U.S. Planning Long Stay in Iraq

May 28, 2004 • Commentary
This article was published in the Chicago Sun‐​Times, May 28, 2004.

In his speech at the Army War College, President Bush asserted repeatedly that Iraq would receive “full sovereignty” on June 30. But the president seems to have a peculiar definition of that concept. The United States and its coalition partners plan to give Iraqis nothing more than nominal sovereignty, and the ”handover of power” is little more than an exercise in symbolism.

True, the Coalition Provisional Authority will officially go out of business on June 30. But the interim Iraqi government will exercise few prerogatives of sovereignty. According to earlier congressional testimony by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, that government will have no authority over coalition military forces operating in Iraq and only limited authority over Iraq’s own security forces. Indeed, the United States and its allies intend to be responsible for Iraq’s security for the indefinite future.

Grossman also indicated that the interim government would have no power to pass new laws or rescind edicts that the CPA issued. Other U.S. officials confirm that the interim government will not have authority over current or future reconstruction contracts. Even the Iraqi news media will continue to be governed by rules promulgated by U.S. military authorities, not the interim government.

The resolution that the United States and Britain just presented to the U.N. Security Council also provides little indication that Iraq will enjoy real sovereignty anytime soon. There is no date certain for the departure of coalition military forces. The only requirement is that the mandate for the peacekeeping force must be reviewed by the Security Council after one year. And although the resolution officially gives the Iraqi government control over the country’s oil revenues, an ”international advisory board” is to make certain that the revenues are used ”properly.” That provision suggests more than a little foreign control over the decision‐​making process.

Washington’s plans and actions indicate that the United States is preparing for a long stay in Iraq. The appointment of a four‐​star general to replace a three‐​star general as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq suggests that U.S. leaders regard the Iraqi deployment as a critically important mission for the foreseeable future. America’s embassy in Baghdad is going to be one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world — again suggesting that the United States intends to exercise a great deal of influence in that small country.

These actions raise serious questions about how much real authority even a permanent Iraqi government, scheduled to be chosen in national elections in January 2005, will have. Angry Iraqis, including some previously friendly members of the Governing Council, are openly criticizing the transfer of sovereignty on June 30 as a charade. They have a point. Truly sovereign countries have governments that are able to pass and rescind laws. Those governments, not foreign military commanders, control the security forces operating in their territory. And the governments of sovereign countries certainly are not relegated to the sidelines while foreign entities dictate key elements of public policy.

Bush missed an important opportunity to articulate a new and more sustainable Iraq strategy. He needed to emphasize that the United States intended to transfer the substance, not just the form, of sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30. At a minimum, that would require setting a date certain for the withdrawal of all coalition military forces. It also would require allowing the interim government to exercise meaningful authority over the entire range of public policy.

According to the current plan, the Iraqi government after June 30 will have about as much power as the typical 21st century European monarch — that is to say, not much. The occupation of Iraq will continue in all but name. That is a huge disservice to the Iraqi people, and it threatens to entangle the United States in a thankless mission of indefinite duration. The president owed both Iraqis and Americans a better strategy than he outlined in his Army War College address.

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