Iraqi opposition slams plan for military governor


Luke Harding, Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq
Sunday February 16, 2003
The Observer

A leading figure in Iraq's opposition last night rounded on American plans to install a US military governor in Baghdad to rule post-war Iraq, describing the plans as an 'unmitigated disaster', 'deeply stupid' and a 'mess'.

In an interview with The Observer, Kanan Makiya, an adviser to Iraq's main opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, said America now appeared to have dumped its commitment to bring Western-style democracy to Iraq. Instead, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, Washington was preparing to leave Iraq under the control of President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

'This would be an unmitigated disaster for the long-term relationship between the US and the Iraqi people,' he said. 'The Iraqi opposition is going to become anti-American the day after liberation. It is a great irony.'

Iraq's democratic opposition parties are meeting this week in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to finalise plans for a transitional government. But their vision of a post-Saddam administration is deeply at odds with proposals set out last week by President George Bush's special envoy to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad - and apparently endorsed by the Foreign Office. Under the plan a US military governor would rule post-war Iraq for up to a year.

The infrastructure of Saddam's ruling Baath party would remain largely intact, with the top two officials in each Iraqi ministry replaced by US military officers.

'The plan is bizarre. It is Baathism with an American face,' said Makiya, an Iraqi author and professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

The country needed to undergo a process of 'de-Baathification' similar to the de-Nazification of post-war Germany, he added.

The White House has been badly stung by Makiya's criticism, and urged him last week not to publish a hostile opinion piece, arguing it would be 'counter-productive'. The Observer today prints his article in full.

Yesterday the chairman of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, who many people had expected to become Iraq's new president, also derided Washington's proposals. 'The vision of having US military officers three deep in every ministry is not workable,' he told The Observer .

Chalabi, who lives in London, said demonstrators who attended anti-war protests across Britain yesterday were misguided. 'I would urge them to think again,' he said.

'War is a horrible thing to wish on anyone. But I firmly believe that the Iraqi people want the US to get rid of Saddam. Blair is doing the right thing.'

Chalabi was especially scathing of the German government, which he said was led by 'ageing German leftists wishing to absolve their conscience at the expense of the Iraqi people'. It was Germany which had supplied Saddam with chemical weapons in the 1980s, he pointed out.

The Pentagon and the vice-president Dick Cheney are broadly in favour of introducing Western-style democracy to Iraq but the State Department under Colin Powell and the CIA believe it could have a destabilising influence on the region.

Iraq's neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are also vehemently opposed to any federal arrangement that gives power to Iraq's Kurds or Shiites.

Chalabi said he was dismayed that the British government apparently endorsed a plan that would leave the minority Sunni elite, which has run Iraq for decades, in power, even though most of Iraq's 23 million inhabitants are Shiite.

The Iraqi opposition is also deeply suspicious of an agreement between Washington and Turkey that will see thousands of Turkish troops enter northern Iraq, ostensibly for humanitarian purposes. Turkey, with its own disaffected Kurdish population, wants its military to occupy northern Iraq to prevent Kurdish groups from seizing the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and proclaiming an autonomous Kurdish homeland.

The two Kurdish parties which have controlled a mountainous enclave of northern Iraq since 1991 insist that they want only a regional government. It now seems that their militias will play virtually no role in liberating Iraq and that, following pressure from Washington, they will leave the job to the American military.

An Iraqi opposition conference scheduled for this week has so far been delayed three times, with Washington making it clear it regards the meeting as an unhelpful distraction. Khalilzad has now reluctantly agreed to turn up.

Chalabi said opponents in Britain of a US-led war in Iraq preferred to ignore the brutal reality of Saddam's regime. 'There is a strong streak of anti-Americanism in Britain and Europe that blinds them.'