falling like skittles in a bowling alley. One by one, the
arguments for the 2003 invasion of Iraq keep tumbling. First
to go was the big one. War was necessary because Iraq had
weapons of mass destruction. It turned out there were none.
Next was the insistent promise that a US-led conquest of Baghdad
would end completely and forever human rights abuses committed
in hell-holes such as Abu Ghraib jail. Except we saw the pictures
and realised that abuses had continued even in Abu Ghraib
itself - albeit under new management.
a fortnight ago one more Iraqi ninepin was sent wobbling.
It is the hope on which Tony Blair has had to rest his case
for war, the hope that Iraq is on its way to becoming a unique
entity in the Arab world: an open, democratic society. There
may be no WMD and the occupation may be a mess, Blair seems
to say, but Iraq will be a democracy - and that alone will
make all the pain and bloodshed worthwhile.
justification is looking as shaky as the others. Of course,
Iraq wasn't built in a day - and rooting a democracy in soil
dried and hardened by decades of dictatorship will be no easy,
instant task. The most one can expect are gradual, baby steps
in the right direction. But even those are not coming.
hearts will have sunk at last week's announcement that Iraq
is to restore the death penalty. But, OK, they understand.
Iraq is not Sweden; the Middle East is a tough neighbourhood.
Everyone else, and Iraq's American sponsor, has capital punishment
for murderers so why would Baghdad be any different? Except
Iraq will execute not only those convicted of murder but anyone
found guilty of either distributing drugs or the handily catch-all
crime of "endangering national security". That sounds
like an executioner's charter. Any unwelcome political activity
could be branded a danger to national security, with the irritant
duly put to death.
democracy would also be making a show of its respect for the
rule of law, its understanding that the justice system is
not an instrument of political control. Yet Monday brought
word that warrants had been issued for the arrest of two members
of the Chalabi clan: Ahmad is wanted on charges of counterfeiting
money, while nephew Salem is a murder suspect. Now, few outsiders
will have much sympathy for either of these characters. Ahmad
is a convicted fraudster who spun so many tall tales to his
Pentagon patrons - convincing them that the Iraqis would welcome
"liberating" US troops with hugs and flowers - that
even the Dick Cheney club of neocons has broken from him.
Yet it is surely troubling that Chalabi and nephew should
be indicted on the same day, while both are out of the country.
(The counterfeiting charges look especially tenuous, with
one report estimating the sum of money involved at as little
as $2.) To the naked eye, this looks a lot like an attempt
to keep two powerful players out of Iraq. Which of their many
rivals might be behind the move is hard to guess, but that
the judicial process is being manipulated for political ends
seems beyond doubt.
the greatest symbolic gesture has come with the weekend announcement
that al-Jazeera is to be banned from operating in Iraq for
at least one month - and longer unless a government-approved
panel of monitors decides its coverage has "improved".
Falah al-Naqib, the Iraqi interior minister, said he was closing
the channel's Baghdad operation because the broadcaster aired
"things that harm the image of Iraq and the Iraqis."
is not perfect; it can be lurid and over-heated. Some say
it sits somewhere between the BBC and the heavily-slanted
Fox News. Still, it is the nearest the Arab world has to an
independent media organisation of heft. In the words of Kenton
Keith, a former US ambassador to Qatar, where the channel
is based: "For the long- range importance of press freedom
in the Middle East and the advantages that will ultimately
have for the west, you have to be a supporter of al-Jazeera,
even if you have to hold your nose sometimes."
say that free speech is beginning to take root in Iraq. They
cite the success of Radio Dijla, aiming to be Baghdad's answer
to 5 Live, with phone-in shows and constant debate. But the
crackdown on al-Jazeera does not suggest a government with
too robust a grasp of the principle of a free press.
all, and despite the constant references to an "Iraq
now run by Iraqis", not one of the people currently in
charge was chosen by compatriots. An invasion some 16 months
ago aimed at bringing democracy to Iraq has so far yielded
next to nothing in the way of voting. The first American proconsul,
the retired general Jay Garner, wanted early local ballots;
what he got was an early sacking from Washington. In June
of last year, US military commanders cancelled plans for local
polls, so that now, in most places, everything is on hold
until national elections promised in 2005.
and America would doubtless insist that, if these democratic
deficits exist, then they are the choice of the Iraqis themselves.
After all it is they who, since the end of June, have been
"sovereign", in the form of prime minister Iyad
Allawi and his interim regime. But we have grounds to be sceptical.
For Allawi and his unelected ministers act a lot like what
used to be called stooges or puppets - their minds concentrated
by the presence of 160,000 foreign troops on their soil.
the ongoing American onslaught on Najaf, which has already
claimed the lives of more than 300 fighters, according to
contested US figures. Does the Iraqi regime oppose this killing
by a foreign army of its citizens? No. The official line is
that Baghdad "invited" the US to crush forces loyal
to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Was this not the language
of every puppet Soviet satellite, always "inviting"
Moscow in to crush its own people?
not overly cynical to see the American hand behind each of
these democratic lapses. Clamping down on al-Jazeera? America
has tried to do that itself, more than once. Why, it was only
in April that Colin Powell had "intense and candid"
discussions with his Qatari counterpart, seeking to whip al-Jazeera
into line. Delayed elections? That's clearly been Washington's
bit, the intellectual foundations of this war are crumbling
to dust. No WMD; no outright end to human rights abuses; no
democratic breakthrough. Even the most basic facts of the
war are now in dispute - including the continued American-British
attempt to pretend it's over. The showdown in Najaf, with
civilians urged by American troops to flee as if in preparation
for a bloody climax, is proof of that. The trouble in Basra
and the struggle for control of the oilfields confirms it
further. What the incidents of two weeks ago last week proves
is a bleak truth: this war is not over - and nor has it achieved
any but the baldest of its stated aims.
article was first published in the Guardian.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004