- Reports, especially in Middle East media, indicate that
the Iraqi people grow more restive every day under Coalition management.
The handwriting is also on the wall that decisive actions on several critical
issues such as food supplies, housing, jobs, restoration of public services,
and assured public safety must occur with a speed and precision that so
far has been lacking. The new US civil administrator, former Ambassador
L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer, and his team have been in the region only a couple
of weeks, but they already must know that what awaits them in terms of
restoring and refining Iraq's operating system is a daunting task.
- At the same time, there are dark political clouds on
the Iraqi horizon as groups maneuver for positions in any new framework
of governance. Indicative of the seriousness of that process, Ayatollah
Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, leader of the main Shiite faction in Iraq and
head of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI),
upon his return from 23 years of exile in Iran, threw down his faction's
gauntlet by saying on Sunday, "We refuse imposed government. So how
can you expect us to be governed by the Americans?" That assertion
from a leading cleric of half the Iraqi people is itself daunting.
- A further daunting situation exists with the Kurds in
that both main factions, the Barzani and the Talabani, are expelling Arab
populations that were put into their territories years ago by Saddam Hussein.
Their efforts already have resulted in the displacement of thousands of
Arabs who now are a floating population without homes, jobs or means of
support. This kind of localized ethnic cleansing or, perhaps better, tribal
sorting was a predictable feature of the situation, because Hussein had
maintained the living arrangements created to support his regime by force,
not by mutual consent.
- That Political cacophony introduces an ironic twist as
well as an opportunity into a rapidly deteriorating situation. There clearly
will not be time to design and install a brand new operating system in
Iraq. On all fronts, as much as is possible must be retrieved and restored
from what is already there. It is simply not going to be smart -- as early
advertising of US/British intentions suggested to throw out Saddam's whole
baby with the Baath, now that the party that dominated Iraq for four decades
is no longer in control.
- For example, following the first Gulf War, Saddam developed
a food distribution system that was admired by the United Nations for its
effectiveness. Something like it would be easier to restore than to invent,
provided that these institutions are directed by new people. Bringing
other systems back to where they were before the bombings began also looks
like a good way to restore some order of confidence. But as the Shiite
Ayatollah's comments suggest, the most telling and probably the most reassuring
moves can be made in the political arena.
- Here the new team could find some promising shortcuts.
The first and perhaps the most impressive shortcut could be restoration
of the Majlis, the Iraqi National Assembly. Saddam used, abused, distorted
and usurped the legislative functions of the Majlis, since it was founded
under the Constitution of 1970: but he did not disband it. It appears
that the present membership was elected in 1989, before the Gulf War, and
no elections have occurred since. Moreover, while Sunni Arabs actually
represent about 30% of the Iraqi population, Saddam contrived to have them
hold 53% of the 250 seats in the Majlis, and of course to dominate all
Iraqi governmental institutions. In truth, the various Shia elements form
the dominant group, amounting to about half the population, while as noted
the Sunni Arabs are about 30%, the Kurds (most of whom are Sunnis) are
about 15%, while Turkomen, Assyrians and others, including a small number
of Jews are about 5%. Those numbers indicate that, even with Saddam's
distortions, the Majlis represented a practical political means to provide
representation at the national level from all areas of Iraq and from all
political, ethnic or religious factions. Creating an alternative to it
looks a tougher task than the case requires.
- It would be hard to invent an alternative with any standing,
particularly given the open hostility of Iraqis, both elites and ordinary
people, to an outside government. Iraqis have experimented frequently with
representative governments, but the period from the1930s to the late 1950s
was plagued by coups and countercoups led largely by military officers
who formed the van of Iraqi nationalists. The picture changed with a coup
carried out by a group of officers on July 14, 1958 - Iraq's revolution
- that expelled the last of the Hashemite monarchs, launched the Republic
of Iraq, and installed the group,s leader, a low-born Iraqi, Brigadier
Abd al Karim Qasim as the country's home grown leader.
- Iraq,s revolution changed society by destroying the power
of the landowners and advancing the situations of the peasants and urban
workers. Being one of them, Qasim gathered great support among the poor
and worker groups. He courted Iraq's Communist Party as a counter to the
growing Baath Party, a move distrusted by the US and other western powers,
but he did little to develop political institutions. He was a loner without
any extensive power base, and therefore had few defenses against the rebirth
of clan, religious and factional cleavages that had been contained by the
monarchy, not always politely. A group of officers led by Saddam Hussein
first tried to kill Qasim and then overthrew him in 1963.
- Qasim and his followers had started something important
for Iraq with the revolution of 1958. A new constitution, launched at that
time, made a promise of government for and by Iraqis. Unhappily, at Qasim's
overthrow five years later, Iraq was going in several directions at once.
Political party activity was growing among the Baath, other nationalist
parties and the communists. Increasing urbanization and modernization were
breaking down Iraq's traditional social structure. Clan, ethnic and religious
hatreds were resurging. Iraq was increasingly involved in foreign affairs.
Social pressures more recent to Iraq, class antagonisms, were growing.
But the emergence of a popular government was not happening. The Iraqi
revolution had failed for want of clear direction, but more critically
for lack of interest on the part of nationalist leaders in the welfare
of the people.
