- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

The wish is father to the thought. The earnest wish of the Bush administration is an end to casualties and spiraling expenditures in Iraq before the 2004 presidential elections. That wish gave birth to the ill-conceived pact struck last Saturday between the United States’ Coalition Provisional Authority and the discredited Iraq Governing Council (IGC), which schedules the cession of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government by next June. If there are better ways to ensure failure of the post-Saddam mission of the United States to incubate democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, they do not readily come to mind. These words may sound like Cassandra, but remember that her disbelieved prophecies proved true.

Iraq’s history since its emergence from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 seems unpropitious: no unifying national figures or cultural icons; no crumb of democratic traditions or practices; kingship until a military coup in 1958; freedom of expression and equality under the law more violated than honored; and, political immaturity. Additionally, Arab culture and nations have frowned on individual rights and popular government for 4,000 years.

The pact’s blueprint and timetable for inaugurating democracy in Iraq thus seem wildly ambitious and fanciful. Its legitimacy is dubious. The 24 U.S.-picked members of the IGC command neither popular enthusiasm nor respect. The pact smacks of the United States agreeing with itself, not indigenous Iraqi sentiment necessary to confer public obedience.

Its terms are equally problematic. A transitional national assembly will be chosen in caucuses, not popular elections, in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Caucus participants will be selected by 15-person committees in each province, and will be vetted to exclude religious extremists or Ba’athists. The selection committees will be dictated by the IGC, and will thus be tainted by the latter’s political irrelevance. None of the expected caucus participants — religious, tribal, academic, labor union and other influential leaders — will have gained their prominence through democratic processes.

The national assembly will convene by next May. It will then elect members of an executive branch, whose details remain foggy, from within its ranks by next June 30. Sovereignty will then devolve on the provisional Iraqi government. The Coalition Provisional Authority and the IGC will dissolve. And United States military forces and their mission will shrink as prescribed in an agreement with the makeshift Iraqi regime.

It will be required to organize elections for delegates to a constitutional convention by March 15, 2005. A constitution will be drafted, ratified, and elections for a permanent government will be held by Dec. 31, 2005.

The IGC will draft a “basic law” authorizing the formation of the national assembly and celebrating democratic freedoms and practices by next February. Freedom of expression and religion, separation of powers, civilian control of military forces, and special autonomy for the Kurdish north will be required.

The glaring flaws in the pact are multiple. First, the June 30, 2004, semi-exit date for the United States will embolden and strengthen al Qaeda, religious extremists, terrorists and Saddam loyalists. Triggered by rising violence against the American military and its perceived Iraqi collaborators, the announced withdrawal deadline tacitly concedes the United States lacks the resolve necessary to plant and nourish democracy in Iraq and that the greater the terrorism in Iraq the faster the United States will withdraw and leave the field to the most malevolent and villainous. That message of irresolution will also be sent to Taliban in Afghanistan, and further encourage its insurgency against the anemic government of President Hamid Karzai.

Second, the basic law of the IGC will command no more popular respect and obedience than the IGC itself, which is nil. In any event, the ethnically and religiously disparate IGC members feature clashing understandings of freedom of expression and religion, Kurdish autonomy, and Islam as the North Star of legislation and judging. They are neither practiced in the art of compromise or of restraint. Since its formation last August, the council has disputed without result everything worth disputing. The basic law will prove a dead letter.

Third, the provisional Iraqi government will be as disrespected and ignored as its source, the IGC. Its fractious members will manipulate the provincial selection committees and the vetting process to insure a quota of representation in the national assembly and executive branch. The latter will degenerate into a magnified version of the paralyzed and unpopular IGC. Iraqi soldiers will not fight for the provisional government. Iraqi police will be indifferent at best. The country will quickly convulse and disintegrate into several de facto states: two Kurdish enclaves in the north; a Sunni state in the center; and two or more Shiite territories in the south. Elections for delegates to a constitutional convention will prove either fatuous or infeasible. Iraq will resemble Afghanistan, but with more powerful regional actors and more vicious warfare provoked by the prospect of oil wealth.

Why should the death of even one American soldier be risked for the Iraqi catastrophe looming on the horizon?

Bruce Fein is a founding partner of Fein & Fein.

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