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U.S. Rushes To Install Puppet Iraqi Government

by Praful Bidwai

Family left Iraq in 1958, long before Saddam
(IPS) -- As lawlessness, chaos and looting break out in Basra and Baghdad, the end of the U.S.-British coalition's war on Iraq seems to be near.

The invaders' task now will be to restore order in a country where central authority is fast breaking down.

But they must first deal with an Iraqi resistance from regular forces, 'fedayeen' militias, guerrilla groups and citizens that has persisted despite the United States' incomparably superior firepower vis-a-vis a sanctions-battered, half-demilitarised and impoverished country with no air force or navy worth the name.

Evidently, the Pentagon miscalculated the quality and degree of popular Iraqi resistance.

U.S. planners had estimated that Hussein's Baathist Party regime would collapse as soon as the war coalition launched its attacks on March 20. However, the 'Washington Post' says the Baathist apparatus still has partial control of most of the cities that lie on U.S. and British troops' route from the Kuwait border to Baghdad.

The final outcome of the war -- victory of the U.S.-British coalition -- was never in doubt. But its duration has made a difference. Precisely because it has lasted this long, the resistance is likely to leave a political impact on the Arab world where other states feel threatened by Western might.

Three other factors now in play are important.

First, the invading forces have so far failed to locate and destroy Iraq's top leadership, including Saddam Hussein. Second, there is no credible report yet of any weapons of mass destruction being found in Iraq. And third, the invading forces seem more interested in setting up a puppet regime, as in Afghanistan, rather than a legitimate, broad-based, democratic government.

All three factors further undermine the legitimacy of this savage war waged in violation of the charter of the United Nations.

As of now, the formal termination of the war could come about through one of three routes. First, top Iraqi leaders are killed or captured, or they surrender. Second, the U.S.-British forces go into the streets and re-establish order to stop the mayhem and looting.

And third, the U.S.-British coalition announces the creation of an interim government under former Gen. Jay Garner that will function as an "Iraqi civilian" regime.

The first course has not materialized. There have been too many misses, including one last Monday, near the same location where Saddam Hussein was seen last week on Iraqi television, mixing with a civilian crowd.

The second course means that the U.S.-British troops will leave the safety of tanks and air cover and rub shoulders with Iraqi civilians. This would certainly risk terror attacks, and worse, urban warfare, which would mean high casualties. The United States and Britain, in particular the Americans, have shown themselves reluctant to take any such risks.

The war coalition seems to be gravitating toward the third option, although that could mean breakdown of authority, plunder, danger to civilian life and likely loss of valuable documents which would be relevant to establishing the repressive nature of the Baathist regime and the true status of its weapons of mass destruction programme and work of the UN inspectors.

Clearly, the war coalition is much less bothered now about finding Iraq's "hidden" weapons of mass destruction than about "regime change" and more.

Yet, the war's legitimacy, already hotly disputed by global public opinion, will be completely destroyed if no weapons of mass destruction are found -- and certified to have been so discovered by a highly credible third agency, and unless it is further shown that UN inspections could not have disarmed them.

The last alternative favors the installation of a puppet regime in Iraq, which could help the United States quickly establish monopoly control over Iraq's oil and its reconstruction program. A puppet regime headed by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, is long known to be a favorite of Pentagon hardliners.

On April 7, U.S. military forces airlifted Chalabi to a location near Nasiriyah, along with 500 Iraqi exiles, grandiloquently named 'Free Iraq's Forces', presumably after the French liberation forces during the Nazi occupation.

This violates the solemn promise made last week by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that Washington would not impose a government on Iraq, although it plans to secure the entire country over six months through an interim administration headed by former Gen. Jay Garner:

"The goal is not to install some particular group as the new leaders of Iraq. That absolutely contradicts the whole notion of democracy," said Wolfowitz.

The 'Free Iraqi Forces' creation and insinuation into southern Iraq is seen by the U.S. friends and foes alike as the Pentagon's bid to enhance Chalabi's standing as the seed of a new government. The Forces are trained and guided by U.S. Col. Ted Steel, a Vietnam veteran.

State Department and even Central Intelligence Agency officials oppose the "promote-Chalabi" move.

Their reasons are simple. Chalabi was born in a wealthy banking family, and left Iraq in 1958 when he was 13. He has not returned except for a short period in the mid-1990s, when he tried to organize an unsuccessful "popular uprising" from the Kurdish north.

The entire INC leadership lacks a base in Iraq. It largely consists of millionaires and compromised or disaffected intellectuals. Chalabi is notorious for his involvement in financial embezzlement. A Jordanian court has sentenced him to 22 years' hard labor for bank fraud.

It is on Chalabi's advice that the Pentagon relied while planning the invasion of Iraq which, he promised, would instantly precipitate a popular uprising. INC "sources" too gave the United States that tip-off about Iraq's topmost leaders being present in a particular building in Baghdad on March 20, which led to the failed "decapitating" strike.

The U.S. blunder in sponsoring Chalabi would be immeasurably graver than in appointing Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

The Iraqi situation is even more volatile than post-war Afghanistan's. The Iraqi people are likely to be even more allergic to a U.S.-sponsored puppet regime.

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Albion Monitor April 9, 2003 (

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