Jewish World Review April 8, 2004 / 17 Nissan, 5764
Should the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq be delayed beyond the current deadline?
Are things falling apart in Iraq? And if so, should the transfer of
sovereignty be delayed beyond the Bush administration's current June 30
The United States is now engaged in two fairly significant military
operations: the pacification of Fallujah, and the capture of militant
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and suppression of his armed rebellion against the
It would be more accurate, however, to say that things have never really
come together in Iraq than to say that they are now falling apart.
The nature of the two threats illustrates that point.
Were it not for the U.S. occupation, the two rebellious groups might very
well be killing each other rather than Americans.
In Fallujah, the uprising is from Sunni Baathist restorationists. Shiite
Sadr has close ties to Iran and wants to establish a comparably
fundamentalist theocratic state in Iraq.
Undoubtedly, the majority of Iraqis want neither a Baathist restoration nor
an Iranian-style fundamentalist theocracy.
But the condemnation of these two movements comes almost exclusively from
the United States, not from Iraqis who want a different future than they
would bring about.
Most telling is the reaction of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, by far the most
influential Shiite cleric. He reportedly does not favor a theocratic state
such as advocated by Sadr or confrontation as a strategy.
Yet he has not condemned Sadr's militancy. In fact, he has said that Sadr's
cause is just.
Simply put, too many Iraqis still see this as the U.S.'s fight rather than
You often hear, even from initial opponents of the war, that the United
States cannot now "fail" in Iraq. But that's not an attitude necessarily
conducive to our long-term national interest.
There can be different opinions about the extent to which Saddam Hussein
constituted a threat to the United States. But whatever the level of the
threat, it is now gone.
Moreover, whatever emerges in the wake of Saddam is highly unlikely to
poise anywhere near the threat that he did.
A functioning democracy has decent roots in the northern Kurdish territory.
A Baathist restoration is highly unlikely. The majority Shiites don't
appear to want a fundamentalist theocracy.
A neo-colonial role in Iraq is not in the interests of the United States.
Our occupation breeds anti-American sentiment in Iraq and elsewhere in the
region and the world. The longer we are an occupying force, the more we
become a terrorist target.
Iraq has been a costly undertaking. The United States has already spent
$155 billion on the war and reconstruction. Another $50 billion is expected
to be spent this year.
A colonial occupation until Iraq is unquestionably "ready" to be a unified
democracy would cost the United States $50 billion to $100 billion a year
and make us less safe. Moreover, how long it would take and the prospects
for success are highly uncertain.
A pathway toward a unified, democratic Iraq has been established with the
transitional administrative law adopted last month by the Iraqi Governing
Council. It bridges the ethnic and religious differences in the country
with a highly decentralized governmental structure, and ties the country
together with oil revenues.
It calls for an elected national government by January 2005, and a new,
voter-approved constitution by the end of that year.
The first step is the transfer of sovereignty to an interim government by
June 30. The U.N., which Sistani appears more receptive to than the U.S.,
is helping to develop a configuration that will be acceptable to the
What would be made better by delaying this transfer of authority and the
U.S. remaining as a governing, occupying power?
Clearly delay wouldn't reduce anti-American agitation. The security
challenge would likely amplify, not diminish.
Nor is it clear how the United States remaining the governing authority in
Iraq improves the prospects for a successful democracy, unless a long
period of dominant colonial rule is envisioned.
While the U.S. will remain a security force in the country, transferring
sovereignty will reduce our freedom of operation. An interim Iraqi
government may very well be willing to risk greater civil unrest for a
lighter U.S. presence.
The United States may think that's unwise. But it's not our country.
Iraq's future is uncertain. But the sooner Iraqis begin determining it the
better, for them and for us.
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