Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Mistake 11 - Crony-cracy
In constructing the Iraq Governing Council (IGC), the American administration in Iraq (CPA) selected a number of people and parties and presented them to the Iraqi people as representing large segments of us! That, of course, was not true; The IGC was simply rejected by ordinary people and it proved to be one of the many mistakes made by the administration in running Iraq.
Now, the Interim Government has established a Supervisory Committee to oversee the election of a National Assembly. The committee has 99 members. The chairman of that committee was selected by the CPA and the IGC. All IGC members had automatic membership! The other members were appointed to this committee by God knows who and by what criteria! (I actually know some of these members to be decent people… but this is beside the point.)
Sub-committees were formed to supervise elections in the different provinces. Nominations were sought for membership of a National Congress of 1000 delegates now being held in Baghdad.
The composition of the National Congress of 1000 delegates is approximately:
99 members of the organizing committee (!) naturally including all members of "The Chosen" IGC!
360 members representing political parties, religious, tribal, intellectual "leaders" and civil society organizations.
548 delegates from the provinces (counties, also known as governorates)
[I know, the numbers don't add up to 1000]
The past few weeks saw conventions in all provinces so that "nominees" would select those 548 people in the last category. There was popular discontent and, more dangerously, apathy!
It seems that there were many applications; the province committees" filtered" those applications to reach a manageable number of people to take part in a local convention to elect delegates to go to the National Congress.
For example, in the Governorate of Babel (County of Babylon), there were about 4000 applicants; the committee selected 480 of those people to attend the "local" convention to elect 29 representatives for Babel. How 480 people were selected from 4000 nominees by that committee is still unknown.
In Najaf, the names of those selected were not available at 10 am on the morning of the convention!
In another province, a member of the Supervisory Committee, supported by armed militiamen is reported to have prevented candidates "selected by the committee" from entering the conference hall and allowed in members of his own party! (This unconfirmed story is reported by two Iraqi newspapers)
This is all very reminiscent of the old days. Many people may not know that during the reign of the past regime, there were elections for the National Assembly. Anyone who was eligible could, in theory, apply. Those who applied need not have been Baathists (true!). There was a supreme committee that revised and filtered the names of the applicants and issued a final list. Elections, believe it or not, were completely democratic! Control was practiced well upstream of the actual election process. People were presented with a choice of candidates all of whom were already approved by the powers supervising the democratic process.
This is exactly what happened this time. Does the fact that the candidates are pro-somebody-else make the process more democratic?
As we say in Iraq: Today is so much like yesterday!
The sad result is that people will lose all faith in the Interim Government's pledge to institute democracy in Iraq.
People will even be more convinced than they are at the moment that the US administration, working behind the scene this time, wants "their people" to remain in power; that they do not really care for true democracy; that all they want is "cronies" in power in a system of government that "looks" democratic!
People are wondering if this is the kind of "democracy" that the US wants to bring to Iraq. So much long-term damage is being done to America, to Iraq and to the name of democracy through short-sighted "political engineering"!
They are wrong of course: long-lasting friendships are not built this way! If they lose the faith of the people, what would they be left with?
I firmly believe that in Iraq, as in other countries, the majority of people are reasonable, decent and moderate. True democracy may produce some ugly results sometimes but, in the longer term, if the process itself is fair and honest, the result will be good… and tolerance and moderation will win the day!
Democracy is a process! It is a process that has to be guarded against power-hungry politicians and short-sighted administrations.
Wednesday, June 02, 2004
I frankly fail to understand how one can still talk about winning “the hearts & minds” of the Iraqi people with a track record like this!
Mistake 10 – Iraq Governing Council
Instead of putting forward plans to establish democracy in Iraq as soon as possible, the administration began to put forward excuses for the postponement of the democratic process: danger of violence and intimidation, lack of electoral data, and the problem of representing Iraqis in exile, etc.
Starting with a group of five people, later expanded to seven, that included a convicted embezzler (much hated by most Iraqis from all walks of life), clerics funded by Iran and war-lords with Iraqi blood on their hands, the nucleus of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was born.
In consultations between this small group and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the number was increased. To the original group, some decent people and a handful of unknown political non-entities were hand-picked and the final number reached 25. These people were presented to the Iraqi people as their representatives! The main argument was that these people had tags of (Shiite / Sunni, Arab /Kurd/ Turkman, Islamist / Secular/ Communist, Muslim / Christian etc.!!! Many were known to be openly on the pay-roll of foreign countries! Many still are! The funding of one of them has only been terminated a few weeks ago.
