In the wake of the Iraqi Governing Council's Saturday announcement concerning the scheduled end to the US occupation by the end of June, 2004 and the establishment of a provisional government, one may question whether or not this will mean real independence for the Iraqis in governing their country.
The plan to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people was drawn up by the IGC and endorsed last week in Washington, which has therefore agreed to cede power to the Iraqis prior to the development of an Iraqi constitution. Initially, the Americans had insisted on holding elections and transferring sovereignty after the adoption of a constitution. Indeed, this was one of the main differences between Washington, on the one hand, and Paris, Berlin and Moscow, on the other.
Paris is, nevertheless, still unimpressed. Foreign Minister Dominique de Vilpin argues that a provisional government could be formed by the end of this year. This view is shared by some American politicians, like presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who wants to know why the transfer of power is being delayed until June if it can be effected tomorrow. Moscow is preferring to subject the plan to some serious scrutiny before drawing any conclusions, even though it is obvious even now that Russian diplomats have many questions on the matter.
Meanwhile, the adopted plan means that Washington has made radical changes to its Iraqi policy. Merely a month ago, the Bush Administration claimed that the Iraqis were unprepared to rule their country, while the idea of holding elections before adopting a constitution was undemocratic. So, what has caused this dramatic policy U-turn?
The predominant belief in the US media is that the growing US casualties in Iraq are the reason. In all, about 400 soldiers and officers have been killed, including about 170 after the official end to hostilities in Iraq on May 1. The American army's losses in the post-war period will soon exceed the casualties suffered in the course of the conflict. There is every reason to make this forecast, as there were 25-30 terrorist attacks a day in the October-November period as against 15-20 in September.
According to George Bush, the increasing number of terrorist attacks points to the correct nature of the occupying forces' policy. At a recent news conference, he said that the more successfully these forces work, the more brutal the resistance becomes. This is logical to an extent, but will this argument be accepted by American electors, especially those whose relatives are serving in Iraq?
They are likely to ask their president and his administration why they were fighting in that country and what the brilliant victory over Saddam Hussein has brought their families. They may wonder whether or not the spectre of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has been dispelled, when there is still no proof that they existed. They could question the president about the aim of the military campaign: was it launched to punish Saddam for his links with terrorists or to take revenge for September 11? But terrorist attacks have become a daily occurrence. Although they happen not on US territory, the truth is that Americans are the victims.
The UN, European and Russian diplomats spent six months trying to convince Washington that once the Iraqis gained sovereignty, the number of terrorist attacks would diminish. They argued, above all, that the resistance was fuelled by the occupation itself and American attempts to impose their own lifestyle there. If provisional Iraqi institutions receive genuine independence and manage to cope with their duties, the scope of the discontent will diminish. Secondly, the Iraqis know better than anyone else where the terrorists might be hiding and who is assisting them.
This is all true but time has been wasted: various plans to transfer power were submitted to Washington by Iraqis and international organisations shortly after the Hussein regime fell, when the security situation was not so disastrous.
Now, nobody knows for certain who is responsible for the terrorist attacks in Iraq. Who are the perpetrators? Hussein's former guards, al-Qaeda terrorists, members of other extremist organisations or Iraqi Islamic groups that sprang into action after Saddam's overthrow? They all have different aims and for most of them the philosophy of terror has become a lifestyle rather than an instrument to achieve their goals. Therefore, one can hardly expect that terrorism will end when Iraqis take over the reins of power.
American experts have already posed some tough questions: will Bush's U-turn lead to ever more disastrous consequences? Will the terrorists consider this to be a victory over the United States? Can enough Iraqi policemen and soldiers be trained in such a short space of time to maintain order in the country and resist terrorists? They cannot be sure that Iraqi politicians will successfully run the country, that less US control will not lead to a civil war and that radicals will not come to power in elections.
For their part, Europe and Russia, which have long been calling for sovereignty to be given to the Iraqis, cannot fail to consider the role of the international community, above all the United Nations, in this process. Indeed, the transfer of power may be turned into a formality, while the reins of government will remain in the hands of the United States. According to coalition administration head Paul Bremer, the USA is to retain control over the process of forming an Iraqi government and compiling a constitution that is to include "American values". The transfer plan is a bilateral agreement between the coalition administration and the IGC, but the role of the United Nations remains unclear.
Nor do we have answers to many other questions. Events could develop in any way, but the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis is the only possible option. It is a tragedy that Washington had to suffer so many losses to understand this. But the new strategy may also be a failure, if American politicians are more concerned about American voters rather than Iraqis' interests.
Marianna Belenkaya, RIAN