The shadow Iraqi government
Asia Times | April 21, 2005
By Pepe Escobar
The ideal White House/Pentagon script for Iraq calls for a pro-American government, total control of at least 12% of the world's known oil reserves and 14 military bases to make it happen. Reality has been churning up other ideas.
Whenever there is a so-called "transfer of power" in Mesopotamia, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, like clockwork, steps on a plane to Baghdad. On his latest trip designed to issue orders for the new, supposedly sovereign Iraqi government, Rumsfeld, in a splendid Freudian slip, let it be known on the record the US "does not have an exit strategy" in Iraq: only a "victory strategy". This is code for "we're not going anywhere".
Reality had intervened two days before Rumsfeld arrived, when about 300,000 Shi'ite nationalists occupied the same Firdaws Square of "liberation day", April 9, 2003, but this time with no Saddam-toppling photo-op intent. Their messages were clear: out with the occupation; and Bush equals Saddam Hussein.
By organizing this huge, Shi'ite mass protest - the largest popular demonstration in Iraq since 1958 - young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was not just occupying a political vaccum: he was daring the new prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari of the Da'wa Party - who appeals to the same Shi'ite constituency - to reveal his true colors.
Muqtada and his thousands were saying: you cannot pose as "sovereign" and sanction the occupation at the same time. The new Iraqi president, reconstructed Kurdish warlord Jalal Talabani, also revealed his true colors: he said he wanted the American military to stay. Talabani has a history of shady deals with everyone and his neighbor - Israel, the Shah of Iran, Turkey, Britain, the US - and his tug-of-war with rival warlord Masoud Barzani has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds.
To add fuel to the fire, Talabani now is also in favor of using Kurdish peshmerga and assorted Shi'ite militias to fight the Sunni Arab resistance - a certified recipe for civil war: this could begin the day the peshmerga are sent to guard Kirkuk's oil fields.
The Sadrists - now constituted as a very organized, openly anti-sectarian and anti-occupation movement - have learned a political thing or two after the 2004 face-to-face between Muqtada and the Pentagon. They have 23 seats in the new National Assembly. In the elections in Basra - the Shi'ite-dominated southern city - they got only 12 of 41 city council seats. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) won 20. But the Sadrists managed to form a coalition and are now actually in control in Basra. The Sadrists' Mehdi Army is even more powerful than the SCIRI's Badr Brigades. Without Mehdi Army interventions, the Badr Brigades would have taken over every government institution in the south. The Badr Brigades' thuggish approach has led many Shi'ites to give at least the benefit of the doubt to the Mehdi Army. The whole Shi'ite south around Basra - provincial councils, the police, the administrative bureaucracy - is controlled by Shi'ite militias.
Muqtada the religious outsider and the Sadrists are cleverly placing Jaafari and his supporters - the powerful Najaf Shi'ite clergy - in an intolerable position. In this epic battle between Muqtada and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Sadrists all-out campaign for the end of the occupation is touching a raw nerve: popular opinion is exasperated with the haggling and corruption in Baghdad; with the snail's pace of the political process; and most of all with the abominable conditions of everyday life.
Don't touch our thugs
According to Washington's script, progressive invisibility of the occupying force means increasing repression exercised by Iraqi forces. This means the return - in full force - of Saddam's Mukhabarat agents, now posing as agents of the new Iraqi security and intelligence services. Seemingly, that is the way the disenfranchised Muqtada-regimented masses see it: Bush equals Saddam because the same people who repressed us are back. Not to mention that everyone painfully remembers how George Bush senior did nothing to prevent Saddam from smashing the Shi'ite uprising at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. The masses correctly interpreted the meaning of Rumsfeld's "message" to the Shi'ite al-Jafaari: don't touch the defense and interior ministries, ie, don't touch our old Mukhabarat allies and counterinsurgency experts.
Not featured in the elaborate Pentagon plans to regiment Mukhabarat agents is that these same Sunni, Saddam-era operatives may not be exactly inclined to fight the Sunni resistance. To complicate the equation, 70% of the US-trained Iraqi security forces are former Ba'athists. The top commando, with 10,000 operatives, is almost 100% composed of former Saddam army officers. If Jaafari's government purges them, it's the end of the American dream of having Iraqis doing the dirty jobs.
All the explosive issues - federalism, who gets Kirkuk, the fate of the oil industry - which translated into nine weeks of turbulence before a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister were appointed - are now back into the negotiations over a new constitution. People in Baghdad knows it's unrealistic to expect a draft of the new constitution in the course of the next four months, according to the American-imposed calendar.
Ominous signs abound. Sunni tribal sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer, one of the two vice presidents, is furious that the Shi'ites and Kurds have decided to give only four ministries to Sunni Arabs, instead of the original six. Even moderate Sunnis now accuse Shi'ites and Kurds of marginalizing what we have termed the Sinn Fein stance of the Sunni Arab resistance.
Moreover, the story playing in the global media for days, according to which the Wahhabi hardcore faction of the Sunni resistance had kidnapped up to 150 Shi'ites in Madaen, south of Baghdad, is an elaborate hoax - and this after former Central Intelligence Agency asset and outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi quickly described the alleged hostage situation as "a dirty atrocity". The story was apparently planted by the SCIRI. Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi of the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, said: "This was an excuse to produce a small-scale Fallujah." Iraqis tend to agree that intimations of civil war only benefit one player: the occupying power.