- When he took over from Qasim's successor, Saddam Hussein
basically put a lid on it. He suppressed disputes among clan, ethnic and
religious groups, focused political life on the Baath, gave increasing
control of governance to Sunnis and his Tikriti - Saddam's home region
- clansmen. When in 1970 the country adopted a new constitution that called
for a National Assembly, the Majlis, it looked again as if real progress
would be made. However, elections were not held for the Majlis until 1979,
after Saddam Hussein's rise to power. Two further elections were held
in 1984 and 1989, but in the meantime the body had been made a captive
of the Baath and Saddam.
- Because much of the Majlis experience occurred under
Saddam, It has been easy for US officials to dismiss the Assembly as a
Hussein rubber stamp. That was the official US reaction when the Majlis
unanimously rejected UN Resolution 1441 in November 2002, despite Hussein's
son's reported recommendation to approve, as well as Saddam's own eventual
approval. If Saddam had wanted a Majlis rejection, he had a clear Baath
majority that the mere rubber stamp theory would say could be counted on
to take care of it. However, by crude count there were 75-80 members of
the Majlis who were not Baathists and need not have signed on. The Majlis
also contained 30 women. Majlis action on this issue, therefore, deserves
closer examination. Was the rejection mere kowtowing to Saddam showmanship,
or was it one of the rare opportunities during Saddam's rule for the Majlis
to make a clear statement of Iraqi nationalism?
- Whatever the case, with a newly seated panel of members
in any post Saddam election, the Majlis would have its first opportunity
to behave as a freely elected legislative body. In any new Iraqi framework
of governance, the Majlis could have several things working for it.
- First, it is genuinely Iraqi. Despite Iraq,s rocky experience
with representative government the representational framework is still
useable. The essential first step of breaking the Baathist stranglehold
on it is already in process.
- Second, a system exists for selecting representatives
and, now that the Saddam cloud has been removed, the system can be made
more representative. Although the Majlis electoral system has not been
exercised since 1989, it could be re-launched with appropriate alignment
of seat allocations to fit current population demographics. The earlier
system used 18 geographic electoral districts. Two decades later, maybe
that is still a good number, maybe not; it needs to be tested. If the old
district system is kept as a basis for elections to federal offices, no
nonsense election oversight will be required to assure that the interests
of all parties are represented.
- Third, there is a strong argument for restoring the Majlis
and holding new elections for it without the Saddam overlay. This action
would tell the people that after two false starts under Qasim and Hussein,
they finally have their own legislative body and a voice in government.
- This message can begin to have beneficial effect from
the moment new elections are scheduled. Given the current restive state
of Iraqis in general, and the likely behind the scenes maneuvering of all
elites and sects to gain positions of influence, re-launching the Majlis
could be a pre-emptive strike of some force. Its first value is that it
would be a decisive step forward. Its second and maybe main value would
be that it tells the Iraqis the Coalition really means business on restoring
power to the Iraqi people. That in turn would reduce the toxicity of Iraqi
mood that presently shows signs of getting out of hand. A fourth value,
devoutly to be wished, is that it could commendably shorten the occupation,
thereby reducing the foreign policy and money costs and the casualties
of the Iraq war.
- The process of arriving at a new Iraqi federal system
of governance involves a clear sequence of events. Step one is the creation
or revitalization of local/community representative organizations. Some
working concept of self-selection has to be called into play or established
for the leadership of all factions and regions. This is a process that
the Coalition can encourage and promote, so long as outside intervention
in the candidate selection process is confined to keeping the system from
being perverted by extremists. These representatives would then become
the participants in a constituent assembly that would be charged with building
a genuine federal system of governance.
- The situation at this point poses a bit of a quandary
for an occupying force that may prefer to impose its will on a conquered
people. But the Iraqis have been told they were liberated, not conquered.
The first signs of direct foreign intervention in the election process
will tell them otherwise. If the Coalition begins, as it has, by promising
free and fair elections by the Iraqi people, and then the Coalition intervenes
to select the parties and the candidates who may or may not participate,
the Iraqi people will see themselves returned to square one, back under
a foreign dominated leadership that separates them from their government,
as they virtually always have been.
- In this regard, decapitating the Baath is likely to fly
with the people because it removes the Saddam legacy. However, purging
the Baath will tell another story that will be taken as intervention.
Eliminating the Baath will not work anyway, because people of that nationalist
persuasion will just put a new label on it, maybe change its platform a
bit, but they will be back. A scary version of the future has the Baathists
driven underground and formed into an insurgency that will do what the
Baath has spearheaded before: pull off a coup at the first opportunity.
They will be easier to watch and to contain if they are kept in the open,
not driven underground, and encouraged to take part in a new government.
- At about this point, and quite possibly sooner, the whole
process should be turned over to the United Nations. No member of the
Coalition has the credentials for this kind of work, and none has either
the detachment or the credibility. UN officers can monitor and intervene
to assure integrity of the process, because they have those credentials.
The Iraqi and international standing of the results will be far superior
to whatever the Coalition might achieve. In any case, it would have to
be a long, well-managed and compassionate occupation for the Coalition
to acquire the trust and confidence needed to carry out this assignment.
The sooner the United Nations can be placed in command of the electoral
process the better, and those consultations between the Coalition and the
UN should be going on, openly and widely known, right now.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome reader comments or questions