by Iraqi courts for killing Iraqis or destroying property.
One might argue that all these measures are necessary to build a strong basis for the future of a stable, democratic Iraq. However, without the involvement and investment of the Iraqi people in building their nation, any foundation for Iraq’s future will be built on sand.
As Americans celebrate over 200 years of independence and popular sovereignty on the July 4 weekend, it is a good time to reflect on Iraqis’ own aspirations for self-determination and collective control over their own governance. Despite Monday’s pomp and circumstance, these aspirations will continue to clash with the continued foreign occupation of their country.