Winning the peace

May 26 2003 | by

THE MOST SURPRISING things about the war against Iraq were the speed and ease with which Iraqi forces succumbed to the massive US-British onslaught. The Iraqi air force, said to be equipped with state-of-the-art aircraft from France, Britain and the USA, did not even show its face outside its hangars, and posed no threat to the rampaging Tornados, F-16s and Stealth bombers of the coalition forces. The powerful armoured arms of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard, relentlessly hyped up by US and British propaganda, proved to consist of lumbering T54s and even older T34s which were easily defeated by the coalition’s faster, more manoeuvrable and better-armoured vehicles. In no field were the Iraqis a match for the coalition forces, and even before serious battle was joined, their forces simply melted away. There was no sign of any of the dreaded weapons of mass destruction, the coalition’s pretext for making their pre-emptive strike, and certainly no attempt to use them. Volunteer forces from sympathetic Arab neighbours were especially astonished that there had been no attempt to build defensive positions in or near the capital. The devilish plan of the Iraqis to lure coalition forces, who were reported to dislike leaving their tanks, into the suqs and alleys of downtown Baghdad, Grozny-style, and then massacre them, proved to be another scare-story from the coalition headquarters in Qatar. In short, it was an inglorious walkover with few casualties for the coalition forces (and a high proportion of those from ‘friendly fire’), but many for the Iraqis.


Walkover followed by chaos


Such was the speed of the Iraqi collapse that there was no clear coalition plan on what to do once the military campaign was over. US and British troops, unable to speak Arabic and lacking interpreters, said their job was subduing resistance, not maintaining order, and turned a blind eye to the orgy of looting that the delighted crowds launched into, often under the guns of the watching soldiers. Hundreds of public buildings, banks, museums, and private houses belonging to leaders of the fallen regime were sacked, looted and vandalised without interference from the coalition armed forces. Only the oil ministry was spared and granted a special Marine guard, some indication that the Americans had a list of priorities. Civil servants, police, municipal employees and public servants of every grade and hue followed the example of the armed forces and stayed at home, while a few guerrilla units (fidaiyyin) and Ba’athist militias with rifles and the occasional mortar set out to torment the invading forces with hit-and-run raids. The US Marines’ habit of shooting first and asking questions afterwards made for some serious confrontations in Baghdad and Mosul – the British, accustomed, perhaps, to dealing with such situations on the Falls Road and elsewhere in Belfast, had less trouble in Basra.

For a couple of weeks after fighting had stopped all was confusion, and only then was some semblance of order restored. State employees were offered a deal which encouraged them to go back to work, and attempts were made to recruit policemen and administrators to replace those adherents of the old Ba’athist regime who preferred not to risk the dangers of denunciation at the workplace. But there is still no electricity or running water in Baghdad, hospitals are unable to cope with the hundreds of people wounded by coalition bombs or Cruise missiles, and food is seriously short. The truth, unfortunately, is not that such dislocation is to be expected after a successful war against a cruel and hated enemy, but that, incredibly, no preparations had been made, in spite of the many promises made by the coalition leaders in advance of their military operations. Normally, it would fall to the United Nations to administer the conquered territory, but in this case President Bush and his henchmen have insisted that the UN should be excluded from the responsibility for any aspect of Iraq’s resettlement.


Who is in charge here?


Political commentators have been thrown into agonies of doubt by the sudden and unexplained removal of the US appointees to the Iraq job. Both the head man, General Jay Garner, who won his spurs at the end of the first Gulf War by handling the resettlement of the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the woman diplomat Barbara Bodine, have been removed, and a State Department man, head of the counter-terrorism desk, Paul Bremer, has been brought in. This unseemly general post at a crucial moment in Iraq’s recovery may be no more than the latest twist in the rivalry between the Pentagon and State Department, but it does nothing to indicate that the Americans know what they are doing.

Both President George W. Bush and the Prime Minister Tony Blair have insisted that after a short period in which to establish order, the resettlement of Iraq will be handed over to the Iraqis .In pursuit of this aim, about 300 Iraqi delegates met at a conference centre in Baghdad at the end of April .It was remarkable for the absence of the one group which has done something to restore order in the country since the fighting stopped – the Shi’ites, members of the Muslim Shi’a sect in southern Iraq which suffered most from Saddam Hussein for their opposition to the regime at the end of the first Gulf war, whose bones are even now being unearthed from mass graves near Baghdad. Shi’ite clergy in particular have taken it on themselves to replace the civil government in organising water supplies, directing traffic and keeping the peace in Shi’ite areas of the country. Shi’a efforts to improve a chaotic situation have brought them into conflict with US forces, and on more than one occasion US forces have removed Shi’ite mayors from office, not because they were doing the job badly but because they were doing it at all. This does not augur well for the future. Saddam solved the question of how to control this devout and extremist sect of Islam by suppressing them savagely, but such draconian methods are not open to Iraq’s new rulers.


