June 5, 2004

Giving Iraqis What Is Rightly Theirs—Sovereignty

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George W. Bush pledged last week that on June 30, “our government and our coalition will transfer full sovereignty – complete and full sovereignty” to the new Iraqi government. With such bold assurances, why then the heartburn among Iraqis and Europeans?

Sovereignty has traditionally described a state that has a territory, a government, a population, and formal judicial autonomy. In the international legal arena, a sovereign state is entitled to territorial integrity, political independence, and exclusive jurisdiction and control within its territory.

Yet the Bush administration has danced around the notion of how much power the Iraqis will actually have over the 138,000 U.S. troops that inhabit their soil. And the U.S. is insisting that its troops enjoy immunity (it can’t say “sovereign immunity,” since it will not technically be sovereign over Iraq come June 30) from criminal or civil prosecution in Iraqi courts. This means impunity for the torture perpetrated on Iraqi prisoners.

It defies logic to assume Bush will make good on his promise to grant Iraqis full sovereignty. He went out on a limb by invading a sovereign country which posed no threat to the United States, suffering the loss of more than 800 American troops, at a cost so far of $149 billion to U.S. taxpayers. After taking such a formidable risk, Bush is unlikely to throw in the towel now and give the Iraqis complete authority to kick out his troops and control their own valuable oil resources.

Indeed, the United States plans to build the largest CIA station in the world in Baghdad and locate permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. This presence in a country with a more U.S.-friendly government will ensure greater receptivity to foreign investment and maintain U.S. hegemony over the strategically important Persian Gulf region.

As the U.S. election approaches, Bush has held fast to the June 30 date for the “transfer of sovereignty” to Iraqis. He knows that come November, Americans, who are becoming increasingly weary of troop casualties and a failing wartime economy, will demand a way out of the quagmire.

So Bush wants to have it both ways: transfer sovereignty, but keep 138,000 pairs of feet in the door, to protect U.S. “interests.” The U.S. would, in the words of Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs, “do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account” about whether our troops would remain in Iraq. But bottom line, according to Grossman, is that “American commanders will have the right, and the obligation” to decide whether our GIs stay or go.

Back in April, Grossman accurately described what the Iraqis will gain on June 30 as “limited sovereignty.” In the face of eyebrows raised all around, however, the Bush administration has backed away from that phrase, instead speaking of “complete and full sovereignty.”

Semantics, to be sure. After marginalizing U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, engineered the selection of the new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a man with close ties to the CIA. Allawi was responsible for the sensational claim that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be deployed in 45 minutes.

In a moment of uncommon candor, Brahimi affectionately referred to Bremer as “the dictator of Iraq.” After all, said Brahimi, Bremer “has the money. He has the signature. Nothing happens without his agreement in this country.”

But Bush maintains, “I had no role” in selection of the new Iraqi leaders. Likewise, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, “These are not America’s puppets.” Coalition spokesman Dan Senor agreed. “We have not been leaning on anybody to support one president over another.” Like Donald Rumsfeld, who said on CBS News in November 2002, that the U.S. conflict in Iraq has “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil,” the lady Condi – and Senor/Bush – doth protest too much.

Allawi is off to a good start. He said Iraqis “don’t want to continue to be under occupation.” But he pledged support for the continued presence of U.S. forces “to help in defeating the enemies of Iraq.” One wonders who these “enemies” might be. Al Qaeda was not operating in Iraq before Operation “Iraqi Freedom.” Many Iraqis see the occupiers as the enemy.

The purported transfer of sovereignty from the occupiers to the Iraqi people on June 30 will be justified by the Bush administration as consensual. The consent defense, which contends the conquered are not subjugated because they have accepted the conquest, is used by the U.S. to rationalize its possession of Puerto Rico and its other post-colonial endeavors. This defense has been challenged by Antonio Gramsci, who wrote that the consent of the conquered cannot justify the colonial relationship because the consent is a byproduct of psychological domination.

The United States and the United Kingdom are angling for agreement on a Security Council resolution that would legitimize the new Iraqi government while protecting strategic U.S.-U.K. political, economic and military interests.

The Council’s resolution is bound to include rhetoric about “full sovereignty” for Iraq, just as its resolution – also strong-armed by the U.S. – which ended the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It recognized the sovereignty of Yugoslavia, a country that disappeared from the map shortly thereafter.

And the United States will maintain the right to locate its military bases in the territory of Iraq, just as we retained exclusive control over the 38 U.S. bases on Okinawa after returning its sovereignty to Japan in 1972.

It is tempting to speculate about what should happen in Iraq – what do we think would be best for the Iraqis? What form should the new Iraqi government take? Can the diverse peoples that make up Iraq create a government where power is effectively shared? Will the Sunnis and Shi’a remain unified or attack each other in the event they succeed in repelling the invaders? Should the Kurds be given their own sovereign state? What will be the fate of the oil-rich Kirkuk? Will Turkey intervene with military force in the event Kirkuk’s large Turcomen population is threatened?

The people of Iraq have the right to self-determination. They have suffered an unlawful regime change that has killed thousands of them and destabilized their country. It is up to the people of Iraq – without the interference of foreigners – to determine their own form of government.