Crisis In Iraq

An irrelevant date

June 30: Many warn the transfer of power to an interim government will do little to stop the bloodshed.

April 11, 2004|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

For many, June 30 looms as a date that could either help stem the escalating fighting in Iraq or add to the growing chaos.

On that day, the United States is determined to hand over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, the first step to national elections leading to the establishment of a democratic leadership.

Will that handover mean that Iraqis will see stability and security as their own fight and work to end the violence? Or will it mean a loss of the firm hand of America that will hasten the descent to disorder?

The most likely answer is none of the above.

Though the Bush administration has emphasized the importance of sticking to that date - even as critics have said the growing violence means any transfer of power should be postponed - many feel that whatever happens June 30 will have little effect on the ground.

That's because whatever people emerge to head an interim government, the Americans will still be in power.

"More and more, it looks like that date will mark less of a structural change than a symbolic one," says Waleed Hazbun, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins University. "American forces will still be there and will still be in charge of security."

He says the government that will take charge will resemble those put in place in the Middle East after World War I when the League of Nations gave Britain and France mandates to govern countries in the Middle East.

"The idea of the mandate was to lead these countries toward independence," Hazbun says. "In the period after formal independence, there was a lot of pressure, in Iraq on the British, to maintain security. Eventually, those systems began to collapse to national revolutions."

The problem is that the people of the Middle Eastern countries did not see these governments as their representatives, but as representatives of the European powers.

Historian Madeline C. Zilfi of the University of Maryland, College Park says the government that comes into power June 30 will have the same problem

"Any regime put into place that is unilaterally looking to the outside for its authority is not going to be considered legitimate," she says.

Hazbun says the mandate governments failed to solve the problems of building states. "In the very short time of the American occupation, they have also failed to solve any of those problems. And they have not put in place any mechanism for the Iraqis themselves to move toward solving them."

Thabit Abdullah, a historian at York University in Toronto, says this lack of legitimacy of a post-June 30 government will be so evident it could further alienate an already skeptical Iraqi population.

"Perhaps it will be something symbolic, but that will only make matters worse because it will be so transparent that nobody will fall for it," he says.

Zilfi says the problems of the mandate period - which took decades to develop - are accelerated today.

"In the early 20th-century history of the region, you did not have the complete politicization of masses of the population," she says, noting places like Iraq were mainly agricultural and rural with small cities.

"The mobilization of the population in opposition to any regime, mandate or not, took place on a different scale. The timing was not so rapid," she says. "Governments could do a whole lot more for a whole lot longer in that mandate period."

The United States does not enjoy that luxury today. With huge populations in urban areas, with the country awash in weaponry, with the high speed of communication and transportation, problems can escalate quickly, as the past week demonstrated.

That is one reason the pressure is on to transfer power - at least on paper - to an Iraqi government. The idea is that if Iraqis feel that they are part of the political system, they will turn to that system to vent their frustrations, not to violence.

But many fear that whatever the form of the interim Iraqi government, it is too late to make that transition, that the country Saddam Hussein held together with violence will again turn to that method of control.

Louis Cantori, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says the problem is that, "America never won the war in Iraq.

"Very specifically, we failed to impose our will on the country," he says, noting the outbreak of looting after Hussein's forces folded as evidence of that.

"Once that happened, America lost the respect of the Iraqis because America simply couldn't deliver security," Cantori says. "What we are looking at now is kind of a continuation of the looter phenomenon. ... If that's the case, it's very hard to see how this would be improved at the end of June."

All of this would have been different if a consensus national leader - like Nelson Mandela in South Africa - had emerged in the wake of Hussein's fall. But none has.

Many Americans, particularly in the Pentagon, put their hopes in Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi exile who built up a U.S.-funded opposition group in London.

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