Sunday, July 4, 2004

Iraq: Will freedom survive handover?

By Adeed Dawisha
Guest columnist

When Paul Bremer, the American administrator of Iraq, handed over political authority to the Iraqis, he gave them a pot full of trouble. The interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and his government have six months to stabilize the country and prepare it for elections that are scheduled for January 2005. This is a hazardous journey on a road full of potholes and dangerous curves.

Allawi and his government inherit a country in which insecurity is rampant in parts of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, and where basic services, such as electricity, water treatment and public health, are woefully inadequate. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of the working population remains unemployed, and the dire conditions that Iraq's poor lived under during Saddam Hussein's regime shows hardly any improvement.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi

Born in 1945; a Shiite Muslim and leader of the Iraqi National Accord, which includes former members of Saddam's Baath party and military. Reportedly has close U.S. ties, including CIA connections, but has been critical of U.S. actions recently. Neurologist, educated at London University.

President Ghazi al-Yawer

Age 45; a moderate Sunni Muslim from Mosul, a member of one of the region's largest tribes. Has been very critical of the U.S. coalition in Iraq. Civil engineer, educated at Georgetown University.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari

Age 51; a Kurdish guerrilla during rebellions against Saddam; Kurdish Democratic Party leader, now Iraq's first Kurdish foreign minister. Educated at the University of Essex, England.

Ahmed Chalabi

Age 59; born in Baghdad; a Western-educated, secular, scandal-marred Shia formerly supported by the Pentagon as a prime candidate for president of post-Saddam Iraq. Heads the Iraqi National Congress, which will be a key political party in January's elections. Mathematician, educated at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani

Age 73, born in Iran; considered a prime spiritual leader of Shias. Regarded as moderate politically, he has urged followers not to resist the coalition. Believes in a separation of religion and politics, but only in a state where all laws are in harmony with Islam.

Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr

Age 30; a radical religious leader whose group has resisted the U.S. coalition. Advocates a leading role for religious figures in the political process. His father, senior cleric Muhammad Sadiq Sadr, assassinated by Saddam's agents in 1999, established a network of charitable groups.

So the question is: How could the interim government overcome these immense hurdles and still be able to prepare the country for elections? The answer is in the nature of the problems facing Allawi and his government. It has been clear for months that much of Iraq's social and economic woes could have been alleviated had the coalition forces been able to defeat, or at least subdue, the insurrection in Baghdad and in the Sunni areas of Iraq.

The coalition authority had anticipated that Iraq's oil production in June this year would surpass the prewar level of 2.3 million barrels per day.

And indeed, this was achieved ahead of time, but sabotage of pipelines continues to reduce production by more than 1 million barrels a day. No sooner is a pipeline repaired than another is sabotaged.

The same is true of electricity grids. The coalition authority worked hard to repair outdated grids and put in place new generators, promising that power production would reach 6,000 megawatts by this summer. This would have been more than twice the capacity of last summer, when Iraqis lived the nightmare of less than six hours a day of electricity in temperatures of 120 degrees. Again, in the face of persistent sabotage, power production has barely reached 4,000 megawatts.

By this summer, the coalition had promised that at least 2,300 construction projects would be fully under way, yet as of last month barely 140 had seen the light of day. Poor planning and confusion in the disbursement of funds is partly to blame, but violence against foreign workers has played a big role in dissuading companies from investing and working in Iraq.

So, alleviating Iraq's social and economic adversity is contingent to a large degree on a perceptible improvement in the security situation. And undoubtedly, this is going to be Allawi's main priority. And while the task is herculean, he does embark on this undertaking with certain advantages.

To begin with, he has the support of the Iraqi population. According to a poll last week, seven out of 10 Iraqis have confidence in Allawi and the new government, and four of every five Iraqis expected the situation to improve after the handover of power. Such widespread good will should empower Allawi to confront the insurgency in a resolute and determined manner. Moreover, as the Americans recede gradually into the background, and government and security acquire an increasingly Iraqi face, whatever support the insurgents had will quickly disappear as Iraqis, not Americans, become the main victims of their violence.

Allawi has turned this into an opportunity. In his speech during the hand-over, he distinguished between "those who attacked Americans out of despair," and the "foreign mercenaries and Saddamist remnants, who target innocent Iraqis." To the first group, he offered amnesty, inviting them to join the political process and the rebuilding of Iraq.

The latter was a throwback to Muqtada al-Sadr, the youthful Shiite cleric whose followers engaged the Americans in a bloody fight in a few southern Shiite cities in April and May, but who now promises to form a political party and to participate in the January elections. Al-Sadr has also condemned the present insurgents, castigating them for "shedding innocent Iraqi blood." And that is indeed how the majority of Iraqis view the car bombing tactics and assassination of Iraqi officials, policemen and intellectuals, carried out by the insurgents.

Of all the opposition groups in exile, Allawi's, known as National Accord, had the most extensive contacts with members of Iraq's military under Saddam. Allawi was a vocal critic of Bremer's decision in May 2003 to disband the Iraqi army. He therefore is best placed to quickly bring back elements of the army and the security forces, not associated with the crimes of the ancient regime, to take over security duties. Indigenous to the country, these men should be better equipped to combat the insurgents, not least because Iraqis will be more willing to pass on intelligence to their own co-nationals than to foreigners.

To believe that the insurgency will be summarily defeated by January 2005 is naive. But a diminution in violence will be perceived as a definitive success.

This should spill over positively into the social and economic domain, as well as providing a more conducive environment for the holding of elections.


Adeed Dawisha is an Iraqi-born professor of political science at Miami University in Oxford, and a Carnegie scholar for 2004-05. He has written widely on Middle East politics, including his latest book, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century.

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