Closed Circle of Collaborators
By by E.A. Khammas
11 August, 2003
The recent formation of the Iraqi Governing Council, the
first national Iraqi political body since the fall Saddam Husseins
regime in April, has engendered severe negative reactions across the
Iraqi political spectrum.
Center of Occupation Watch has carried out extensive interviews in Baghdad
with politicians, academics, members of political parties and unaffiliated
Iraqi citizens. Virtually all Iraqis interviewed wish the Council success
in its tasks, but doubt that success is possible.
Many reasons were
given for these doubts. The council lacks democratic legitimacy, both
because of the process by which it was created and because of its non-representative
nature. Its mandate and authority are sharply limited, with key powers
reserved to the Coalition Provisional Authority (i.e., the occupying
forces). It was formed without consultation with the technically skilled,
scientific, and academic sectors of Iraqi society. Finally, the war
and subsequent occupation have created such monumental difficulties
that even the ideal governing body might not succeed.
Criticism of the
formation process came from many quarters. Prof. Mohammed Jawad Ali,
Director of the Center of International Studies in Baghdad University,
stressed that the very existence of the occupying authority, which appointed
the Council, is illegal since it was imposed by unilateral U.S. (or
coalition) action, not by any international resolution.
The mysterious and
non-transparent way in which the Council was selected also provoked
fury within academic and political circles in Iraq.
they ask our opinion?" Prof. Wisal al-Azzawi, dean of the College
of Political Sciences of Nehrein University, wonders. "What role
was there for scientists, technocrats, intellectuals businessmen, unions
? Because of the way it was secretly appointed, the Council appears
very much an American product imposed on the Iraqi people ".
Prof. Azzawi suggests
that in a situation like that of Iraq, the sensible procedure is to
appoint a committee of experts of the occupied country, from the scientific
and professional community, to manage the country and fill the power
vacuum until the political parties, including the newly-formed ones,
have a chance to build a public base, put forward programs, and prepare
themselves for a general election. The democratic process does
not happen in a day or two, and should not be connected to a handful
of people who collaborated with the occupation.
A related concern,
frequently mentioned, was the open use of ethnic and religious criteria
in choosing the member of the council. The 25 members include 13 Shia
Arabs, 5 Sunni Arabs, 5 Kurds, one Assyrian and one Turkoman. Although
Iraq has been torn apart by ethnic, religious, and political/factional
differences and there is a very great need to safeguard both minority
rights and adequate representation of the Shia majority, its also
true that explicit inclusion of quota systems like the one that went
into the formation of the Governing Council has always been a standard
part of imperial divide-and-conquer strategy.
In fact, according
to Professor Salman Al-Jumaily of the University of Baghdads College
of Political Sciences, the Americans have gone one step further in addition
to the existing divisions, they have created a new one, between exile
and indigenous political groups. According to him, the imbalanced
distribution of representation may well lead to a resurgence of factional
consciousness and an entrenching of political differences, which in
its turn could easily lead to open factional conflict.
For example, the
Shia, who have a majority of council members, are not fully satisfied
because some sub-factions complained of unfair representation. According
to al-Jumaily, two days after the Council was declared, everybody
was talking about the composition of the Council, not about the American
occupation, a sign that perhaps the oft-expressed concerns that
the governing council is actually a way of undermining unity are valid.
point of criticism is that the Council members are handpicked and appointed
by the occupying authorities, not elected by the Iraqi people.
A political science
professor who was part of the process of forming the council, and spoke
only on condition of anonymity, said that its members were appointed
by the Americans as a reward for aiding the occupation. They immediately
reciprocated by declaring the date of the fall of Baghdad (April 9)
a national holiday while simultaneously eliminating other national holidays
like July 14, the anniversary of the anti-colonialist uprising in 1958.
He explained that the long, drawn-out political process, the meetings,
the talks with different Iraqi political parties and formations were
designed to test how much these groups would cooperate with U.S. policies
in Iraq and how closely they would align with long-term U.S. policy
goals. According to him, level of cooperation was the only criterion
for inclusion into or exclusion from the council.
The limited mandate
was another main criticism. It has been announced that the Council will
hire and fire ministers, put forth a draft constitution, pave the way
to the election, approve the 2004 budget, and see to basic services
and policing. It is well known that the areas over which the Council
has no authority are defense and national security issues
(including basing of U.S. troops), foreign affairs, and the oil sector.
The same anonymous
insider says that Bremer does not take this Council very seriously and
doesnt consider its members to be important officials. In fact,
members are afraid that if there is a conflict on some issue, Bremer
will invoke the fact that they are not elected and that they do not
represent the Iraqi people.
There are also numerous
complaints about the individual council members. They are routinely
described as inefficient and corrupt. Some members are relatively unknown;
others are too well-known to be trusted, because of histories of murder,
fraud, torture, connections with Saddam Husseins regime, and even
connections with Israel. This last point is, of course, a particularly
sensitive one in Iraq, as in the rest of the Arab world. A frequent
accusation is that the members are collaborators who get their financing
from the occupiers; they are often considered to be parasites and even
Salih, head of the department of political ideologies in Baghdad University,
like many Iraqis, accuses the members of pursuing their personal interests
and influence. They only care about being in positions of power.
