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Short-sighted U.S. Foreign Policy Spells Trouble Ahead

by Firas Al-Atraqchi Columnist (Canada) Friday, Apr. 25, 2003 at 7:04 PM

Myopic and lacking in considerable fore-sight, the Bush Administration did little to establish and implement a creditable US Foreign Policy in Iraq.....

By Firas Al-Atraqchi Columnist (Canada)

( -- U.S. foreign policy is as astounding in its fallibility as it is in its short sightedness. The Bush administration's plans for Iraq are faltering primarily due to incompetence, cultural ignorance, and ethnocentricity.

These mistakes have all come on the heels of the toppling of Saddam's statue, an infamous moment in history.

Mistake #1: U.S. forces occupy and cordon off the Iraqi oil ministry in Baghdad in the first day of liberation. The compound is secured as looters (foreign and local) rampage through Baghdad. Universities, hospitals, army barracks, museums, art galleries, and private residences are stripped bare. When the international community lambastes U.S. officials for not protecting these areas, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld simply says, "Stuff happens."

Response: Iraqis now are convinced that this was not a war of liberation but of securing Iraq's oil wealth; they point to the only ministry building not burning -- the oil ministry, which is in U.S. hands. Fifteen other buildings were burned and partially destroyed up to a week after U.S. forces entered Baghdad.

Mistake #2: News emerges that U.S. and British archaeologists had since late last year warned the Bush administration that looting of Iraqi museums is to be expected once the war is over. They urged the U.S. forces to create a protection plan for these cultural and historic areas. The archaeologists cited events after the 1991 Gulf War when nine of Iraq's 13 museums were looted. The Bush administration did not heed their pleas.

Response: Iraqis understand that to undermine a nation's future, you must destroy its cultural and historical heritage. Many Iraqis believe the looting was instigated by U.S. forces and Kuwaitis keen on exacting revenge for the invasion of their country 13 years ago. The world community begins to view U.S. claims with nary an ounce of truth; a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial stated: "So what happened to Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities? Why did coalition troops seemingly stand by as looters engaged in a 48-hour sacking of one of the world's most important collections of ancient artifacts? There certainly were enough of them protecting Iraq's Oil Ministry building; it made sense to protect that building, but failing to give equal treatment to a key cultural site stupidly gives ammunition to critics who claim the war is 'all about oil.'"

Mistake #3: Amnesty International blames U.S. mismanagement in the wake of Saddam's downfall: "Much planning and resources seem to have been devoted to securing Iraqi oilfields. However, there is scarce evidence of similar levels of planning and allocation of resources for securing public and other institutions essential for the survival and well-being of the population," says Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General.

Two weeks after Saddam exited the scene, there is still no dependable electric power in Baghdad; water-related diseases are emerging in Basra; Mosul is on the verge of civil war between expansionist Kurds on the one end and Arabs, Chaldeans and Turkomen on the other; and shortages of food and medicine plague the countryside.

Response: Iraqis now feel that if they don't mobilize, their country will lie in ruin and fall prey to U.S. commercial interests. Millions of Iraqi Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of the population, begin to march in protest of U.S. presence in Iraq. They chant "Death to America" and burn U.S. flags. Political Islam surfaces as the only accepted solution by the Iraqis.

Mistake #4: U.S. downplays "reports" of Iraqi unhappiness with U.S. presence in Iraq. Iraq's civil administrator, retired general Jay Garner says Iraqi anger and resentment of U.S. will dissipate. Garner joins White House officials in blaming Iran for the rise in tension.

Response: Iraqi Shiites say that they are not being taken seriously. They refute charges that Iran is sowing dissent in Iraq and claim that the resistance to U.S. occupation is the will of the Iraqi people. Clearly, there is a communication breakdown between the U.S. and Iraqi civil society.

Mistake #5: Prior to the war, White House officials engaged in furious diplomacy with several Iraqi opposition figures, including Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress. A moderate Shiite businessman with U.S. citizenship, Chalabi is seen as the model figure of a future Iraq. The Bush administration believes that all Shiites will emulate Chalabi and come together to plot a more commercial future for Iraq. Unfortunately, the U.S. fails to see the passionate patience of the Iraqi Shiite community who have not had the freedom to express themselves since the killing of Ali, cousin and son-in-law to the Prophet Mohammed, some 1,400 years ago.

Response: Iraqis, Shiites and Sunnis alike, form alliances that were unthought of a few months ago. Iraq for the Iraqis becomes a common phrase as the people of Iraq express surprise and dismay when confronted with INC officials. Iraqis have no idea who Chalabi is nor who his cohorts happen to be. The fact that all of Chalabi's men in Iraq carry U.S., British, and Australian citizenship does not bode well for the Iraqis. They begin to feel that another authoritarian regime is about to be imposed on them.

Mistake #6: Chalabi makes statements, backed by senior U.S. officials, that Iraq will never be a theocracy and not fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic law.

Response: Iraqis begin to carry banners calling for Islamic law in the country. "No Bush, No Saddam -- Yes, Yes to Islam," becomes a poetic signal of where many Sunni and Shiite Iraqis want their new government to head.

U.S. foreign policy seems to be headed for a clash of ideologies with Iraqi domestic politics.

[Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry.]

Firas Al-Atraqchi encourages your comments:

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