By Naomi Klein
we please stop calling it a quagmire? The United States isn't mired
in a bog or a marsh in Iraq (quagmire's literal meaning); it is free-falling
off a cliff. The only question now is: Who will follow the Bush clan
off this precipice, and who will refuse to jump?
More and more are,
thankfully, choosing the second option. The last month of inflammatory
US aggression in Iraq has inspired what can only be described as a mutiny:
Waves of soldiers, workers and politicians under the command of the
US occupation authority are suddenly refusing to follow orders and abandoning
their posts. First Spain announced it would withdraw its troops, then
Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Kazakhstan. South Korean
and Bulgarian troops were pulled back to their bases, while New Zealand
is withdrawing its engineers. El Salvador, Norway, the Netherlands and
Thailand will likely be next.
And then there are
the mutinous members of the US-controlled Iraqi army. Since the latest
wave of fighting began, they've been donating their weapons to resistance
fighters in the South and refusing to fight in Falluja, saying that
they didn't join the army to kill other Iraqis. By late April, Maj.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division, was reporting
that "about 40 percent [of Iraqi security officers] walked off
the job because of intimidation. And about 10 percent actually worked
And it's not just
Iraq's soldiers who have been deserting the occupation. Four ministers
of the Iraqi Governing Council have resigned their posts in protest.
Half the Iraqis with jobs in the secured "green zone"--as
translators, drivers, cleaners--are not showing up for work. And that's
better than a couple of weeks ago, when 75 percent of Iraqis employed
by the US occupation authority stayed home (that staggering figure comes
from Adm. David Nash, who oversees the awarding of reconstruction contracts).
Minor mutinous signs
are emerging even within the ranks of the US military: Privates Jeremy
Hinzman and Brandon Hughey have applied for refugee status in Canada
as conscientious objectors and Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia is facing court
martial after he refused to return to Iraq on the grounds that he no
longer knew what the war was about [see Christian Parenti, "A Deserter
Speaks," at www.thenation.com].
the US authority in Iraq is not treachery, nor is it giving "false
comfort to terrorists," as George W. Bush recently cautioned Spain's
new prime minister. It is an entirely rational and principled response
to policies that have put everyone living and working under US command
in grave and unacceptable danger. This is a view shared by fifty-two
former British diplomats, who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister
Tony Blair stating that although they endorsed his attempts to influence
US Middle East policy, "there is no case for supporting policies
which are doomed to failure."
And one year in,
the US occupation of Iraq does appear doomed on all fronts: political,
economic and military. On the political front, the idea that the United
States could bring genuine democracy to Iraq is now irredeemably discredited:
Too many relatives of Iraqi Governing Council members have landed plum
jobs and rigged contracts, too many groups demanding direct elections
have been suppressed, too many newspapers have been closed down and
too many Arab journalists have been murdered while trying to do their
job. The most recent casualties were two employees of Al Iraqiya television,
shot dead by US soldiers while filming a checkpoint in Samarra. Ironically,
Al Iraqiya is the US-controlled propaganda network that was supposed
to weaken the power of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, both of which have
also lost reporters to US guns and rockets over the past year.
White House plans
to turn Iraq into a model free-market economy are in equally rough shape,
plagued by corruption scandals and the rage of Iraqis who have seen
few benefits--either in services or jobs--from the reconstruction. Corporate
trade shows have been canceled across Iraq, investors are relocating
to Amman and Iraq's housing minister estimates that more than 1,500
foreign contractors have fled the country. Bechtel, meanwhile, admits
that it can no longer operate "in the hot spots" (there are
precious few cold ones), truck drivers are afraid to travel the roads
with valuable goods and General Electric has suspended work on key power
stations. The timing couldn't be worse: Summer heat is coming and demand
for electricity is about to soar.
As this predictable
(and predicted) disaster unfolds, many are turning to the United Nations
for help: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the UN to support
his demand for direct elections back in January. More recently, he has
called on the UN to refuse to ratify the despised interim constitution,
which most Iraqis see as a US attempt to continue to control Iraq's
future long after the June 30 "handover" by, among other measures,
giving sweeping veto powers to the Kurds--the only remaining US ally.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, before
pulling out his troops, asked the UN to take over the mission from the
United States. Even Muqtada al-Sadr, the "outlaw" Shiite cleric,
is calling on the UN to prevent a bloodbath in Najaf. On April 18, Sadr's
spokesman, Qais al-Khazaali, told Bulgarian television it is "in
the interest of the whole world to send peacekeeping forces under the
And what has been
the UN's response? Worse than silence, it has sided with Washington
on all of these critical questions, dashing hopes that it could provide
a genuine alternative to the lawlessness and brutality of the US occupation.
