- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The models for Iraq’s multi-ethnic, multi-religion, democratic future are few and far between. The original postulate by the planners was that Iraqis would greet the Anglo-American invasion much the way the French did after the Allies stormed the Normandy beaches 59 years ago — deliriously grateful. But this was not to be.

Anarchy and extremism are increasingly the U.S. burden. The U.S. Army was not trained to cope with looters or to break up street rumbles between rival gangs of Shia and Sunni predators. Nor was it designed as a civilian police force to cope with anti-U.S. demonstrators. In fact, the Pentagon was caught totally by surprise by what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls Iraq’s “untidiness,” and what the grunts call “fubar,” or screwed up beyond all recognition.

L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer was rushed out to Baghdad to replace Jay Garner, the retired general who was miscast as a potential viceroy in liberated Iraq. But Mr. Bremer had less than a week to prepare for the daunting task, and even less time to study what potential models might have to offer Iraq now that planners concede a strong federal center in Baghdad is not possible without an authoritarian regime.

Bosnia and Belgium (which wags call Bosnia without bloodshed) are now the frontrunners for Iraq’s future. Bosnia, like Iraq, has three principal ethnic groups — Serb, Bosniak (which replaced Muslim as an ethnic label) and Croat. They each have an elected president and form a triumvirate of sorts, with the chairmanship rotating every eight months.

That’s the easy part of the Bosnia-Herzegovina imbroglio. The national government conducts foreign, economic and fiscal policy. Next comes a second tier government, comprised of two entities — a joint Bosniak-Croat Federation (further divided into 10 cantons) and the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska (which lacks a couple of vowels), each presiding over roughly one-half the territory. The house that the Dayton Agreement built in 1995 also created the Office of the High (Foreign) Representative (OHR) that oversees the implementation of the many civilian aspects of Dayton. About 700 people work for OHR.

SFOR provides the military muscle with 13,000 troops, including a U.S. brigade and a smaller Russian unit.

Perhaps more applicable to Iraq is the Belgian example. This country of 10 million, which plays host to NATO, EU, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), saw no contradiction in creating a law court that has arrogated the power to try anyone for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. Last week, war crimes charges were filed by 19 Iraqi civilians against Gen. Tommy Franks, who was accused of bombing civilians, indiscriminate shooting of civilians and failure to stop looting. Liberals still have a hard time understanding why the Bush administration declined to sign on to the International Criminal Court.

Voted in 1993 as an answer to Yugoslav war crimes, the Belgian law setting up this court was amended last year. The government is now allowed to throw out a case — or refer it to the international war crimes court (which the U.S. does not recognize). Thirty cases of “war crimes” have already been referred to the court, including one against President George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Gen. Norman Schawrtzkopf for supposed crimes in the Persian Gulf war. The indictment against Ariel Sharon for standing idly by as pro-Israeli Lebanese Falangists massacred some 2,500 Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982 was dropped after he became prime minister.

Belgium’s political Rubik’s cube provides an object lesson for advocates of elections and instant democracy in Iraq.

Like Iraq, Belgium is divided into three parts — Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Walloonia and bilingual Brussels, and like Iraq’s Kurds, Sunnis and Shias, they cordially loath each other. They each have their own government, parliament and limos for the ministers. Add to the mix a tiny German-speaking entity near the German border, with a population of 600,000 German-speakers, which also has all the accoutrements of an independent entity, including the limos.

There are also three “community” assemblies — French, Flemish and German. And capping it all is a federal parliament with 11 political parties and a federal coalition government that keeps everything else together in an ever-looser federation that is now more confederal than federal. Seventy federal senators are appointed by the Flemish and French regional parliaments. If it weren’t for the monarchy, now under King Albert II, Belgium would most probably splinter into at least two independent countries.

Until this past Sunday’s national elections (May 18), the indigestible ingredients at the center consisted of a coalition of the Reform Movement (MR), the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), the Walloon Socialist Party (PS), the Flemish Socialist Party (SP.A, the period that separates SP from A was added at the request of the bottled water manufacturer SPA), and the ecologists of Ecolo (Walloonia) and Agalev (Flemish). Guy Verhofstadt, a Flemish Liberal, is the anti-American prime minister who signed on to French President Jacques Chirac’s ill-fated campaign, alongside Germany and Russia, to block President Bush’s march to war against Iraq.

Now the greens have been squeezed out in favor of major gains for Mr. Verhofstadt’s Liberal-Socialist coalition, thus endorsing his government’s controversial social policies, as well as the legalization of euthanasia, marijuana and gay marriages.

The steady rise of anti-immigrant sentiment found its bilingual voices in the Vlaams Blok (Flemish) and the National Front (Walloon) that have campaigned against the permissive policies of the left and scored their biggest gains in 25 years. But they are automatically excluded from any coalition government, as no political party will have any truck with the far right.

By law, all party lists of candidates must include as many men as women. By law, too, voting is obligatory. And it all seems to work, with one of Europe’s highest quality of life ratings, along with a national sport, almost as popular as soccer. Belgium’s artful tax dodgers put their Italian competitors to shame.

Belgium has been building its unique brand of democracy since it broke from the Netherlands and became an independent state in 1831. Nothing will be quick in Iraq, either. Whether the United States will have the patience to stay with the program “as long as it takes,” as Mr. Bush pledged, and despite growing opposition from a destitute population is unanswerable. But the future of American relations with the entire Arab world now hinges on the solidity of this very long-term commitment.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.


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