(Op-ed): Tensions amidst Transition

by George A. Lopez

Rather subdued political events in Iraq and Turkey this past Monday illustrate just how far the once boldly stated American vision for a post-Saddam Iraq has fallen. Coming off two bloody weeks of escalating violence before the announced June 30 deadline for the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, the actual hand over was held secretly on Monday, June 28.p. Before leaving for Baghdad airport, US Administrator Paul Bremer gave the empowerment letters to Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in a ceremony open only to the necessary political officials from each side and a select few in the international press corps. What was meant to be a monumental moment in Iraqs history was made known to its citizens only via media reports hours after the fact.p. Meanwhile, at a NATO alliance summit in Istanbul, Turkey, President Bush requested and received a still to be fully specified pledge by European countries to train the new Iraqi police force. Having numerous times refused to engage NATO allies as full partners in the economic and political reconstruction of post-war Iraq in exchange for their commitment to send troops, the President now took the little he could get. The Administration then began quickly to put their best political spin on both events.p. For all the pessimism that these happenings — combined with some three dozen insurgent attacks per day — might rightly generate, no one should dismiss the sovereignty transfer as mere show. In fact, the Allawi government has a viable, albeit quickly closing, window of opportunity for curtailing the violence in ways not available to its US predecessor.p. The new Iraqi leadership recognizes what the Americans were not keen to advertise: that the insurgency may have as many as four distinct groups engaged in anti-coalition violence. The home-grown Baathists and foreign jihadists joining the al-Zawqari network will continue their attacks for their own anarchic reasons. But those who are followers of local, factional leaders and those who were willing to be hired to attack Americans because of their growing disdain for the occupiers, may be more pliable in their actions and commitments. Allawi may be able to strike a political deal with these latter two groups.p. The actions of the Baathists and al-Qaeda were particularly deadly toward Iraqis in recent weeks, sparking much more discussion among the other dissident Iraqi groups and within wider Iraqi society. The increased skepticism about the utility of ‘Iraqis killing Iraqisand the critique of the outsiders doing so can be used by the government to deny citizen support and safe haven for the Baathist and al-Qaeda factions. This slow but steady de legitimation can produce real security payoffs.p. A cornerstone for a viable political deal to end the actions of the latter two groups began on June 9, when the interim government announced an amnesty of sorts for militias which were affiliated with identifiable political parties or factions. Now the difficult part of implementation comes, wherein the government must determine how to integrate these militias into a viable, national security force. And either through compromise or confrontation, Allawi must quickly deal with the reality that the Mehdi Army of the so-called ‘radicalShiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was not included in the earlier agreement. Predictions regarding this outcome are wide-ranging.p. Even if these steps succeed, less violence provides only partial security. US commentators have well-founded fears about the uncertainties embedded in this odd situation where US military forces and the new government have yet to work out the new security scheme. Allawi has loudly stated that Paul Bremer made a substantial mistake in disbanding the Iraqi military. But even if the Prime Minister rehabilitates a number of former officers and their troops, he assumes his command responsibilities with an army still only at one third the personnel size it needs to deal with the security crisis.p. The tensions thus facing Iraq and the US abound. Allawi needs the US as an enforcer of his strong armed approach to dealing with the insurgents, while he beefs up his own army and police. But at the same time Allawi needs to keep the US forces in low profile so as not to further incite anti-occupation violence he is trying to quell. And the US need the Prime Minister to make popular, high profile security appointments and to engage in successful security operations so that Iraqi security forces appear increasingly in charge of their domestic situation.p. His success in the security realm will dictate much of what Allawi might accomplish structurally for the next stage of Iraqi self-governance. In UN Security Council Resolution 1546, his interim government is charged with convening in July a truly national conference of 1,000 people representing Iraqs rich ethnic and religious diversity, The product of this meeting must be an elected 100 member Consultative Council which works with Allawis Cabinet to set the stage for the next phase of democratic and electoral reform.p. In this process Allawis most difficult task is ensuring the continued participation of all relevant Iraqi factions. This is not an easy task. For example, the populist Mutada al-Sadr maintains that the size of the population he represents entitles him to multiple seats in the gathering. And the Kurds appear to be losing patience with the lack of attention to their earlier protests about representation issues in the dormant first draft of the constitution. Here the role of the US, as a behind the scenes advisor and supporter can assist Allawi in his shrewd application of carrots and sticks to produce national dialogue. We may even need to accept his rebuff and occasional critique as part of the Iraqi ownership process of its new government.p. The array of challenges now facing the Allawi administration are enormous. Even if they can reduce the violence and administer the varied transitional political institutions assigned to it, the quality of life for many Iraqis may still deteriorate. That will leave for the new government elected in 2005 to carry the huge weight of economic reconstruction and development of its shoulders.p. But getting to even that point will be significant for the Iraqis. Despite being beset by contending forces, the new interim government can make the prospects for an elected Iraqi government more viable, both in reality and in the minds and hearts of Iraqis themselves.p. George A. Lopez is Senior Fellow and Director of Policy Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame . He writes frequently about Iraqi issues.

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