First it refused to back the call for direct elections, citing security
concerns. In retrospect, supporting the call back then might have avoided
much of the violence now engulfing the country. After all, the UN's
response weakened the more moderate Sistani and strengthened Muqtada
al-Sadr, whose supporters continued demanding direct elections and launched
a vocal campaign against the US transition plan and the interim constitution.
This is what prompted US chief envoy Paul Bremer to decide to take Sadr
out, the provocation that sparked the Shiite uprising.
The UN has proved
equally deaf to calls to replace the US military occupation with a peacekeeping
operation. On the contrary, it has made it clear that it will only re-enter
Iraq if it is the United States that guarantees the safety of its staff--seemingly
oblivious to the fact that being surrounded by American bodyguards is
the best way to make sure that the UN will be targeted. "We have
an obligation since [the attack on UN headquarters] last summer to insist
on clarity and on what is being asked of us," Edward Mortimer,
a senior aide to Secretary General Kofi Annan, told the New York Times.
"What are the risks? What kind of guarantees can you give us that
we are not going to be blown up? And is the job important enough to
justify the risk?"
Even in light of
that horrific bombing, this is a stunning series of questions coming
from a UN official. Do Iraqis have guarantees that they won't be blown
up when they go to the market in Sadr City, when their children get
on the school bus in Basra, when they send their injured to a hospital
in Falluja? Is there a more important job for the future of global security
than peacemaking in Iraq?
The UN's greatest
betrayal of all comes in the way it is re-entering Iraq: not as an independent
broker but as a glorified US subcontractor, the political arm of the
continued US occupation. The post-June 30 caretaker government being
set up by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will be subject to all the restraints
on Iraqi sovereignty that sparked the current uprising in the first
place. The United States will maintain full control over "security"
in Iraq, including over Iraq's army. It will keep control over the reconstruction
funds. And, worst of all, the caretaker government will be subject to
the laws laid out in the interim constitution, including the clause
that states that it must enforce the orders written by the US occupiers.
The UN should be defending Iraq against this illegal attempt to undermine
its independence. Instead it is disgracefully helping Washington to
convince the world that a country under continued military occupation
by a foreign power is actually sovereign.
Iraq badly needs
the UN as a clear, independent voice in the region. The people are calling
out for it, begging the international body to live up to its mandate
as peacemaker and truth teller. And yet just when it is needed most,
the UN is at its most compromised and cowardly.
There is a way that
the UN can redeem itself in Iraq. It could choose to join the mutiny,
further isolating the United States. This would help force Washington
to hand over real power--ultimately to Iraqis but first to a multilateral
coalition that did not participate in the invasion and occupation and
would have the credibility to oversee direct elections. This could work,
but only through a process that fiercely protects Iraq's sovereignty.
Ditch the Interim
Constitution. The interim constitution is so widely hated in Iraq that
any governing body bound by its rules will immediately be seen as illegitimate.
Some argue that Iraq needs the interim constitution to prevent open
elections from delivering the country to religious extremists. Yet according
to a February 2004 poll by Oxford Research International, Iraqis have
no desire to see their country turned into another Iran. Asked to rate
their favored political system and actors, 48.5 percent of Iraqis ranked
a "democracy" as most important, while an "Islamic state"
received 20.5 percent support. Asked what type of politician they favored,
55.3 percent chose "democrats," while only 13.7 percent chose
religious politicians. If Iraqis are given the chance to vote their
will, there is every reason to expect that the results will reflect
a balance between their faith and their secular aspirations.
There are also ways
to protect women and minority rights without forcing Iraq to accept
a sweeping constitution written under foreign occupation. The simplest
solution would be to revive passages in Iraq's 1970 Provisional Constitution,
which, according to Human Rights Watch, "formally guaranteed equal
rights to women and...specifically ensured their right to vote, attend
school, run for political office, and own property." Elsewhere,
the constitution enshrined religious freedom, civil liberties and the
right to form unions. These clauses can easily be salvaged, while striking
the parts of the document designed to entrench Baathist rule.