Allawi - the Americans' man, as he is known in Baghdad - also has his reasons to be furious. He badly wanted the Interior Ministry, so he could organize the Mukhabarat-led espionage and overall repression in conjunction with the Green Zone. The Shi'ites of SCIRI came up with a resolute "no". The next interior minister may well be Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Brigades. To say that Amiri is a bete noire of choice in Rumsfeld's vast collection would be an understatement.
It is well known that the Badr Brigades - the paramilitary wing of SCIRI, recently renamed Badr Organization - were trained in exile by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. That makes them extremely suspicious to all Sunni Arabs. So just like in Afghanistan, private militias ( peshmergas , Badr Brigades) in Iraq are fusing into the government's army and police, competing with small militias of former Ba'athist friends of Allawi armed with Pakistani weapons and following the American agenda. Adding to this lethal cocktail, the hardcore Wahhabis, Abu Musab Zarqawi-style, who get their kicks killing Shi'ites, the overall picture spells chaos. Once again, in the eyes of a majority of Iraqis, this benefits only one player: the occupying power.
Highway to hell
The occupation is worse than an economic tsunami: it managed to plunge Iraq - once a beacon of development in the Arab world - into Sub-Saharan poverty. There's less electricity each day than in 2003 or even 2004. Without electricity, the whole country is paralyzed: nothing - communications, industry, the healthcare system, the educational system - works properly. All water plants "reconstructed" by Bechtel and co are breaking down. With weekly, sometimes daily attacks on pipelines, oil production is pitiful, still inferior to Saddam-era, pre-war levels. Sixty percent of the total population survives on food stamps.
Baghdad is a hellish labyrinth of concrete walls and barbed wire, where a BMW is "the kidnappers' car", 4X4s are favored by candidates for suicide attacks and there's no safe place to hide. Reuters staff survive barricaded behind sandbags and concrete walls; the only one able to venture out to collect images by motorbike is Abu Ali, a kind of local hero. Gas lines are endless. The resistance is relentless. The al-Batawiyyin district has become a Dantesque hell of criminal gangs, drug trafficking, prostitution and trafficking of human organs. Western Iraq is totally out of US control. Mosul is infiltrated by the Iraqi resistance. Ramadi, the resistance capital of the Sunni triangle, is controlled by - who else - the resistance.
Made in the shade
There may be no funds for rebuilding American-bombed Iraqi infrastructure, but US$4.5 billion promptly found its way to Halliburton's subsidiary KBR for the construction and maintenance of the 14 "enduring camps" or permanent military bases. The most notorious of these may be Camp Victory North, a sprawling complex attached to Baghdad (former Saddam) International Airport. Camp Victory is a KBR-built, bungalow-with-air-con American city for 14,000, complete with Burger King and gym. When finished, it will be twice the size of giant Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, the base attached to surveillance of oil pipelines in the Balkans.
American economist Jeremy Rifkin has calculated the number of years known world oil reserves would last at current rates of consumption and extraction. In the US it would be only 10 years. By contrast, in Iran it would be 53 years; in Saudi Arabia 55; in the United Arab Emirates 75; in Kuwait 116; and in Iraq no less than 526 years. That says it all about controlling oil reserves in the Middle East.
Nothing gets done in Iraq without Green Zone approval, ie the all-powerful American Embassy. The overwhelming majority of Sunnis as well as many disgruntled Shi'ites who sympathize with the Sadrists know the Green Zone would never tolerate new Iraqi ministers not pliable to the White House/Pentagon military/corporate agenda for Iraq.
The White House/Pentagon, just in case, can count on a number of key Trojan Horses. Antonia Juhasz, who was project director at the International Forum on Globalization for many years and is currently writing a book about corporate greed in Iraq, has been one of the very few voices who pointed out the key role of the ultimate Trojan Horse - Abdel Mahdi, one of the two new Iraqi vice presidents and former finance minister in the Allawi interim government.
Mahdi was the man who carried out the shock therapy conceived by former American proconsul L Paul Bremer to totally deregulate the Iraqi economy. Last December, in a press conference in Washington, Mahdi stressed that a new Iraqi oil law would be "very good" for the American oil majors (Iraq's oil was fully nationalized in 1972). Mahdi will keep on pushing for full privatization of the Iraqi oil industry - a prospect that makes the bulk of the Iraqi population recoil in horror. The myriad laws passed by Bremer remain in effect and can only be amended by a three-quarters vote in the new National Assembly. There's ongoing, serious, widespread speculation in Iraq that the SCIRI may have made a deal with Washington: we get political power, you get control of our oil industry.
The only way Jaafari's transitional government can garner any measure of popular credibility is to demand a firm deadline for total American withdrawal. This is what the Shi'ite masses voted for. Whatever the scale of mass protests though, Rumsfeld remains unfazed: he wants Saddam's Mukhabarat back in action and he wants the 14 military bases.
The White House/Pentagon/Green Zone axis wants "shock therapy", deregulation, wide-ranging privatization, control of Iraqi natural resources, Iraq reduced to a deregulated capitalist colony with all or most government properties and services controlled by American multinationals and all assets held by the foreign lending institutions that own the majority shares of the Iraqi National Bank. People who disagree may hit the streets and scream. So much for Iraqi "democracy". Long live the shadow Iraqi government.