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Post-Saddam Iraq May Look Like Pre-Invasion Afghanistan

by Ted Rall

Bush Admin Squabbles Over Saddam Successor
When George W. Bush wanted the Taliban out, he issued an ultimatum: give up Osama or face the consequences. Mullah Omar and his grim band of Islamist yahoos were fearsome literalists; in a now-forgotten last-ditch attempt to keep their jobs, they offered to turn over bin Laden. But Bush didn't really want bin Laden -- he wanted the Taliban gone. Days later, bombs began raining on Afghanistan. Bushian ultimata are merely eviction notices.

A year later Saddam Hussein is sitting through the same "let's make this look good" ritual. Bush doesn't want arms inspectors. He wants Iraq. Nothing Saddam does or offers to do will make any difference. War was likely before Election Day, but the Republican sweep makes it inevitable.

Bombs will fall. People will die. We Americans will mostly just care about the Americans who die -- and we won't be upset for very long. And what happens after the last oil-well fire has been extinguished? We'll be like a dog that finally catches one of those passing cars. What the hell does he do with it? And what will we do with the oil-rich, fractious, mountainous, marshy, desert country full of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds once we finally oust Saddam?

The U.S. didn't put much serious advance planning into who would run post-Taliban Afghanistan (remember King Zahir Shah?) Now we're about to take over Iraq without having clue one about what kind of government to install or who will be in charge of it.

In 1998 Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act. Under that law the U.S. officially recognizes six Iraqi groups as possible alternatives to Saddam Hussein's Baath regime: two Kurdish militias currently running Iraq's northern "no-fly zone," the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Teheran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and a small Hashemite monarchist group.

Riven by its own turf battles, the Bush Administration is unable and unwilling to declare which -- if any -- of these outfits should rule Iraq after the coming war. On Oct. 28 a new conservative daily newspaper, The New York Sun, reported that the administration was considering naming a special presidential envoy to the Iraqi opposition. But, the Sun wrote: "The matter has become entangled in the vicious policy struggle between the Pentagon and the Vice President's office, on the one hand, and the State Department and the CIA, on the other hand."

The State Department and CIA are the reasonable moderates within the Bush Administration. They prefer giving UN weapons inspectors a real chance to avoid war, and deny that there's any connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. (Al Qaeda operatives are active in Iraq, but in Kurdistan, where Saddam's government has no control.) They back the Shiite-aligned SCIRI and the Iraqi National Accord, which tried to depose Saddam in a 1998 coup attempt. The Defense Department and Dick Cheney, on the other hand, are the hawks. They favor a pliant umbrella organization, the Iraqi National Congress, to manage the locals while the U.S. pumps out the oil.

"Tensions are so high," reports the Sun, "that ground rules have been established banning representatives of the State Department from meeting with representatives of the Iraqi opposition without a representative of the Defense Department present, and, likewise, banning representatives of the Defense Department from meeting with the Iraqi opposition without a representative of the State Department present."

Even within one fiefdom, U.S. officials have a hard time keeping their story straight. "Americans agreed that the future Iraqi government should be an elected government," SCIRI leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim said on Oct. 21. "They also agreed that a military ruler wouldn't work." SCIRI's main supporter, Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, told the Associated Press exactly the opposite: "The United States," the AP quoted Powell, "is considering a model for postwar Iraq that resembles Japan after World War II, when Japan was occupied by an American-led military government." Another model, Powell said, is the postwar military occupation of Germany.

For its part the Pentagon is promising the Iraqi National Congress to train 10,000 troops for combat against Saddam.

Lost among all the internal squabbling is the real possibility that none of the six approved groups may prove to be any better than the violently autocratic Saddam Hussein. Human Rights Watch accuses both Kurdish militias of "a wide variety of human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of suspected political opponents, torture, and extrajudicial executions," as well as ethnic cleansing. Kurdish policy towards women is indistinguishable from that of the Taliban; the Kurds take hard-line Islamism even further by endorsing the "honor killing" of women who have sex outside marriage -- even if they have been raped.

The Taliban, bleeding-heart liberals by comparison, at least stoned the rapists to death.

All six of the approved groups subscribe to conservative Islam or hardcore Islamism. Several endorse the same Sharia law used to justify stonings and burqas in Afghanistan, all would curtail the rights of Iraqi women (who, under Saddam, enjoy the most freedom of any Arab state) and only one can be called pro-American. Like Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, these factions will fight one another as soon as they get the chance.

"Our objective for the long term in Iraq would be to establish a broad-based representative and democratic government," said Bush foreign policy adviser and special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. But most analysts believe that replacing Saddam with any, some or all of these groups will accelerate the balkanization of Iraq and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism around the world. That is, after all, exactly what happened after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

Tell us again; heck, tell us even once -- why are we about to do this thing?

© Ted Rall   Reprinted by permission

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Albion Monitor November 22 2002 (

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