- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

“Less than cosmetic” is how a former high-ranking United Nations official closely involved in the Iraq dossier called the much-hyped and highly anticipated June 30 handover date, the day when the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority transfers sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government and ceases to exist.

Judging from President George W. Bush’s statements made Monday night at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., June 30 should suddenly herald stability and democracy from the chaotic state of affairs Iraq finds itself in today, a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In his 31-minute address to the nation — and to Iraq — the president outlined his five-step plan aimed at bringing about a successful transition of power in Iraq, come that fateful June 30 date. However, the president gave no details how democracy would ensue in a country plagued by insurgency and political confusion since the U.S.-led coalition invaded last year.

All the same, the president did warn that more violence should be expected before as well as after the handover of power. Regrettably, that is probably the only certainty.

Reversing previous policy that intended to exclude the United Nations, as June 30 approaches, all eyes now focus on Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian veteran diplomat working frantically round the clock to meet the self-appointed deadline set by the Bush team. But what will this mean in reality, and what impact will June 30 have on the ground?

The president said in his Monday speech Iraq would reclaim “full sovereignty.” That, of course is not entirely correct. A nation can hardly profess full self-governance while more than 150,000 foreign combat troops remain on its territory, and over which they hold no say.

Furthermore, according to a May public opinion poll published by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, the coalition is seen as an “occupation” force by 88 percent of the population. And all indications by the president show the 138,000 American troops in Iraq are not about to leave anytime soon. Not to mention the U.S. Embassy, which will be one of the largest in the world.

That is unless of course, another change of policy occurs. A number of observers agree there has been a lack of clear policy and pre-emptive thinking when it comes to Iraq.

“This policy is giving incoherence a bad name,” said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Considering that in the last year there have been no less than 16 policy changes and mistakes, one more should offer no great surprise. For the sake of clarity, here they are.

(1) Weapons of mass destruction. They were the underlying reason stated for going to war. A year later — aside from one sarin gas shell — they remain to be found.

(2) Saddam’s link to international terrorism. Much like the WMDs, the link between the former Iraqi dictator and al Qaeda remains unestablished. Indeed, the fall of Saddam had invited all sorts of terrorists and fundamentalists to converge on Iraq in hope of fighting and killing American soldiers.

(3) The United Nations: Initially sidelined by the Bush administration, all hopes for a cohesive transition of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to an interim Iraqi government now rests on the shoulders of a single U.N. diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi.

(4) The misconception that coalition troops would be welcomed as liberators. The Bush administration maintained that American, British and other forces would be received with flowers and open arms, just as in Kuwait in 1991. All warnings that Iraq is not Kuwait were ignored.

(5) “Mission Accomplished” and “Bring ‘em on.” The president’s premature declaration of victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, declaring the “end of major combat operations.” In fact, after that statement the U.S. suffered its greatest casualties. The president’s challenge to terrorists and insurgents to “bring ‘em on,” was indeed heeded.

(6) Warnings there would not be enough troops to occupy Iraq adequately and allow the occupation forces to maintain security and stability.

(7) Dissolving the Iraqi army, a move resulting in several hundreds of thousands of armed, angry and unemployed Iraqis roaming the streets, and providing easy recruits for anticoalition resistance.

(8) Cashiering Ba’ath Party functionaries — the bureaucracy that made the country run — and putting 30,000 people out of work, while paralyzing all echelons of the state.

(9) Allowing the looting and rioting that erupted in the early days of the occupation and led the way to greater anarchy.

(10) Banking on the newly formed Iraqi army, which ultimately failed to perform in Fallujah and other hot spots.

(11) Naming former Ba’ath officers in charge of the Fallujah force, then reneging on the nomination.

(12) Erring on the cost estimates of the war. The administration initially said Iraqi oil revenues would cover the cost of the war. This of course failed to happen, and President Bush requested $87 billion to cover costs. The president recently said he would need another $25 billion.

(13) Betting on Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, hoping he would rally around the coalition along with his Shi’ite followers. Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential Shi’ite leader in Iraq, has consistently cold-shouldered the coalition, refusing to meet with U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer.

(14) Going after Muqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shi’ite cleric, and issuing an edict that the U.S. wanted him “dead or alive.” The ensuing battles that have raged in Sadr City, Najaf and Kufa, resulted in additional U.S. casualties and hundreds of Iraqi deaths. These clashes have further embittered the civilian population. Additionally, and far more dangerous for the United States, is alienating the Shi’ites at large, including those in Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Combined, they represent a powerful force to be reckoned with.

(15) The Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Torture, abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners have generated even greater resentment against the U.S. in Iraq and the Arab world.

(16) The Ahmed Chalabi fiasco — supporting the leader of the Iraqi National Congress who now stands accused of passing intelligence to Iran, among other wrongdoings.

All this should be swept aside come June 30 for Iraq’s new beginning.

It’s true the CPA will cease to exist at sunrise on July 1, when the Stars and Stripes are raised over the new U.S. Embassy with a staff of more than 1,700 people who will hold considerable influence over the new Iraqi government. So just how “cosmetic” the changes will be that accompany the June 30 handover really remains to be seen.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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