Is that how nations are built? Is that how democracy is established?
What country and what people allow their Representatives and Government Officials to receive payments from foreign powers (even friendly powers)?
Within weeks of its conception, the IGC was rejected by ordinary people.
Addendum – IGC Errors
People who go together through stressful events forge some bonds between them. If these traumatic periods last for decades, as in the case of Iraq, these invisible bonds even acquire some vocabulary of their own!
• Many of the members of the new Iraq Governing Council had lived abroad for long periods; some of them had spent more than 40 years in exile. Their talk, the issues they considered urgent, their vocabulary and their mannerisms all seemed so foreign!
• On its first day, this council passed a hurriedly drafted resolution pronouncing April 9th a national day (of liberation). Technically speaking, this was true. However, if these people had some feel for the pulse of the people, they wouldn’t have done that! For most Iraqis (who are even more fiercely patriotic than the average American) that day marked the fall of Baghdad to yet another invading army! The gesture touched on a raw nerve of patriotism! To many, the council was a hated body from day one!
• The very composition of the council and the constant talk of fair representation of various ethnic and sectarian groups fuelled fears of segmentation of the country.
The ethnic and sectarian polarization of the Iraqi people was far less than the Americans and the returning Iraqis had expected. People, ordinary people, were far more tolerant than all the experts and the academics had expected! People constantly playing those notes were viewed with extreme suspicion!
The IGC went beyond its jurisdiction and began to pass laws that further alienated them from the people:
• A civil law (the infamous law 137) was passed to establish sectarian religious courts thereby entrenching the sectarian divisions further (from a body that was supposed to unify the country!). This law was even worse than any of Saddam’s laws in this field! Ambassador Paul Bremer, the CPA administrator, had to veto it!
• They discussed and drafted (behind closed doors and in secrecy, very much like Saddam’s familiar norms!) a Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) for the sovereign government of the interim period towards democracy!
That law does not say how representation or elections are to be conducted (this was left to a later stage!). However, it was evidently designed to entrench the people who wrote it in power and how they could share important positions between them! [Events of this week of appointing the prime minister and the government, confirm this]. It also institutionalizes the segmentation of the country along the hated sectarian and ethnic lines. It even imposes constraints on what the democratically elected assembly could and couldn’t do!
• They selected government ministers and senior officials in blatant nepotism! Everybody was somebody’s son, brother, brother-in-law, etc.
The new government, which was to run things temporarily, leading to “The New Iraq”, was largely corrupt! The stink of bribes, commissions and kick-backs was sky-high! A number of those excesses have been documented.
Favoritism was beginning to be also institutionalized. People who wanted to apply to civil service posts in a given ministry had to join the party to which that ministry belonged!
What a “New Iraq”!
All this was taking place under the supervision of the American administration!
Mistake 9 – Using Saddam’s Methods
• Disregard of law and order by the US soldiers on the street to an extent that even Saddam’s boys couldn’t dare to do! [ I personally have witnessed several incidents where, to avoid a traffic jam, military and civilian CPA vehicles crossed the partition dividing a busy road and forced their way against traffic coming from the opposite direction on the other side of the street!]
• Blocking main roads and bridges even more (a lot more!) than before.
• Lies by high-level politicians and military commanders about things large and small [… ranging from claiming that the security situation was under control as far back as May of last year, to claiming that the fierce resistance in Fallujah was put up by foreign terrorists, to claiming that no women and children were killed in the bombing of that unfortunate wedding party…]
• People being arrested and disappearing for long periods without any charges and without informing their families. [Some of these incidents are documented by British and American media!]
• Granting military police ranks at their whim! [I know of at least one case of a police major who was promoted overnight to a two-star general!]
• Fierce and unreasonably disproportionate retaliation. [Fallujah is a grotesque example. Just yesterday, someone was telling me that his cousin’s house was targeted by three rockets after some people had fired some shell at an army base nearby. When the he went to complain about the incident (probably also seeking some compensation), he was promptly arrested!]
• Privileges, favors and contracts to cronies!
• You had to join the Baath party…now, you have to join the party controlling the particular government department in which you sought employment.
• Exemption of their people from any punishment for wrong doings. Saddam actually punished his thugs more frequently!
• “Manufacture” of political arms and organizations very much like what Saddam used to do.
