Iraq illusions shattered, with a terrible cost

April 04, 2006|By G. JEFFERSON PRICE III

What's the underlying message of the frenzied commotion over establishing a government in Iraq?

Last week, word emerged that President Bush wants to get rid of Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who doesn't seem able to put together a government and has aroused the enmity of parties in and out of his own Shiite community.

Mr. al-Jaafari reacted with the assertion that it wasn't up to the president of the United States to decide who should be the prime minister of Iraq. But what does he know?

The White House denied the president had said any such thing.

It came from aides to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the two biggest parties in Iraq's dominant Shiite bloc. They revealed that Zalmay Khalilizad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, had passed on the Bush message.

Then Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw went to Baghdad to put the pressure on Mr. al-Jaafari, making it clear they want him out.

"They've got to get a prime minister who can actually form a government," Ms. Rice said.

Mr. Straw was even more emphatic, defending the right to interfere: "We are entitled to say that while it is up to you, the Iraqis, to say who will fill these positions, someone must fill these positions and fill them quickly."

The underlying message I see is that Washington and London have looked at the future in Iraq, and it's terrifying them. The message is: Get a government, anything we can call a government, so we can get away from this place. For that matter, it would be helpful if that government were to ask us to leave.

Mr. al-Jaafari's predicament arises from his membership in Iraq's predominant Shiite community and that many powerful forces in that community are unhappy with him. The Kurds are unhappy with him, too. As for the Sunnis, they aren't happy with anyone.

These unhappy people are all players in the civil war that's wreaking deadly havoc in Iraq. That would be the civil war that Washington and London say is not happening.

It's good to see the administrations of Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair look into the future. If they had done that in the first place, their governments and their armed forces might have been better prepared for the chaos and bloodletting that would fill the vacuum left behind by Saddam Hussein's defeat, beginning with the looting of Iraq's treasures and culminating these days with internecine bloodshed that is killing scores of Iraqis every week.

Was it only coincidental that Washington's displeasure with Mr. al-Jaafari came about the same time as he effectively said those who denied there was a civil war were delusional?

A battle is going on in Iraq over who will control the country and its vast oil resources and who will decide what sort of government the country shall have - somewhere between secular and Islamic fundamentalist. All the communities in Iraq have rival stakes in this: the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. And they all have allies and enemies at their borders, from Iran to the Persian Gulf states to Turkey.

The Bush administration insists the invasion and occupation of Iraq will result in a reshaping of the region. It looks as if he will be right about that, but the new shape increasingly seems unlikely to be the one he has in mind. Another illusion shattered at a horrific cost.

Ms. Rice referred to that cost in Baghdad yesterday: "The United States and, indeed, Great Britain and a number of others ... have put a lot of treasure - and I mean human treasure - on the line to try to give Iraq an opportunity for a democratic government."

The human treasure would include more than 2,300 American lives. Add to that about 35,000 Iraqi dead and about $250 billion squandered on a shattered illusion.

To what end? Not the one playing itself out now and, probably, not the one to come.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former foreign correspondent and an editor at The Sun. His e-mail is

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