The Ba’athist tradition


The main political problem in finding a new solution for Iraq is to know who the Iraqis are who might be put in charge. The Iraqi political opposition abroad is discredited and too old. There has been no active opposition in the country since the days of the monarchy and Nuri Al-Said. The Ba’athists took over during or after the regime of Abdul Karim Qasim from 1958 to 61 – Saddam was only the last in a long line of Ba’athist dictators. Here it should be said that there is nothing inherently criminal about Ba’athism, which is an inoffensive mixture of socialism, pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism with the well-meaning slogan of ‘One Arab nation with an eternal message’. You don’t have to be a sabre-toothed dictator to belong, though many have been. But, in Iraq, anybody who was in any official position, or who aspired to it, had to belong to the Ba’ath Party. Of course, there were many who hid their real loyalties, and some of them will now come forward to claim some of the rewards of power. The difficulty in appointing such people to important positions is that you can never be sure of where their loyalties lie. But if you cannot appoint former Ba’athists, and since exiles are excluded on grounds of their feeble records while in exile, whom can one choose as Iraq’s new leaders?


Making a new Iraq


The difficulty in making a new Iraq, as the Americans say they want to do, is that this may mean making a less Arab one. There is a strong feeling among more conservative parts of the US administration – and it is the conservative hawks who rule the roost in Washington - that the new Iraq should be democratic, de-Ba’athified and de-Arabised, that it should no longer be anti-Israeli and anti-American, that it should positively reject pan-Arabism. But, even if such a transfer of loyalties were desirable, how could it be communicated to an Iraqi people long noted for their dislike of the USA and Israel? One possibility is that it could be done through an Arab intermediary such as Ahmad Chalabi . However, Chalabi has been out of Iraq since the revolution of 1958 and has American political and financial support, which among Arabs are no recommendations for those seeking leading positions in the new administration. There would, of course, be great dangers in following a policy which tried to reverse many of the convictions that the Iraqi people have felt for many years, and it is doubtful that such a policy could succeed unless the US-British occupation were to last for a number of years. As seen at present, while the Americans may seek to establish air bases in Iraq for the future, it seems unlikely that their occupation will be restricted to six months, as originally intended. Iraqi voices are already being raised against their continued presence on Iraqi soil, and the incidence of attacks against US soldiers is increasing.


Growth of a Catholic Church


In the first centuries of the Christian era, church structures grew under the Patriarch of Antioch, but in the fifth century the Mesopotamian Church declared its independence and sided with the Nestorians who upheld the heresy of two persons as well as two natures in the incarnate Christ. It was not until the fifteenth century that Latin missionaries succeeded in reconciling the Nestorians with Rome. This resulted in the establishment of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad in 1553, and the formation of a Latin diocese there in 1632.

Most Catholics now belong to the Chaldean Church: they number about 200,000 in the whole of Iraq, divided into ten dioceses served by ten bishops and about a hundred priests under the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon who lives in Baghdad. They run a major seminary in Mosul, and a number of minor seminaries in various parts of the country.

There are also 50,000 Syrian Catholics, and about 2,000 Armenian Catholics. Latin Catholics, numbering 3,000 are mainly expatriates working in Baghdad. There is also an apostolic nuncio residing in Baghdad who, like the Chaldean patriarch, spent the whole of the recent war in Baghdad visiting Catholics and others who had been bombed out.

Generally speaking, the Christian churches in Baghdad have not suffered more than any other sector of the community from the barbarities of Saddam Hussein or the dictators who preceded him. This has been achieved partly by leading Catholics keeping their heads down and by not putting themselves at risk through over-exposure. In fact, Christians in Iraq fear that if a strong Islamic regime were to come to power, as seems possible from the very noticeable activity among the Shi’a since the end of fighting, Christians might very well be discriminated against. They have more to fear from extremist Muslims than barbarous dictators, and so far there have been no attempts from either side to enter into dialogue on Christian-Muslim relations.


An enormous undertaking


The task of creating a new and modern Iraq seems enormous, and the tools to achieve it inadequate. Jay Garner’s so-called Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA) seemed to be promising well until Garner left it, but there is a depressing lack of able and experienced senior Iraqis to play leading roles – Chalabi and the ageing former Iraqi representative to the United Nations, Adnan Pachachi, are the obvious choices so far – and it is all too evident that the occupying forces are unprepared and incapable of harnessing the international effort that is needed. The Americans in particular have shown a surprising inability to talk to Arabs at any level, and so long as they refuse to give the United Nations a responsible part to play in Iraq they are likely to find the going tough. Unfortunately, in spite of the oceans of words on the subject over the past twenty-three months (since 11 September 2001), it is still not clear what the purposes of this wholly illegal and immoral campaign were. So long as that is in doubt, suspicions that the Americans wanted to get hold of Iraqi oil for themselves and their Israeli clients will remain, as will the conviction that George W. Bush carried out the invasion to avenge his father’s failure to finish off Saddam twelve years ago. These reasons may sound feeble, but are a great deal less so than the ones put forward by Bush and Blair. More important, so long as the real reasons for the invasion are not made clear, it will be that much more difficult to work out and apply a plan for the recovery of Iraq. Winning the war is easier than making the peace.


Updated on October 06 2016