When the US and British leaders, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, decided to meet at Camp David on March 26, they probably imagined that the war would be close to over by then. They would not have expected to have to discuss Iraq’s unexpectedly stubborn resistance and the mounting casualties their own troops are suffering.
The main item on the agenda was the question of Iraq’s postwar administration. This is a topic on which there are sharply differing opinions among members of the Western alliance. In America, particularly among the right-wing hawks who dominate Bush’s administration, there is a sense that Iraq is the first part of a new American empire in the Middle East, and should be administered by America, for America’s benefit.
Addressing the US Congress on March 26, Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed the government’s plans for the structure of Iraq’s post-war administration. In the first phase, Iraq would be ruled by a US military government. This would be followed by the installation of a civil US administration. This would be headed by Jay Garner, a former military general, who played a senior role in the 1990-91 war on Iraq and its aftermath, whom Bush appointed as ‘Director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Post-War Iraq’ earlier last month. Garner has been informally described by some American hawks as their first "pre-consul" in the Arab world.
This civil US administration would then give way to a civil Iraqi administration which would work closely with officials appointed by the US (or possibly the UN) to ensure the completion of a smooth transition to a "democratic and free" Iraq; i.e. an Iraq that would know its place in America’s new world order.
Before the war began, Tony Blair presented his role vis-a-vis the US as having two strands: firstly, to offer unconditional support, and secondly to offer good advice, and try to prevent the US from "going it alone". Now that the discussions have moved on to post-war Iraq, he is again trying to strike the same balance.
The debate now is on how much international and UN involvement there ought to be in the administration of post-war Iraq. France, Russia, Germany and other senior Western states opposed the war because they did not want the US to be acting so unilaterally and cutting them out of the spoils of Western world hegemony. For precisely the same reasons, they now want to limit the benefits the US gains from the war, preferring that the UN be involved in the post-war reconstruction and administration of Iraq.
Conservative voices in the US, naturally enough perhaps, are angry at these Western countries for refusing to accept US leadership, and are demanding that they, and the UN, be specifically excluded from any post-war role in Iraq. Conservative reaction to the position of such countries has been arrogantly and racistly hostile, with some demanding that they be punished for daring to disagree with American policies.
Blair’s role is to try to steer a middle course between these two positions. Like other Western leaders, he accepts America’s leadership of the Western camp but is concerned about the conservatives’ arrogance and willingness to "go it alone". Unlike other Western leaders, his approach is to support Bush and try to persuade him to moderate his position, rather than publicly opposing him.
At the same time, he will be trying to ensure that he and Britain are rewarded for their support by a share in the lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq, which will be paid for out of Iraqi funds that have been frozen in Western bank accounts (one of Bush’s first acts after declaring war on Iraq was to demand that control of these funds be transferred to the US for ‘humanitarian work’), and revenues from the sale of Iraqi oil.
The first major contracts in Iraq have already been allocated to American companies, including the major Halliburton group, which was once headed by US vice-president Dick Cheney, who still maintains close relations with it. For Americans, the reconstruction of Iraq is an excellent opportunity to boost their struggling economy; there have been moves to reserve all contracts for American companies, excluding even the companies of the countries that, like Britain, have supported the US’s position.
Certain voices, however, have been conspicuously silent in the debate about Iraq’s future: Iraqi ones. Having initially dabbled with the idea of installing one of the major Iraqi opposition groups in power in Baghdad, the US appears to have decided that a puppet with no domestic political roots —such as Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan—would be a better and safer option. But Iraqis will not quietly accept American colonization. Already the US is known to have attacked opposition Iraqi groups in the north of the country in order to clear the way for their administration of the country.
The US has also expressed concern about Islamic groups infiltrating Iraq from Iran. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is the largest Iraqi Islamic movement, including within it a range of different Islamic groups, and its military wing, the Badr Brigades, are claimed to have between 10,000 and 12,000 forces already in Iraq, and more in Iran.
Although the SCIRI’s head, Mohamed Baqir al-Hakim, has attended meetings between Iraqi opposition leaders and American officials, SCIRI officials have strongly opposed the suggestion of any US role in post-Saddam Iraq. Speaking during a military show of force by the Badr Brigade in the northern Iraqi city of Darbendakhan, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a senior SCIRI member, stated that only the Iraqi people were responsible for regime-change in Iraq. He also ruled out the possibility of any military or security co-ordination with the US.
Even if the Ba’athists are defeated and removed in Baghdad, the US war is likely to continue against genuinely popular Iraqi movements and leaders who are as determined to be independent of America as they are keen to be free of Saddam Hussain.