Iraqis are highly sceptical that the US occupation will, as promised, end on 30 June and predict worse fighting to come if real power is not handed over. “I don’t believe there will be a transfer of power,” said Ali Hashimi, a computer accessories salesman. “It is just a show for the international community.”
There was no echo yesterday on the streets of Baghdad of the optimism on display in New York as the UN Security Council voted unanimously to endorse a sovereign Iraqi government. Few people expected a reduction in violence and many said they feared it would get worse.
“We Iraqis are rejecting this decision because it will turn Iraq back to the British occupation period,” said Haidar Mahmoud, a shopkeeper. “At that time there was an Iraqi government but it was just a puppet.”
Iraqis from both the Shia and Sunni communities repeatedly said that they longed for the violence to end but they not believe that the US would hand over real power. The US will keep 138,000 troops in Iraq after handover.
Many Iraqis said that the new interim government just appointed was not representative of them. Bassam Najam, a middle-aged driver, said: “In one sense the Americans are transferring power but only to their own agents. The new government are all pawns of the CIA.”
Doubts about the return of sovereignty to Iraq in three weeks are expressed at every level. A security guard in a blue police uniform holding a sub- machine gun was standing outside the Palestine Hotel. Close by was a concrete barrier on which was pasted a poster, distributed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), showing a boy holding up a map of Iraq and saying: “On 30 June we are all winners.”
I asked the guard if he believed the claim on the poster was true. He studied the words carefully and said, to loud laughter from other security men, “maybe they mean the 3,000th of June”.
The cynicism among ordinary Iraqis about the Security Council resolution is rooted in a feeling that no promises made by the US since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have been kept. An unmissable reminder of the slow rate of improvement of living conditions comes from the continuing electricity blackouts as Baghdad swelters under the summer sun.
Several Iraqis questioned yesterday said that they held the UN Security Council responsible for sanctions in the 1990s that impoverished Iraq but did nothing to bring down Saddam. They did not expect much good from it now.
Several said they did not think decisions reached in New York had much to do with them. Bassam Najam, a driver, said: “I switched off the radio when I heard about this decision. I don’t believe they will give us anything.”
In one sense power has already been divided in Iraq. The Iraqi resistance, which has been battling the US army all year, is now in full control of Fallujah, a city of more than 250,000 30 miles from <Baghdad.The> US army’s confrontation in April with the Sunni resistance in Fallujah and the Shia resistance of Muqtada Sadr, the radical cleric, in Kufa, Najaf and Sadr City, showed the limits of American power.
There are, however, few signs in Baghdad that the US is going to scale back its influence. After 30 June there will still be 1,000 Americans in the massive US embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone, the headquarters of the CPA. The embassy will be in a small building but the Republican Palace will be used for overflow. There will also be 200 US advisers attached to government ministries.
Yet the new interim government is more popular than the old Iraqi Governing Council. The appointment of Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar as President, although he has few powers, and Iyad Allawi as Prime Minister were generally welcomed. But the new government has several disadvantages in common with the old. Many ministers are former exiles, often from the US. Some in key positions such as the new Defence MinisterHazem Shaalan, a property dealer in Britain, have no experience in their jobs.
The new government will be wholly dependent on the US armed forces for its power, which means that the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June will have little real meaning. Iraqi armed forces are being built up and in theory already number 200,000. But during the fighting in April 40 per cent of these deserted and 10 per cent changed sides, as the US military has admitted.
Even before the interim government formally takes over sovereignty it is beset by a crisis. The Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani feel they have been short changed. They wanted to see the principle of federalism enshrined in the Security Council resolution as it had been in the interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law.
This was vetoed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia religious leader. He wants elections before such important decisions are taken. The Kurds are threatening to leave the new government and boycott the elections if they do not get what they want.
A year ago the new interim government might have had a chance of success. Now it may be too late. The guerrilla movement, though fragmented, has put down deep roots. It can cut, almost at will, the roads around Baghdad.
The one strong card of the US is its powerful and well-equipped army. But this alone has not been enough to offset US political weakness in Iraq. And if it tries to crush its enemies militarily it will shatter the fragile interim government it is trying to put in place.