How do we get out of Iraq?

by Mustafa Alrawi, managing editor of Iraq Today


If the coalition really wants to make a smooth exit from a democratic and free Iraq in the next two years, it must first speed up the transfer of power to an elected government. It can do this by drawing up a constitution immediately, based on current Iraqi law. Second, it must commission one of the many companies it has undertaking surveys in the country to carry out a census. Finally, it should set a specific date in 2004 for elections, to be monitored by an independent international committee.

But the coalition has been hampered by its own mistakes. First, the disbandment of the army; second, the policy of de-Ba'athification; and third, above all, the creation of the governing council (GC). This unrepresentative, power-hungry and reactionary body has done a great deal to hold back political progress in Iraq.

Despite plans of a handover and subsequent elections, the GC is not ready to give up its claims on the reins of. If there were elections tomorrow, at best no more than half the GC would be in any representative government. But if the coalition is going to make a success of its venture in Iraq, it has to bite the bullet and let the chips fall where they may. The coalition's fear of appearing to be an occupying and colonialist force has allowed that fear to manifest itself: in Baghdad, no one speaks of liberation - it is an occupation, if not still a war, in the minds of most Iraqis.

The GC was supposed to be a symbol of the liberation from Saddam and a temporary remedy for the absence of an Iraqi government. But the GC has no mandate. Its ministers are unaccountable to the GC and the people alike. The GC reveals its undemocratic credentials by banning TV networks from Iraq. The people can see this and realise that the GC represents the old regime more than it does the future of Iraq.

If the coalition were to disband the GC tomorrow and scrap plans for another interim body - which is likely to become no more than a "GC redux" - and instead implement elections, real progress could be made.

The current, fast-deteriorating situation demands a bold move, akin to the confident plan to invade Iraq. Even though the creation of a democratic government will not guarantee an end to the attacks on coalition forces, the lack of representation at the highest level - particularly in urban areas, where the tribal structure is not prevalent - means that if an Iraqi has a grievance he has nowhere to turn.

Neither a constitution nor elections are likely to be perfect, but they would at least be legitimate. Fears over security are unfounded. The coalition proved with its successful money changeover that it is able to plan and execute a nationwide security operation to protect sites and locations during a limited period.

Iraqis are thirsting for a chance to participate, and the creation of the GC prevented this. In Baghdad, there are peaceful daily demonstrations outside coalition locations, proving that the population is ready. Such protests are never outside Iraqi institutions because the protesters know who is really running Iraq - and it is not the GC. It is time for the coalition to prove it will hand over power.

Only actions can rescue this depressing spiral towards the breakdown of order. Baghdad has become a city besieged by fear. Coalition locations such as the "green zone" - Iraq's governmental institutions and the capital's hotels - have been reduced to sandbagged fortresses behind miles of concrete blocks. The traffic is unbearable, probably losing the faltering economy millions of dinars a day. And the stream of bombings, by insurgents and coalition forces alike, has picked up speed.

If an elected government were in place, it would probably ask the coalition to stay to help anyway. No fledgling Iraqi government could run the country in its first few years without the presence of the coalition. But the onus of responsibility for the country's security and progress would be in the hands of Iraqis.

However, in this scenario the coalition would be able to reduce the number of troops on the ground, thereby fulfilling its promises to the Iraqi people while also beginning the changeover to a functioning, democratic Iraq.

The creation of a middleman, in the shape of the GC, prevents democracy taking shape. It implies that a foreign occupier can choose the best leaders for the local population and that Iraqis are not ready to make democracy work.

It is true that Iraqis wanted Saddam removed; but they did not want his regime replaced by a mix of the coalition and the GC. The perpetrators of the attacks in Iraq have the luxury of battling a foreign power and a group of unrepresentative people. The nature of the conflict in Iraq would be significantly changed by the existence of an elected government, with a mandate, serving the people. It would be harder for the attackers to justify their cause in such environment. The people would have ownership of the political process and so would resent anyone who wished to upset it..

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