• Promotion, as before, is generally based on “loyalty” instead of competence
The list is truly long!
Many people are wondering…what has changed!
Mistake 8 – Failure to Understand the People
The American administration had ample time to build its case for the invasion of Iraq, to mobilize the American public opinion and to get its army ready.
Yet, it seems that they spent very little time to prepare for what the would do after the war!
I honestly fail to see why! There could have been no doubt as to the outcome of the military campaign, given the huge difference in power, technology and resources.
Admittedly, there were some preparations but these were based on poor advice from people some of whom were outright crooks out for their own benefit or had their own agenda; others were well-meaning people who had lived abroad for decades and were therefore unaware of the considerable changes that those quite stressful decades of wars and oppression had produced!
This led to a series of errors of judgment.
The worse mistake was the administration’s unwillingness and failure to understand the people after the occupation.
They still do things every single day that deeply offend the people.
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Mistake 7 – Failure to Control the Borders
This Border Guard Force was disbanded with the rest of the Iraqi army. The American army had neither the desire nor the resources to control those borders. The results were catastrophic!
• Looted and stolen materials, vehicles and machinery found a ready market. The unchallenged smuggling business boomed!
• Drugs, previously very little-known in Iraq, were brought into the country and, due to the prevailing lawlessness, began to be sold openly on the streets of our cities.
• Arms, insurgents and terrorists were going back and forth freely across the unguarded borders. Anybody who had a quarrel with the US hoped to settle his accounts with it in Iraq. This included sincere people who came in to help liberate Iraq!
• Neighboring countries, some of whom had a life-and-death interest in keeping the US busy and disoriented in the Iraqi quagmire were operating freely. The US feebly complained!
President Bush even declared that Iraq has become a “battlefield” (I can’t remember the exact words) for the fight against terrorism.
How would you like your own country to be turned into a battlefield for terrorism?
Mistake 6 – Disbanding the Army
The huge Iraqi army of more than 300 000 men simply vanished.
Shortly after the invasion was complete, it was formally disbanded.
That was a mistake! It was admitted to be so more than once by senior US officials.
It was also a mistake to look at those people as cowards. Many were battle-hardened professional soldiers who did not fear facing death. Another mistake was to regard them as villains – as Saddam’s army of oppression. The villains who controlled the army for the regime were a small minority. Many of those others were professional patriotic soldiers…not really very different from other soldiers in other armies all over the world.
It was also a terrible mistake to humiliate officers (some of them senior) by having them stand in long lines under the summer sun and overlooked by US soldiers who shoved and insulted them to receive a pittance of an allowance! It was a humiliation many felt bitter about.
When, through shear incompetence and mismanagement on the part of the occupying authorities, the US army and administration began to be seen as an “enemy” by many ordinary people, (and particularly after Saddam was caught) a lethal combination began to brew!
• Hundreds of thousands of men who were well-trained in the arts of combat, many of them "patriotic", some of them fearless were abandoned, bitter and jobless, while the country was seen by many of them as occupied by an army bent on destroying it.
• Huge stockpiles of arms and ammunitions in depots all over the country. Those people knew where to find them!
• A sympathetic population who resented the way Americans were handling (to many, destroying) their country in the name of liberation and democracy.
It doesn’t take much foresight to see where that would lead, would it?
Monday, May 31, 2004
Mistake 5 – Disbanding the Police
Nevertheless, restoring police services would not have been a very difficult task; the personnel were there, the police stations were there, many had taken their cars with them. Yet, no attempt was made in that direction. The police force was simply disbanded by decree!
It was a gross error.
Saddam’s regime had politicized every establishment in Iraq, including kindergartens! Do you simply “abolish” all the institutions in a country as large as Iraq? Simply “wipe” everything and start anew?
Anyway, the police was disbanded; the American army patrols were not interested in Law & Order and were evidently preoccupied with their own safety!
Saddam had released all prisoners before the invasion. From Abu Ghraib alone, about 64000 people were released; none were political prisoners!
For months, Baghdad was dominated by gangs of thugs and criminals who went on a rampage of killings and kidnappings. The main streets were almost deserted. You could go across the usually very busy downtown and not meet a single car for a couple of miles!
For months, lawlessness reigned! It was common-place to hear explosions and gun-shots all day and all-night long. On average, we were hearing of about three break-ins, kidnappings or murders a day!
