Bomb and Iraqify: Bush re-election plan

The U.S. unleashed a massive bombing attack on central Iraq Nov. 18, dropping 2,000- and 1,000-pound bombs around Baghdad, a little over five months after President Bush declared the end of “major combat” May 1.

It was part of a new show of overwhelming force, named “Operation Iron Hammer,” that U.S. commanders say is aimed at suspected guerrilla sites. It came as the Bush administration announced a new shift in its political strategy for Iraq.

The aerial bombing, using the Pentagon’s largest weapons, is certain to bring with it more civilian “collateral damage,” further sharpening the growing Iraqi anger at the occupation.

Italy’s representative in the U.S. occupation’s Coalition Provisional Authority, Marco Calamai, has quit, telling Italian newspapers, “I am in deep disagreement with the policies of the coalition, whether they be about the economic reconstruction of the country or about the democratic transition.” His resignation came as Italy mourned the deaths of 19 Italians killed in a car bomb attack in southern Iraq Nov. 12.

“The provisional authority simply doesn’t work,” Calamai said. “Reconstruction projects that were promised and financed have had practically no results and the Iraqis are more and more furious. This social unrest can only encourage terrorism.”

Calling the situation “seriously compromised,” he said only a new United Nations-led international effort can bring progress.

With the Iraq crisis threatening to sink Bush’s re-election prospects, the White House announced a new agreement to transfer political authority to Iraqis by June, while retaining a longer-term U.S. military presence. Statements by administration officials indicate they want to convey the impression that the occupation is ending, and “Iraqify” the casualties, just in time for the 2004 elections.

Stephen Zunes, associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, who specializes in Middle East politics, called attention to “the pace at which the U.S. seems to be selling off Iraq’s assets to powerful politically connected U.S. corporations.” At this rate, he told the World, “there will be nothing that much left for an Iraqi government to control.”

Under the new plan, the Iraqi Governing Council will write a basic law governing the formation and functioning of a new transitional government. Each of Iraq’s 18 provinces will hold meetings of local leaders to elect representatives to a transitional national assembly. The national assembly will elect a prime minister or president who will appoint cabinet officers. This new transitional government is to be in place by June 30, 2004. The U.S. would hand over political authority at that time, but the U.S. military would remain in Iraq, although the transitional government could invite other international troops and assistance. The national assembly would elect delegates to draft a new Iraqi constitution. Then national elections would elect a new Iraqi government by the end of 2005.

This marks a major reversal of policy for the Bush administration. Originally it insisted that the Iraqis quickly write a constitution (meeting U.S. specifications) and hold elections later. The new plan closely resembles earlier French proposals which the White House had rejected.

But the new plan leaves the Bush administration with a big hand in Iraq’s politics. Salim Lone, communications director for the UN office in Baghdad when it was bombed last August, said the U.S. “planned transfer of power to its own choice of Iraqis” will do little to end the “internationally destabilizing crisis” caused by the occupation. In a blistering Washington Post article Nov. 19, Lone called for “a true end of occupation … managed not by the U.S. but by an international force and mission led by the United Nations.”

Mustapha Tlili, a long-time UN official who now specializes in Islamic-U.S. relations at the World Policy Institute, said “a complete change of approach on the part of the U.S.” is necessary. “If you want to solve the Iraq crisis,” Tlili told the World, “you have to take into account that Iraq is part of the Arab world, deeply rooted in Arab history and culture.” Iraq was one of the most advanced and modern nations of the area, he noted, with an incredibly strong scientific and educational infrastructure and highly organized state institutions. All of that was disbanded by the U.S., and its efforts to create something from scratch are, of course, not working, he said.

The only solution is for the UN to take over the political process in Iraq, with strong involvement of countries of the Arab and Muslim world, Tlili said. “Based on past experience, it’s not going to happen half way.”

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