- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2005

An amazing 8.5 million votes were counted, and Iraqis chose freedom and the peaceful path, despite all the terrorists’ bombs and bombast. The Shi’ites, more than 60 percent of the population, gained political control in Iraq for the first time since the country’s founding.

Nevertheless, former Ba’athist officials in Saddam Hussein’s regime, jihadist fanatics from numerous Muslim communities around the world and Iranian, Syrian and other regional despots all share a single objective: Iraq’s failure to establish itself as free-market democracy. They cannot accept the vote and retire from the scene, because it would:

(A) Leave most Ba’athists outside the government.

(B) Be unfaithful to the misguided Koranic interpretations of religious fanatics from Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and points West.

(C) Threaten the very existence of the Tehran and Damascus regimes, among others.

Iraq’s newly elected interim National Assembly must strive to:

• Elect a prime minister approved by two-thirds of Assembly members, and select a president and two vice presidents.

• Raise, train and deploy local and provincial police forces and a national militia to effectively maintain law and order.

• Draft a Constitution acceptable to two-thirds of the voters in all 18 provinces.

• Develop vast petroleum and abundant agricultural resources.

The following are several nation-building markers along the way to Iraq’s development.

Secular executive critical: Although the Shi’ites will have majority control of the National Assembly, no single Shi’ite group will be able to govern. A broad Assembly coalition must select a secular executive, independent of the meddling mullahs in Tehran and their Iraqi quislings. The danger to freedom is not so much fair-minded Muslim clerics assuming power as from pawns of Iran like Ahmed Chalabi and Abdel Aziz al Hakim in power, whether as ministers or behind the scenes.

Security vital, U.S. forces last resort: The fundamental issue facing Iraq is security, which eventually must be established by Iraqis themselves. Despite more than 2,000 militia and police being killed in the last five months, large numbers of young Iraqis bravely continue to volunteer to serve in the security forces. Average Iraqis must actively identify terrorists and see to their elimination by Iraqi security forces or, as necessary, by taking direct action to rid their communities of malicious malcontents.

U.S. and other Coalition forces must assume a more muted presence in Iraq, focusing on border security and training of Iraqis, plus joint anti-terrorist operations with Iraqi forces. Iraq’s borders, particularly with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, must be tightly controlled to bar meddling foreign elements.

Nothing would unhinge fragile Iraqi confidence more than a sizable, abrupt downsizing of American forces. Despite a virtually universal desire for the occupation to be reduced and eventually end, it is not yet feasible. Agreement must be reached with the new government concerning conditions for phased withdrawal of most Coalition forces and long-term establishment of at least two low-profile bases for positioning materiel and minimal fast-reaction forces, imperative for maintaining regional security.

Swiss cantonal governance: Most citizens wish Iraq to remain undivided. However, differences among ethnic and religious groups are enormous, making a loose confederation perhaps the only model that can survive the trials sure to come.

My colleague Hussain Hindawi and I have suggested a system similar to Switzerland’s. Following the confederated model established in 1291, as much power and tax revenue as possible would be administered by cantonal and local authorities, with the national government holding the smallest percentage. Clearly denominated national powers would include national security and petroleum, plus foreign affairs, monetary matters and postal services, with health, most education, police and other services devolving downward, where citizens would better know their chosen representatives, encouraging efficient and uncorrupted government.

Five cantonal districts may be envisioned. Three would respectively be Kurd-, Shi’ite- and Sunni-dominated, based in the northern, southern and central regions. Two other cantons would be designated special administrative districts: the one, based in Baghdad (a melting pot of Shi’ites, Kurds, Sunnis, Turkmen and Christians, among others), would be recognized by all Iraqis as the nation’s capital; the other, embracing oil-rich Kirkuk plus Diali-Khanaqin, would also have special status owing to its equally diverse ethnicity.

The numerically dominant Shi’ites would not only control their own development and destiny in the south and central areas, but also be the major force in the confederated national government based in Baghdad and the fifth canton of Kirkuk.

Every Iraqi an oil owner: Iraq’s enormous petroleum wealth, much yet undeveloped, should flow equally to all Iraqis. There can be no question of oil in the north being solely for the benefit of the Kurds, or oil in the south for the Shi’ites.

Local management, reporting to a board of directors (half elected by the National Assembly and half by shareholders), would see to effective and honest operations, utilizing international companies to prospect and develop the oilfields and market the production. Adapting the Norwegian model, the citizen-owned, locally managed and internationally developed petroleum sector requires three factors: equal shares distributed to every citizen 18 or older; shares held by original recipients for at least five years (in event of death, deeded to designated next of kin); and shares sold only to Iraqis.

This structure would forcefully remind Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and every other oil-producing state that petroleum is a natural right and resource of each country’s citizens.

Despite the successful Jan. 30 elections, Iraqis still face significant hurdles. Their determination to succeed, supported by the U.S. and other Coalition members, is critically important not just to Iraq but to all nations threatened by terrorism.

John R. Thomson has lived and worked in the Middle East as a businessman, journalist and diplomat for more than 30 years in Beirut, Cairo and Riyadh. His frequent writing partner, Hussain Hindawi, chairs Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission.

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