Gradually, life began to come back to the city as people had to go about their business, go to doctors, seek their livelihood, etc. Life, it seems, had to reassert itself! It was the presence of people on the streets and the willingness of some of them to jump to the rescue of people who yelled for help that brought some security back to the city. There was a curfew between 11pm and dawn. That too helped a bit. Local vigilance by people kept many neighborhoods relatively safe.
The “new police” began to emerge about that time. However, they too seemed to be quite concerned about their own safety and very rarely ventured out after criminals!
It was during that period that I lost a dear, life-long friend to lawlessness. He managed an amusement park and was going back from work around dusk in his small 20-year-old car. He was followed by two cars. We found the entry points of five bullets in his car; one got him in the head. People nearby rushed him to hospital but it was too late. He was not rich, he was not into politics, he had no enemies to speak of but he was killed. When someone went to the police station, they refused to go and have a look at the “scene of the crime” and demanded that the car be brought to them!!
The traffic police had also disappeared and there was no effort made at recalling them back into service. The occupation forces were determined to build a “new Iraq” with a brand new traffic police force! This task took several months to start as the administration had “more pressing” agenda on their minds! Meanwhile, Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million people and more than 40 miles across was left to its own devices!
With no electricity, and therefore no traffic signals and a 50% sudden increase in the number of cars, the traffic congestions (several months after the occupation) were simply impossible!
Teenage volunteers helped in some places to keep the traffic moving. Young boys of 13 or 14 were standing in the Iraqi summer sun at noon to direct traffic!
In evading the congestions, US military patrols had no regard to any basic traffic law!
To add insult to injury, the occupying army sealed off large areas of Baghdad, literally littered many streets with concrete blocks, blocking numerous main roads and at least two important bridges that linked the two sides of Baghdad. One would not have thought it was possible to surpass Saddam in this respect; apparently it was!
Today, more than a year later, traffic police are back in good numbers on the streets…but Baghdad remains a jungle for cars!
Mistake 4 – Failure to Restore Services!
On that day, power was cut. I don’t recall for how many weeks power was down…but the period was sufficiently long to be infuriating! Week after week of unbearable heat by day and night with no cooling! It was a truly unforgettable summer! [Today, as I write these words, more than a year on, power comes two hours every six.]
On the other hand, I know exactly how long we remained with absolutely no running water…not a trickle: 26 days! At our home, we had fortunately dug up a well in the garden. We used a manual pump to lift water from it. Everybody had to contribute some muscle power to get our need of water. The water was smelly but we had to use it for everything except drinking and cooking (we had stocked ample supplies of bottled water for those purposes). There was also a permanent queue of neighbors waiting for their turn to fill up from the well. In other areas of Baghdad, water took longer to be restored.
The problem with having a low pressure water supply with no electricity is that there has to be a lot of water carrying! Not to be recommended to anyone with a bad back!
Telephone lines took longer! To date, our own ground line has not been restored. However, telephone service has been restored to many other areas. Mobile telephone system, commissioned a few months ago was some consolation!
Postal services are said to be on their way back after a year of “liberation”.
Petrol (gas) shortages, persisting to this day in a country that floats on oil! At some time, the queues were several miles long; people sometimes had to spend the night in their cars in very hot or very cold weather to queue for it!
The list is truly long!
Mistake 3 – Behavior as Occupying Army!
But when the army began to take up positions on the ground and people began to watch the American soldiers more closely, the picture began to change. Many were seen to be young kids who were so frightened that, when fired at, they began to shoot at random killing passers-by, including women and children!
Then came report after report of house searches after kicking doors open, humiliation of people, frisking of women (to many people, almost unthinkable!) and stealing of money that was found in houses searched!
These things were not even done by Saddam’s thugs, evil as they were!
Rough-handling people, insulting and humiliating men in front of their families, wrecking furniture and household items was common place during these searches. To add insult to injury, a good portion of the people subjected to these insults, excesses and humiliations were innocent. Many were released. Some were apologized to later!
Someone (of some social standing) who was subjected to such an experience told me that his house was “attacked” by a group of soldiers in the middle of the night with doors broken and furniture rampaged. His family was rough-handled by soldiers and he was humiliated, hand-cuffed and taken away. He was stripped naked and left, with a bag over his head, for three days in a room full of other people without any toilet facilities.
After the three days, he was treated well, interrogated for a few days and then released. He was driven back home and a lady-officer went into the house with him and apologized to his wife!
