Iraq - Growing Chaos

The US and UN face growing chaos in Iraq

Jim Addington looks at the current situation in occupied Iraq

Against a background of growing insurgency, vague intentions and weakening control, amid accusations of war crimes, the Coalition and the UN face growing chaos in Iraq. The US-dominated Coalition is preparing to move to the first stage in the establishment of an Iraqi government. The US and the UN Security Council have given their blessing to the UN special representative Lakhdar Brahimi to select a new interim government by the end of May. The date is his choice; even then the interim government will have only a month to prepare for independence by 30th June the official date for handover to the Iraqis. He is to choose the new interim government which may not include members of the Iraq governing Council which was chosen by Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq. To avoid early canvassing for positions in the government to be elected in January 2005, Brahimi wants those selected for the interim government to agree not to stand for elections to its successor.

The American government came in for strong criticism in the US Congress last week when it admitted that it did not know who would be in the new government, what powers it would have, or the sort of Security Council resolution it hoped to put forward to gain UN support. It was confirmed that the US would be in charge of security and that disagreements on foreign policy between the Iraqi government and the US security forces would not be tolerated.

In giving the job to Brahimi, who has great experience and the sympathy of many in the Arab world, the UN Security Council seems to have closed off any other options. Because of his reputation as a UN envoy, credited with creating a government after the war on Afghanistan in 2002, both the UN and the US seem to expect that that something similar can be achieved in Iraq. Yet what he succeeded in forming in Afghanistan was a government whose power in 2004 does not stretch beyond the outskirts of the capital, Kabul. It has not succeeded there, nor is the model likely to develop anywhere else. The terrain in Iraq is different. No government has been able to control the whole of Afghanistan but Saddam Hussein was successful in holding Iraq together, albeit with terror tactics. However, behind the plans for what is called the handover of sovereignty to Iraq are strange decisions that belie hopes for real independence.

Iraq will not be an independent sovereign state at the end of June, however it is described. A definition of a sovereign state is that it is able to defend itself; that will not be the case. Decrees issued by the current US administrator, Paul Bremer who is soon to give way to John Negroponte, will still be in force. The new interim government will have few powers, pending the January election. Even after that it is assumed that the occupation forces will stay to help maintain security, but only a properly recognised legally established government would have the authority to ask them to stay. The US forces are expected to operate from up to fourteen specially constructed fortress bases. Control will be exercised from a new US embassy, the largest in the world, established to control the region. This is clearly intended to enable the US government to replace its ailing and fractious Saudi Arabian ally and control the Middle East region. Is it possible that secure in its new citadels the US government will leave Iraq to sort itself out, allowing the effects of civil wars to swirl around outside?

It now seems that the UN and the Coalition, in agreeing to appoint Brahimi as the Iraqi state builder (not yet sanctified by a Security Council resolution) has temporarily washed its hands of the whole business, leaving it to him. They seem to have ignored the rapidly deteriorating security position. Brahimi was aware of this because on his last fact-finding mission in April he was a virtual prisoner in the fortified American headquarters, unable to risk going outside or to travel around Iraq. It appears that he only visited Mosul although he is known to have had discussions with potential members of a new administration. When established, hand-picked by Brahimi himself, the interim government, with very limited powers, will be given a president, a prime minister and two deputies chosen to represent three principal strands of Iraqi society.

While the action to create a representative interim government to replace the Governing Council may be successful, present conditions in Iraq do not inspire anyone with optimism that in less than 8 months time they will be suitable for a countrywide election. April was the bloodiest month so far for US occupiers and even more for Iraqi civilians. Nobody can anticipate what the coming months will bring. The opposition is now seen, pace Fallujah and Najaf, to be composed of native patriots and not foreigners, better organised and armed.

Bearing in mind the accusations against American and British troops of mistreating prisoners, it is surprising that the UN Commission on Human Rights omitted Iraq from its recent decisions on rights in armed conflicts. This was raised by the Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharan at last week's annual session of the 53 member committee. Special rapporteurs were appointed for Belarus and North Korea and another to examine the trafficking in persons, especially women and children, but none for Iraq. The Commissioner intends to take this up. Is it a coincidence that last year's chair was from Libya, now popular with the UK and this year is from Australia, a keen supporter of the war on Iraq?

Following the annual conference of the UNHCR it was announced that the Special Rapporteur on torture is seriously concerned about the report of torture, and other cruel and degrading treatment of Iraqi detainees by UN and UK military forces serving under the Coalition provisional authority. In a statement issued on 3rd May the Special Rapporteur warned that nobody can derogate from the various treaties, including the Geneva Convention of August 1949 or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without question such behaviour must be investigated, and where necessary prosecuted and punished with the appropriate sanctions.

For those who dearly wish for a peaceful - and genuinely democratic- outcome the future looks grim. When Brahimi returns in May he will have the same difficulty in travelling around Iraq; his mission is so crucial that he must be a prime target for attack and the American occupiers can hardly guarantee his safety. It is also hard to imagine the UN Security Council passing a resolution in support of a hand-picked Iraqi interim government if it has at the same time to endorse the continued illegal occupation forces.

A number of proposals are in the air. Among them is the unexplained proposal by some UK newspapers that everything should be handed over to the UN, without regard to the lack of security. Last week Koffi Annan, UN Secretary-General, made it clear that UN troops would not be involved because as in the past the UN would invite a state or states to provide the necessary military manpower.

A proposal with a better chance of success is one which envisages security provided by military forces from Arab/Muslim states. One problem is that none of them have a democratic government, yet they support the Arab League and are ardent supporters of the UN, which are in principle democratic organisations. If the developing political system is helped to make progress under 100% Iraqi participation with backing from the forces of some Arab states, there may be a place for the UN to provide logistical support, an area where it has the most experience.

Jim Addington is chair of the UK organisation Action for UN Renewal.