Put the Money in
Trust. A crucial plank of managing Iraq's transition to sovereignty
is safeguarding its national assets: its oil revenue and the remaining
oil-for-food program money (currently administered by the United States
with no oversight), as well as what's left of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction
funds. Right now the United States is planning to keep control of this
money long after June 30; the UN should insist that it be put in trust,
to be spent by an elected Iraqi government.
The United States has so far been unable to install Ahmad Chalabi as
the next leader of Iraq--his history of corruption and lack of a political
base have seen to that. Yet members of the Chalabi family have quietly
been given control in every area of political, economic and judicial
life. It was a two-stage process. First, as head of the De-Baathification
Commission, Chalabi purged his rivals from power. Then, as director
of the Governing Council's Economic and Finance Committee, he installed
his friends and allies in the key posts of Oil Minister, Finance Minister,
Trade Minister, Governor of the Central Bank and so on. Now Chalabi's
nephew, Salem Chalabi, has been appointed by the United States to head
the court trying Saddam Hussein. And a company with close ties to Chalabi
landed the contract to guard Iraq's oil infrastructure--essentially
a license to build a private army.
It's not enough
to keep Chalabi out of the interim government. The UN must dismantle
Chalabi's shadow state by launching a de-Chalabification process on
a par with the now abandoned de-Baathification process.
Demand the Withdrawal
of US Troops. In asking the United States to serve as its bodyguard
as a condition of re-entering Iraq, the UN has it exactly backwards:
It should only go in if the United States pulls out. Troops who participated
in the invasion and occupation should be replaced with peacekeepers--preferably
from neighboring Arab states--working under the extremely limited mandate
of securing the country for general elections. With the United States
out, there is a solid chance that countries that opposed the war would
step forward for the job.
On April 25 the
New York Times editorial board called for the opposite approach, arguing
that only a major infusion of American troops and "a real long-term
increase in the force in Iraq" could bring security. But these
troops, if they arrive, will provide security to no one--not to the
Iraqis, not to their fellow soldiers, not to the UN. American soldiers
have become a direct provocation to more violence, not only because
of the brutality of the occupation in Iraq but also because of US support
for Israel's deadly occupation of Palestinian territory. In the minds
of many Iraqis, the two occupations have blended into a single anti-Arab
outrage, with Israeli and US soldiers viewed as interchangeable and
Iraqis openly identifying with Palestinians.
Without US troops,
the major incitement to violence would be removed, allowing the country
to be stabilized with far fewer soldiers and far less force. Iraq would
still face security challenges--there would still be extremists willing
to die to impose Islamic law as well as attempts by Saddam loyalists
to regain power. On the other hand, with Sunnis and Shiites now so united
against the occupation, it's the best possible moment for an honest
broker to negotiate an equitable power-sharing agreement.
Some will argue
that the United States is too strong to be forced out of Iraq. But from
the start Bush needed multilateral cover for this war--that's why he
formed the "coalition of the willing," and it's why he is
going to the UN now. Imagine what could happen if countries keep pulling
out of the coalition, if France and Germany refuse to recognize an occupied
Iraq as a sovereign nation. Imagine if the UN decided not to ride to
Washington's rescue. It would become an occupation of one.
The invasion of
Iraq began with a call to mutiny--a call made by the United States.
In the weeks leading up to last year's invasion, US Central Command
bombarded Iraqi military and political officials with phone calls and
e-mails urging them to defect from Saddam's ranks. Fighter planes dropped
8 million leaflets urging Iraqi soldiers to abandon their posts and
assuring that no harm would come to them.
Of course, these
soldiers were promptly fired when Paul Bremer took over and are now
being frantically rehired as part of the reversal of the de-Baathification
policy. It's just one more example of lethal incompetence that should
lead all remaining supporters of US policy in Iraq to one inescapable
conclusion: It's time for a mutiny.
Naomi Klein is the
author of 'No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies' (Picador) and,
most recently,' Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines
of the Globalization Debate'
2004 The Nation