Sunday, May 30, 2004
Mistake 2 – Selective Protection
Then came the shock of the pillaging of the Iraqi Museum under the very nose of the occupying army.
A single tank could have protected that museum!
Then came news of the resignation of more than one adviser to President Bush in protest over the Iraqi Museum issue followed by news that several international and US academic and government bodies had warned the US government of the danger that world treasure was in.
The US had lost the “hearts and minds” of many Iraqi intellectuals just for that piece of what was then considered as criminal incompetence!
Mistake 1 – Looting!
People began to hear reports of widespread pillaging of food stores, government buildings, central malls…and even hospitals. Some of these places, including telephone exchange buildings that had not been bombed, were burned down!
In the absence of any police force, people had to resort to their own resources to protect themselves, their families and property. Within two days of Baghdad’s fall, a BBC reporter (I think it was Paul Wood) described Baghdad a “city of barricades”.
That was a truly amazing event: a city of more than 5 million people, without any means of transportation or communication made a simultaneous, uncoordinated effort to fight back the looters and to prevent the spread of prowling to their neighborhoods.
In almost every neighborhood in Baghdad, armed young men barricaded the approaches to their inner streets and stood guard night and day! In some places, they even started fighting back; attacking the looters (shooting them when necessary), locking them up in deserted police stations and taking back the spoils and depositing them in mosques!
Then reports that American soldiers were actually encouraging the looters and even ramming open some building doors for them began to filter through!
When asked about these incidents, Secretary Rumsfeld, took the whole thing lightly and explained it away as a manifestation of joy and freedom from oppression!
President Bush was talking about the end of military operations and that Iraq was now secure!
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Background - Post-invasion Climate
It is natural to assume that a typical Iraqi holds two conflicting feelings:
• A feeling of gratitude to the U.S.A. and the U.K. for ridding the country of a brutally oppressive regime which most Iraqis believe that it would not have been possible (or even imaginable) to overthrow without the military intervention of the U.S.A.
• A feeling of resentment at the presence of a foreign military power and the visible occupation of the country by a foreign army. This presence offends deeply held convictions of nationalism and pride.
The passage of time will only tilt the balance towards the second feeling.
One can safely assume that it is the intention of the coalition to establish a democracy in Iraq. But any government installed by the coalition, no matter how sincere, will be viewed with suspicion as a puppet regime.
Furthermore, the political vacuum at present in Iraq, which is a result of active policy of the past regime, means that there are no widely accepted, credible and independent public figures readily available. The new political parties, now mushrooming, need some time to organize themselves and formulate their programs.
Also, it is almost certain that the present security situation can be ultimately brought under control through the deployment of military/police forces to maintain law and order. In the longer term though, this is bound to lead to more popular resentment!
It is in the long-term interest of both the coalition and Iraq for the coalition to retain the good will of the Iraqi people.
It is therefore of paramount importance that the U.S. administration establishes, as quickly as possible, a truly democratic government.
A year later, I still stand by those words except for the assumption that “…it is the intention of the coalition to establish a democracy in Iraq”!
Friday, May 28, 2004
How Baghdad Fell
Many theories have been put forward to explain the ease with which the regime and the country crumbled almost without a fight before the invading armies…but the explanation is quite simple!
Saddam used two major weapons to control Iraq and the Iraqi people: fear and greed. Most people including many Baathists hated that regime.
Following the initial resistance at Um Qasr and Nassereyyah, Iraqis began to believe that the US was serious this time and was evidently determined to topple the regime.
This explains what happened! Iraqis – soldiers, Baathists and others simply did not fight…they did not want to. The simple logic was that any soldier did not want to fight so that, in case of victory (!), he went back to oppression and suffering!
Hence, the en-masse abandoning of tanks, posts and arms.
Quite simple, isn’t it?
The result was that Iraq fell like a ripe fruit into the hands of the USA and the US had an easy victory over Saddam. (Subduing the people is another story! If you don’t believe me, ask any American soldier how fiercely people in Fallujah fought!). The US occupied the country. Children began waiving to US soldiers. Grown-ups were more cautious.
The declared policy of the US was to win the hearts and minds of the people. The US had an opportunity of historic proportions to make a permanent change in this troubled corner of the world. [They only had one major hurdle inside Iraq: a deeply held mistrust of US policies!] People were generally prepared to watch and wait!
The politicians took over. Then began a long series of mistakes, blunders, bad judgments and pure criminal incompetence!