IRAQ: Washington begins installing 'new' regime



In many parts of Iraq, US-imposed "regime change" is bearing more than a passing resemblance to Iraq's former government. The May 7 Washington Post revealed that Baath Party members have been given senior roles in ministries "including those responsible for trade, industry, oil, irrigation, health and education". Additionally, noted the Post, "Numerous Baathists ... have been welcomed back into the top ranks of the national police force".

Hamid Othman, a Baath Party member and Baghdad's top police officer under Saddam Hussein's regime, is once more running the police force in the city. The minister for oil is Ahmed Rashid Gailini, a former member of the Baath Party — although the overseer of the oil industry is Philip Carroll, former president of the Anglo-Dutch Shell oil company's US division.

The Post reported that the high proportion of "former" Baath Party members being used by the US occupiers was partly because "it is easier in many ways to interact with Baathist officials than with the Shiite Muslim clerics and tribal sheiks who have sought to establish themselves as power brokers in postwar Iraq".

While many former members of the Baathist regime are getting their jobs back, Washington is trying to defuse anger at the continuing US occupation by providing the trappings of Iraqi self-rule. According to the May 6 New York Times, US officials in Baghdad "say an Iraqi government supported and assisted by the United States might better cope with mounting anger and frustration".

It seems that Washington is particularly targeting some of the areas that have seen the highest anti-occupation sentiment. However, it is meeting with only limited success. For example, Agence France-Presse reported on April 17 that in the predominantly Shiite city of Karbala "an Iraqi municipal committee has come together to restore order in cooperation with US forces and former exiles". But the appointment of Nizar Haidar, a member of the US-funded Iraqi National Congress (INC), to the committee has provoked suspicion.

Mohmmad Hussein, a resident of the city, told AFP: "We are an occupied country; we no longer have a government but a foreign army at our doorstep. The new authority must exist outside any foreign mold."

"The people of Karbala need to be consulted. And Karbala, a Shiite holy city, cannot accept a leader who has come from the United States", another Iraqi told the wire service

Similarly, in Mosul, the large northern city where US troops killed anti-occupation protesters on April 15 and 16, an "election" was held on May 5. Only 240 Iraqi "representatives" voted. Twenty-four councillors were elected. The councillors then elected a mayor.

Mishaan al Jabouri, who organised the "election" in collaboration with the US Army's Major General David Petraeus, is accused of having links to Hussein's regime. A tribal elder and retired Iraqi military officer told the New York Times that Jabouri "wanted to bring his own people into elections", and that those "who were chosen today were close to him. Some were in high positions in the former regime."

The NYT reported that "Residents interviewed in Mosul this afternoon said they did not feel that those elected represented them. Mr. Jabouri, in particular, was an object of their scorn." According to the NYT report, a Kurdish representative "said many of those elected were loyalists to the former government", including Hussein's former pilot and "two men whose wives had been lovers of Mr. Hussein's".

The NYT also reported: "Petraeus said he had personally interviewed all of the candidates. Negotiations over lists of candidates for both the council and mayor took three hours a day over the past six days. 'We tried to vet them as much as we possibly could.' he said."

A further step in giving the US occupation regime an "Iraqi face" was the May 5 announcement that retired general Jay Garner, the head of the Pentagon's Iraqi "reconstruction" office, had formed a new council of five Iraqis to help administer the country. However, the formation of the council isn't a sudden change in Washington's occupation plans: US defence undersecretary Douglas Feith foreshadowed the creation of an Iraqi "consultative council" in testimony before the US Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations on February 11.

The council is composed of representatives of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the CIA- and US-Congress funded body led by convicted bank embezzler Ahmad Chalabi; the Iraqi National Accord, an organisation composed primarily of former Baathists and officers of the Iraqi army; the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

All organisations were eligible for US funding under President Bill Clinton's 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, although SCIRI claims to have refused it.

The representation of the Shiite SCIRI on the council is perhaps the most significant development. The SCIRI took an ambiguous attitude toward the US invasion, but has been opposing the occupation.

There is some evidence that its leaders have been trying maintain legitimacy among the Iraqi masses by denouncing the US occupation, while trying to cut a deal with Washington. On May 6, the New York Times reported that a representative from the SCIRI had visited Washington the previous week, trying to seek political backing from the Pentagon.

Also on May 6, the White House announced the appointment of a "civilian administrator" for Iraq to try to undermine the view that Garner is the country's new military overlord. The appointee is Lewis Paul Bremer, a retired US diplomat. This is not a sea-change in the White House's approach to the occupation: Bremer is closely linked to the "neoconservatives" — the war hawks around US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz.

Among other diplomatic postings, Bremer was Ronald Reagan's ambassador at large for "counter-terrorism", after which he became managing director of Kissinger Associates, the consulting firm run by war criminal (and former secretary of state) Henry Kissinger. Bremer has also worked for the Pentagon's International Institute for Strategic Studies and served as the chairperson of the US National Commission on Terrorism. It was in the latter capacity that Bremer argued in 2000 for an end to (largely formal) restrictions on the CIA recruiting known human rights abusers.

Bremer is also chairperson of Crisis Consulting Practice of Marsh Inc., a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies — a Fortune 500-listed "global professional services firm" and a member of the Private Sector Council, a ruling-class organisation dedicated, in their own words, "to improve the efficiency, productivity, and management of the federal government through a cooperative sharing of knowledge between the public and private sectors". (The PSC's motto is "Improving the business of government.").

The PSC includes giant US corporations which have benefited from Bush's post-9/11 crusade, including Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil Co and Boeing. Bush's former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill is a PSC national advisory board member, as is Rumsfeld.

Aside from his links to Reagan-era officials who have been given a new lease on life by the Bush administration, Bremer's views on the preferred strategy for Washington to adopt in the Middle East fits well with current White House policy.

Pre-empting the official "war on terror", in June 2000 Bremer argued, in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that the US should adopt a more aggressive posture regarding Iraq. He also told the committee that Iran is "still the most egregious state sponsor of terrorism, despite the election of a reformist president".

Pentagon planners share Bremer's attitude: Threats to US business interests in the Middle East call for a long-term military presence in the region, justified by the existence of alleged "rogue nations" such as Iran.

A key plank in the Pentagon's strategy to ensure this, revealed by the April 20 New York Times, is the establishment of four US military bases in Iraq, with one just outside Baghdad, one near Nasiriya in the south, one at the H-1 airstrip in the western desert and one in the Kurdish-dominated north.

On May 6, Reuters reported that the US occupation regime is planning to create a smaller Iraqi army than exited under Hussein's regime. Rick Barton, a senior fellow of influential right-wing Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters that the new Iraqi army should have only 50,000 personnel.

These plans — for a puppet regime accepted by the majority of Iraqis and a permanent US military presence in Iraq — aim to turn Iraq into a more reliable long-term military staging post to project US power in the Middle East than Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Jordan — all three of whose regimes are under pressure from anti-US sentiment among their populations.

From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.

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