More than a year ago as we were preparing to go to war with Iraq and the administration was building up its case against Saddam, I expressed my opinion regarding the war efforts. Despite my sincere wish to witness the demise of Saddam’s regime, I opposed the war simply because I did not believe that war was capable of resolving the Iraqi problem. I anticipated that war was going to create more harm than it intended and will open a Pandora’s box that will consume America’s resources for years to come.
War eventually took place, and Saddam was toppled and later arrested. As millions of other Iraqis, I welcomed the change and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, within a year, American forces in Iraq have been transformed from liberators to occupiers. Iraqis, who welcomed the US troops with open arms and food offerings a year ago are now shooting at them on a daily basis, causing the death toll to rise to more than 700 soldiers. In a recent Gallup poll taken in Iraq, eight out of ten Iraqis preferred that the US military leave Iraq within two months.
We are even losing the support of the small international coalition that we put together in Iraq. Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have pulled their troops and soon others will follow suite. Some consider the solution to the problem in Iraq to be increasing the number of troops in occupation. Others consider attacking civilians as appropriate retaliation against the Iraqi resistance. Military response and the use of force, however, is never a viable solution. What is needed in Iraq is a new direction, new leadership, and a critical assessment of what went wrong.
We made many mistakes in Iraq that caused our current problem. The first mistake was creating an unnecessary war based on lies while dismissing all international norms and practices. The second mistake was occupying Iraq instead of transforming it. The third mistake was privatizing Iraq’s economy and natural resources and granting huge contracts to American oil companies without the consent of the Iraqi people.
The fourth mistake was the Pentagon’s airlifting of Ahmed Chalabi from his hotel room in Washington, D.C. to Iraq in order to groom him as the next president of Iraq. Chalabi is a convicted embezzler, wanted by the Interpol for embezzling $70 million from a bank in Jordan. By appointing him into a leadership position in Iraq, without the support of the Iraqi people, we managed to alienate millions of Iraqis who became suspicious of our motives.
The fifth mistake was acting on Chalabi’s advice in dismantling the Iraqi Army and police force. This resulted in an increase in the number of unemployed Iraqis (nearly 1.5 million in Baghdad alone). It also created a power vacuum after the collapse of the regime that resulted in chaos, looting, and disorder.
The sixth mistake, also acting on Chalabi’s advice, was the dismantling of Iraq’s infrastructure and administrative system in the name of de-Baathification. This resulted in disabling the professional public servants in charge of providing services such as electricity, clean water, and other vital civic needs. As a result, most Iraqi cities were left without these services for nearly eight months after the collapse of the regime, adding to the increased sense of resentment and hopelessness. Chalabi took advantage of the situation by looting the country and appointing his relatives as Iraq’s new administrators.
The seventh mistake was the creating of the symbolic Iraqi Governing Council that lacked respect of the Iraqi people. The council was composed of 25 members, emphasizing Iraq’s ethnic and religious divide instead of its unity. The members were hand picked by the American civil administrator of Iraq, instead of the Iraqi people. Most members were CIA stooges and individuals who lacked support among the Iraqi people, such as Chalabi and his friends.
The eighth mistake was the creation of an interim Iraqi cabinet headed by relatives of members of the Iraqi Governing Council. Chalabi, for example, appointed his nephew as Iraq’s new finance minister, his cousin as the head of Iraqi oil security, and his uncle as a judge in charge of trying Saddam.
The ninth mistake was authoring Iraq’s new Provisional Constitution by an American named Noah Fieldman, without the participation or input from the Iraqi people. Most Iraqis have rejected this constitution as illegal.
Our tenth mistake was maintaining various armed Iraqi militia factions after the collapse of the regime, such as the Kurdish and Shiite militia. This created warlords in Iraq similar to that of Afghanistan. Recently, the US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, attempted to disband only one of the militia units that belonged to Muqtada al-Sadr, a young Shiite cleric who opposed the US occupation of Iraq. Bremer, however, did not ask the Kurds or other Shiite militias to disarm. Bremer also charged al-Sadr with fabricated charges of embezzlement and murder, while embracing Chalabi, a convicted embezzler wanted by the Interpol.
Our eleventh mistake was the failure in holding democratic elections in Iraq in order for the Iraqi people to elect their own government. Instead, the Bush administration set an arbitrary date of June 30, 2004 to transfer power to the Iraqis. But this transformation of authority is symbolic and meaningless especially when non-Iraqi outsiders are appointing the new government and the US will continue to occupy and run Iraq.
The end of Saddam’s regime in Iraq was a positive event. However, we are creating instead of one Saddam in Iraq many other mini-Saddams, such as Chalabi and his likes. We are also borrowing a page from Saddam in our dealing with the Iraqi people by killing civilians, bombing mosques and torturing prisoners.
We cannot continue on our current path in Iraq simply because it is doomed to failure. We need a new direction, a new vision, and the courage to learn from our mistakes.
ALEX DAWOODY lives in Battle Creek, Michigan. He can be reached at: AlxDawoody@cs.com