I am ready to accept any Iraqi from any religion, faction, minority,
on one condition; that he (she) is just and loyal to this country.
Professor Azzawi thinks the Council members have put themselves in an
unfortunate and embarrassing situation They should have
concentrated on building and developing their parties and programs,
instead of branding themselves as collaborators.
The birth of the
Council was difficult and attended by a series of failures. There were
numerous meetings and conferences, both inside and outside Iraq. The
last ones were in London, Sulaymaniya (northern Iraq) and Nasiriya (southern
Iraq). At the last two conferences inside Iraq, parties failed to achieve
consensus. In Nasiriya, it was declared that there would be an enlarged
Iraqi national conference for all Iraqi political forces in May. The
conference was first postponed for another month, then canceled. Instead,
Bremer announced a plan for council of members handpicked by him, which
would be strictly advisory in nature. This last proviso engendered strong
negative reactions, so he changed the name to Governing Council and
dropped the explicit claim that it was merely advisory.
During the entire
four months of this process, the Americans and the Iraqis involved in
this process constantly exchanged accusations. The Americans accused
the Iraqis of failure to agree on a unified political discourse , while
the Iraqis accused the Americans of not giving them enough authority.
They claimed that American political intentions were not clear enough,
especially concerning oil.
Some parties refused
to be in the Council after attending the preparatory meetings, some
rejected the invitation altogether, and others were never invited. Sharif
Ali, head of the constitutional monarchist party (and cousin to the
last Hashemite ruler of Iraq), walked out at the last minute, largely
because of disagreements with Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA. He issued
a statement, saying, We object to the idea of appointing the Council
members according to the American selection, to its limited authority.
No decision can be issued without Bremers approval. This Council
does not satisfy the minimal criteria of sovereignty and independence.
It was very difficult (for us) to participate in such a council, subject
to the American conditions. We hope that it is a constructive step towards
national sovereignty and independence, but until now we have been able
to find nothing of this.
Many other political
groupings, especially those that sprang up after the war, were not invited
to participate in the process. Included among these were the Independent
National Gathering, the Workers Communist Party, the Free Iraqi Society,
and many Sunni Islamists. They dont know why they were excluded,
nor on what principles the selection was performed. But many believe
that even within the overarching framework of representation by ethnic,
religious, and factional identity, there was an underlying system of
preferences that resulted in a selection process confined to a closed
circle of people, the majority of whom represented exile groups rather
than indigenous ones.
The lack of transparency
and the preponderance of exile groups were the two concerns mentioned
be virtually everyone, especially after the first press conference of
the catastrophic inaugural session. The Council members appeared confused
and contradictory, one of them (Chalabi) thanking the Americans and
congratulating himself and the Iraqis for the liberation,
others vowing to achieve independence as soon as possible. Nothing united
members but their hatred of Saddam Hussein. Many members expressed their
dissatisfaction with the council. Mahmood Othman (independent) and Abzel
Aziz Al-Hakim (The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq)
both said that the Council did not meet their expectations, but justified
it as a step forward in a situation with very limited possibilities
because of American intentions to continue the occupation indefinitely.
Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Salah Al-Shaikhly
of the Iraqi National Accord both complained about the Councils
limited mandate, saying that the body is far less powerful than the
members had hoped.
Many Iraqis refer
to the Council as a farce. While all the members reject the idea that
Bremer has a veto over the Council, it is a popular joke that Bremer
will never use this right, because he wont have to. Terms like
puppet and scapegoat are on everybody s tongue.
basic problem is that the Iraqi people have no confidence in it. There
is a major credibility gap. At the same time, many Iraqis do cling to
the Council at least as something of an indigenous body, in contrast
to the foreign occupying forces. Some members do have a modicum of legitimacy,
simply because they did not come in on American tanks, like Adnan Pachachi
of the Independent Democratic Gathering; others, because they are religious
leaders. And the Iraqi people are badly in need of some kind of political
structure with some authority, because of the daily difficulties such
as the insecurity, lack of services, unemployment, economic dislocations,
What is essential,
however, is to allow Iraqis authority over the emerging political process,
in reality and not just by fitting individual Iraqis into a structure
predetermined by the occupying forces.
1. Create a supreme
committee of Iraqi experts and technocrats in every field of life, to
govern the country, to supervise the rebuilding process, and simply
to fill the power vacuum until all the political parties can establish
themselves and prepare for a general election. This committee must have
the overriding authority; it should not be subject to the occupying
2. Treat the Iraqi
people with the utmost respect, with great attention to their cultural
sensitivities. Understand the deep feelings of injury and humiliation
springing from their status as an occupied nation and as a people subjected
to tremendous, continuing injustice, both from their national government
and internationally through the sanctions.
3. Immediately stop
all abusive treatment of Iraqi civilians by American soldiers.
4. Instead of exacerbating
factional and ethnic conflicts, a process that could potentially lead
to civil war, appeal to the nation-building and nation-unifying
mentality, which has a wide base in Iraq and which has historically
been associated with the periods of greatest progress in Iraq.
E.A. Khammas is
the co-director of the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad. Rahul Mahajan
is a member of the Occupation Watch advisory board.