U.S. Infighting Said to Harm Work in Iraq

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WASHINGTON, April 23 (UPI) — A leading Iraqi advocate of democracy warned Wednesday that a conflict within the Bush administration was having a bad effect on the ground in Iraq and that the president needed to intervene to end it.

Kanan Makiya, a member of the Iraqi National Congress, told a news conference in Washington that the dissension within the administration could lead to deaths and envenomed relations between Iraqis.


Speaking at the National Press Club, Makiya did not name the opposing sides, but it was clear Makiya was referring to policy differences between the civilian leadership at the Defense Department on the one hand and the State Department and CIA on the other.

The dispute that began in the run up to the war on Iraq has centered on whom the United States should support to form an interim government in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, have favored the controversial Ahmad Chalabi and the INC.

The State Department and the CIA oppose Chalabi and the INC because its membership, with the exception of two major Iraqi Kurdish parties, consists of opponents of the Saddam regime who lived in exile from Iraq and thus has questionable support within the country.

Defending the INC, Makiya pointed out that it had caught and turned over to the coalition forces three prominent members of the former regime, among them Muhammad Hamza Zubaydi, a former Baath prime minister and No. 18, the queen of spades, in the U.S. pack of cards showing the most wanted figures in Saddam’s regime. Zubaydi is expected to face trial on war crime charges.

Before the war that was launched last month, analysts said, the State Department and the CIA had shown an interest in finding a post-Saddam Iraqi leadership from among officials of the Baath regime, senior officers in the Iraqi military or individuals who played a major political role before Saddam took power in 1968.

There were those in Washington, Makiya said, who do not accept the possibility of democracy in Iraq. So they wished to work with a “cleaned-up” Baath and the existing social order. In the event, he said, no parts of the Baath came over to the coalition forces.

The dispute had not fundamentally changed since it first appeared, Makiya said, and the Iraqi opposition to Saddam had been shunted aside because of the infighting in Washington.

Commenting on a widely held view that the exiles would not be acceptable to what are being called “internals,” those who stayed in the Iraq under Saddam’s tyranny, Makiya said such a split never appeared at a meeting last week in the southern city of Nasiriyah that brought together Iraqis returned from exile and “internals.” But, he admitted, such a split might appear later and elsewhere.

Referring to another conflict, Makiya said that retired Lt. Gen. Jay Gardner, who heads the Pentagon’s civilian Office for Humanitarian Affairs and Reconstruction, was deeply frustrated at not being able to move aid into Iraq as quickly as he wished. The U.S. Central Command, under Gen. Tommy Franks, has blocked deliveries for security reasons, Makiya said, and the result was a long queue of aid-bearing ships standing off the Iraqi coast.

Asked why major airports at Umm Qasr, Basra, Baghdad, and elsewhere in Iraq were not being used to bring in assistance, Makiya said he believed it was also because of concerns for security. The result is a serious delay in the delivery of water, food and medical supplies to the war-stricken country, he said.

Makiya said the United States did not think about the need for law and order in Iraqi cities, which would have minimized or prevented the extensive looting they have undergone. He stressed the need to form as quickly as possible a new police force imbued with the values of the coalition. The force is needed to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of Saddam’s regime that, Makiya said, shattered like a pane of glass.

He added the idea was ridiculous that the former police, the least spirited and lowest of the state apparatus, could resume authority, although individuals from it might be admitted to a new force.

Makiya suggested the Free Iraqi Force had a role to play in bringing law and order to Iraq. While it now consists of a miniscule 600 to 700, there was no shortage of volunteers to serve with it and, he said, it should number 10,000.

The force was created by Chalabi and trained in northern Iraq before being flown by the U.S. Army to Nasiriyah prior to the April 15 meeting. It is now under Centcom control and is the only Iraqi component in the coalition forces.

There is also a debate over the new interim authority for Iraq, Makiya said, which in one view was that it should be a kind of “rainbow coalition” that would let “100 flowers bloom” in forming local governing councils and police forces. In his view that was a recipe for chaos and the breakup of Iraq.

“Democracy is about institutions, about law and order,” he stressed. He reported that at the meeting in Nasiriyah he found a palpable sense of urgent need for these throughout the country.

With a population of about 24 million, Iraq is made up of roughly 60 percent Shiite Muslim Arabs, 20 percent Kurds, 17 percent Sunni Arabs and 3 percent other minorities, including Turkomen and Christians. It has a history of ethnic and religious rivalries that have erupted into violence.

According to Makiya, creation of a successful interim authority would take off from the realization that there is a lack of leadership and that leadership is needed to get results.

The Iraqi people are waking from a deep and dark sleep, filled with nightmares, and without quite knowing what to do, he said. Things could go dangerously wrong, he warned, and there is a very short window of time in which to get an interim authority right.

Makiya, who has been a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and head of an Iraq research institute at Harvard, said he returned to the United States from Nasiriyah to push for the creation of the needed leadership. He proposes a program for an interim authority that would include a leadership council made up of political figures to take executive decisions.

Another element would be a constitutional commission of 100 to 150 members who would include exiles now committed to living in Iraq. The commission would create a drafting committee to encourage debate on the future constitution, what kind of federal structure Iraq would have and the issue of the separation of religion and state.

There would also be an economic council, made up of Iraqi technocrats charged with the reintegration of Iraq into the international economy.

Referring to the situation in southern, Shiite-dominated Iraq, Makiya found it messy and complicated as a result of the power vacuum. Local councils that had sprung up since Saddam’s overthrow were all dominated by Islamic radicals and he said he was very concerned that some groups might call for violence against U.S. forces. At the same time he suggested the high energy aroused by the celebration of previously banned religious ceremonies should be allowed to expend itself and that rival groups, seeking to control local councils, created a shifting sands of alliances and sentiments.

As to whether the new Iraq would become a state under clerical rule, as demonstrators have called for in the past week, Makiya said that at the Nasiriyah meeting several sayids — religious figures highly influential because of they are accepted as descendants of the Prophet Mohammed — had called for the separation of religion and state and no participant called for an Islamic state.

Last week’s meeting is to be followed by another one in Baghdad next Monday. Makiya said he did not know how effective it would be. People’s views are changing constantly, he said, in what was a revolutionary situation.

As for the U.S. forces in Iraq, Makiya said he had learned that the administration had no intention of staying in Iraq as a military government and would exit as soon as a stable and legitimate government came into existence. He said he estimated that would take two to three years.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.