Uneasy Aftermath of War


The occupation of Iraq - the uneasy aftermath of war

by Jim Addington

Two months into the occupation it may be possible to see a little way into the future. But this does not encourage optimism. On 22nd May the UN Security Council approved the structure of the occupation without supporting the war. This included an important place for a UN special envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who started his duties at the beginning of June. It is to be hoped that his appointment may prove to be more effective in bringing stability, aid and reconstruction to Iraq than anything the United States failing 'Interim Administration' is likely to achieve.

So far, the US team under Paul Bremer has had little success. He announced that he was setting up a consultative Iraqi council, only to abandon the project. Nor has order been established, in fact there are challenges to the occupying forces every day. Policing has to be supported by firearms and armoured vehicles. Bremer has issued a proclamation outlawing "gatherings, pronouncements or publications" that support the Baath party or opposition to the occupation forces.

The announcement that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's Ambassador to the UN, a fluent Arabic speaker, will be sent to support Mr Bremer may be a hopeful sign. It could also be viewed as a indication of the serious situation in which the occupying forces now find themselves. Mr Bremer also said recently that he had inadequate staff.

The state of Iraq's services has recently been reported on by several international groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Care-International.UK, and the New York based Human Rights Watch. Their reports are critical of British forces in Basra as well as Coalition activities throughout Iraq.

The Director of Care International UK, Will Day, published an article on 16th June headed 'Things are getting worse in Iraq, so give the UN a chance'. His experience, based on Iraqi staff resident in Baghdad, is that "there is a dangerous vacuum where there is no security, no law and order, no visible way out of this chaos; nobody seems to be in charge". Nobody is safe. Aid organisations including Care International have had warehouses full of humanitarian goods looted, cars hijacked and staff had been shot at.

Will Day said that Iraq, although under a monstrous regime, was not a failed country. It had an effective administration. Now significant layers of administration which had worked before had gone; they were required now to restart the civil process. He said that pre-war administration systems should be reinstated at once. Iraq which had been "limping" before the war, was now "on its knees"; electricity supplies are intermittent, clean water is becoming scarce, sewage and rubbish is accumulating and hospitals are running out of oxygen needed for operations.

Kate Bulbulian, Care's Information Officer based in London also told me that its operatives in Baghdad could not travel far from the city because they had to return by evening to protect their own families. They were still unable to help outside Baghdad city or elsewhere in Iraq.

In Basra, 550 kilometres from Baghdad, the occupying British forces are doing little better although there is not the same degree of sporadic armed resistance seen in Baghdad and some other parts of Iraq. On Sunday 15th June several thousand people demonstrated in Basra and stoned British military vehicles. Led by Shia clerics they were demanding self government. The marchers were appeased by promises from British officers that they would return in two days time with an answer to demands to set up an administrative council and a consultative council. The protestors said that they would wait two days and if not satisfied would take direct action.

In a bizarre contrast during the same weekend the newly reopened British Embassy in Baghdad entertained Coalition members and supporters from many countries at a garden party on the Queen's birthday. While a quintet from the Black Watch entertained with music from a gallery, which included Colonel Bogey, additional percussion was provided from a distance by US forces firing on looters.

Human Rights Watch, the New York based humanitarian agency, has published a highly critical report based on a four week study of conditions in Basra. Its report 'Crime and Insecurity Under British Occupation' was published eight weeks after the occupation began. The report says that US and UK forces failed to plan for or to provide adequate forces to carry out their international legal obligation as occupying powers. As a result of the fighting Basra's infrastructure suffered significant damage, aggravating already degraded pre-war conditions. For example, the city's water supply had broken down completely when British forces took control.

Although British patrols were effective in the city centre, and four police stations had been reopened, this was completely inadequate for meeting the security needs of a city the size of Basra, especially in view of heightened lawlessness following the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.

Senior British and US military officers repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that they had been given an impossible task. They could not convert their small fighting force into administrative units to carry out the enormous tasks that they were obliged to do to carry out their obligations under international law.

They had also failed to install a centralized system for gathering information about crimes. This is partly due to the inability of the Coalition to organise the co-ordination of civil services at national level. Human Rights Watch also criticised the failure to deploy international civilian police and legal and judicial personnel in Basra. Coalition forces had not been trained in local law and customs and the military forces had failed to communicate with the local population on security issues.

The International Red Cross has not had much more success although it has done better at a local level. The ICRC repaired many water installations during the recent war, restoring supplies to some 3.5 million people. Yet it reported on 12th June that as a result of power related problems a growing number of urban centres are frequently without a supply of tap water or any other drinking water, sometimes for several days at a time. 15 rented tankers and 3 ICRC tankers are delivering water on a daily basis to 15 sites in Baghdad where there are no local supplies.

The International Red Cross is continuing to visit detention sites in and around Baghdad where they have seen some 1000 detainees. (Under Geneva Convention rules they have a right to visit prisoners of war, for example, but their duty is to report their findings to the occupying forces and not to the media at large). There is little doubt that agencies like the ICRC and Care International will always be found in locations where help is required, but they can do little to provide the enormous amount of relief and rehabilitation that should be provided by the occupying forces. The British government should be asked to report on the progress of its administration on a regular basis, especially in Basra, and critical observation such as that carried out by Human Rights Watch should be maintained as long as there is foreign occupation of Iraq.