The "Coalition" unravells, "Saddam Hussein Lite" takes Command

15 November 2005

  Phyllis Bennis

The "Coalition" unravells, "Saddam Hussein Lite" takes Command
Phyllis Bennis and Michael Sochynsky
Institute for Policy Studies, 19 July 2004

While US media attention has decreased significantly in the weeks since the
June 28 so-called "hand-over of sovereignty," the US occupation remains very
much in place, and the level of violence in Iraq has remained constant. Although
US casualties remain high (36 GIs dead as of July 17, compared to 42 for all
of June) resistance forces have shifted much of their attacks to Iraqi military
and police institutions. Assassinations are on the rise, with Iraqi "interim
government" ministers and police officials the primary targets of shootings and
car-bombs. However, particularly with car-bombs, indiscriminate casualties are
escalating, with increased deaths and injuries to many Iraqi civilians, including
children, with no connection to the interim Iraqi government or to the US occupation.

The election-driven US goal of "Iraqization" of the casualties is well underway,
helping to divert public opinion from the continuing crisis on the ground in
Iraq, the huge numbers of Iraqi casualties, and the diminishing levels of international
support. The "coalition," always more symbolically than militarily significant,
is largely unraveling. The impact is felt more at the political than military
level, with the Bush administration's claim that it is "leading an international
coalition" in Iraq increasingly indefensible.

The unraveling began with the withdrawal of Spain's 1300 troops after the defeat
of the Bush-backing Aznar government. Spain's pull-out led Honduras and the Dominican
Republic to recall their small contingents soon after. The latest premature withdrawal,
that of the entire Philippines contingent to prevent the execution of a captured
Filipino contract worker, is only the most visible. Hostage-taking and execution
of nationals of countries with military troops in Iraq has continued, with the
seizures of citizens of Japan, Poland, Bulgaria, South Korea, the Philippines
and the US The effect has been to increase political pressure on governments
to end their military's unpopular deployments.

Earlier this month Norway pulled out 140 of its 155 troops. New Zealand and Thailand
have both announced plans to pull out their troops by September. The Netherlands
and Poland will reportedly leave before the middle of next year. While eastern
European and former Soviet countries remain the most committed to the US war,
even Estonia has announced pull-out plans. Other countries have reduced their
already tiny contingents; Singapore left only 33 soldiers in Iraq out of 191,
and Moldova, already the smallest group with 42 soldiers, is now down to 12.

For the first time, a majority of Americans believe the war was wrong, that the
US should have stayed out - now 51%, up from 46% in June. In a new New York
Times/CBS poll, public anger is rising with the continuing casualties among US
soldiers in Iraq, with 62% saying they believed the war was not worth the loss
of American lives.

Striking another blow against the Bush administration's only remaining claim
of justification for the war, interim Iraqi prime minister Allawi has made clear
as he consolidates his claim on partial authority, that democracy is not on his
agenda. Whether he will go down in history as "Saddam Hussein lite" remains uncertain,
but what is clear is that his rule is already characterized by the ruling style
of the Ba'athist regime in which he got his start as an intelligence official,
combining widescale repression with selective co-optation. Allawi's own familiarity
with brutal rule emerged on July 17th, when an article in the Sydney Morning
Herald documented Allawi having shot dead six hand-cuffed and bound suspected
insurgents in cold blood in the courtyard of a Baghdad police station, just days
before the US occupation "handed over sovereignty" to him. Thus Allawi's
July 7th announcement of emergency powers, authorizing his government to carry
out most of the unpopular moves of the official US occupation including curfews,
closures, random searches, and more, gives a better indication of his intentions
than does all the obeisance to democracy of the double Pauls [Bremer and Wolfowitz].
And, like its hands-off position regarding the repressive practices of the earlier
Ba'athist regime under Saddam Hussein, the US appears to think it's fine that
repression and co-optation are the hallmarks of occupied "sovereign Iraq" today.
(The announcement by Iraq's human rights minister that he will "investigate"
the Allawi murders must be viewed with significant skepticism.)

The co-optation side is seen in the effort to divide the resistance between the
largely foreign Islamist forces and the indigenous Iraqi opposition (including
both secular nationalist and Islamist sectors). It takes such forms as the reopening
Moqtada al-Sadr's newspaper, al-Hawza, closed by the US occupation authorities,
as well as offering amnesty to some resistance fighters. But the limits of the
co-optation strategy are also visible in situations such as Fallujah, where the
US had allowed the local Fallujah Brigade to take control of the city, but
at the same time Allawi is reported to have approved the recent continuation
of US military assaults that are killing numerous Fallujah civilians.

In both the US and the UK, official reports were released condemning the false,
flawed and exaggerated intelligence that both the Bush and Blair administrations
used to justify their invasion of Iraq. The Senate Intelligence Committee, under
Republican pressure, refused to examine the role of the administration in hyping
pre-war intelligence, focusing instead on the CIA's failures. These included
a widespread "group think" - defined as the unfounded "collective presumption
that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction program." Only
after the 2004 elections will phase two of the investigation of pre-war intelligence
begin, and even then it remains uncertain whether they will examine the role
of the administration. In the UK, in the meantime, Tony Blair admitted that
his constant claim that "400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves"
was untrue, and that only about 5,000 had been found. While 5,000 murdered Iraqis
is certainly sufficient evidence of a serious crime against humanity, Tony Blair's
manipulation of the numbers provides useful insight into his cavalier attitude
towards the truth.

Beyond the insufficiently critical media accounts of the Senate Intelligence
Report, there is a growing media focus on a single aspect of the forthcoming
9/11 Commission report. That is the claim that because some of the hijackers
apparently traveled through Iran en route to the US, that there must be Iranian
complicity in the attacks. Of course by this logic, Germany must be deemed a
key ally of al-Qaeda for harboring the terrorists before 9/11, and for that matter
so must Florida. Perhaps trying to bolster his agency's "group-think" image,
acting CIA Director John McLaughlin recently admitted that, "We have no evidence
that there is some sort of official sanction by the government of Iran for this
activity. We have no evidence that there is some sort of official connection
between Iran and 9/11."


About the authors

Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of both TNI and the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC where she directs IPS's New Internationalism Project. Phyllis specialises in U.S. foreign policy issues, particularly involving the Middle East and United Nations. She worked as a journalist at the UN for ten years and currently serves as a special adviser to several top-level UN officials on Middle East issues, as well as playing an active role in the U.S. and global peace and Palestinian rights movements. A frequent contributor to U.S. and global media, Phyllis is also the author of numerous articles and books, particularly on Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, the UN, and U.S.