Mutiny in Iraq
There is a way that the UN can redeem itself in Iraq. It could choose to join the mutiny, further isolating the United States. This would help force Washington to hand over real power--ultimately to Iraqis but first to a multilateral coalition that did not participate in the invasion and occupation and would have the credibility to oversee direct elections. This could work, but only through a process that fiercely protects Iraq's sovereignty. That means:
Ditch the Interim Constitution. The interim constitution is so widely hated in Iraq that any governing body bound by its rules will immediately be seen as illegitimate. Some argue that Iraq needs the interim constitution to prevent open elections from delivering the country to religious extremists. Yet according to a February 2004 poll by Oxford Research International, Iraqis have no desire to see their country turned into another Iran. Asked to rate their favored political system and actors, 48.5 percent of Iraqis ranked a "democracy" as most important, while an "Islamic state" received 20.5 percent support. Asked what type of politician they favored, 55.3 percent chose "democrats," while only 13.7 percent chose religious politicians. If Iraqis are given the chance to vote their will, there is every reason to expect that the results will reflect a balance between their faith and their secular aspirations.
There are also ways to protect women and minority rights without forcing Iraq to accept a sweeping constitution written under foreign occupation. The simplest solution would be to revive passages in Iraq's 1970 Provisional Constitution, which, according to Human Rights Watch, "formally guaranteed equal rights to women and...specifically ensured their right to vote, attend school, run for political office, and own property." Elsewhere, the constitution enshrined religious freedom, civil liberties and the right to form unions. These clauses can easily be salvaged, while striking the parts of the document designed to entrench Baathist rule.
Put the Money in Trust. A crucial plank of managing Iraq's transition to sovereignty is safeguarding its national assets: its oil revenue and the remaining oil-for-food program money (currently administered by the United States with no oversight), as well as what's left of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds. Right now the United States is planning to keep control of this money long after June 30; the UN should insist that it be put in trust, to be spent by an elected Iraqi government.
De-Chalabify Iraq. The United States has so far been unable to install Ahmad Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq--his history of corruption and lack of a political base have seen to that. Yet members of the Chalabi family have quietly been given control in every area of political, economic and judicial life. It was a two-stage process. First, as head of the De-Baathification Commission, Chalabi purged his rivals from power. Then, as director of the Governing Council's Economic and Finance Committee, he installed his friends and allies in the key posts of Oil Minister, Finance Minister, Trade Minister, Governor of the Central Bank and so on. Now Chalabi's nephew, Salem Chalabi, has been appointed by the United States to head the court trying Saddam Hussein. And a company with close ties to Chalabi landed the contract to guard Iraq's oil infrastructure--essentially a license to build a private army.
It's not enough to keep Chalabi out of the interim government. The UN must dismantle Chalabi's shadow state by launching a de-Chalabification process on a par with the now abandoned de-Baathification process.
Demand the Withdrawal of US Troops. In asking the United States to serve as its bodyguard as a condition of re-entering Iraq, the UN has it exactly backwards: It should only go in if the United States pulls out. Troops who participated in the invasion and occupation should be replaced with peacekeepers--preferably from neighboring Arab states--working under the extremely limited mandate of securing the country for general elections. With the United States out, there is a solid chance that countries that opposed the war would step forward for the job.
On April 25 the New York Times editorial board called for the opposite approach, arguing that only a major infusion of American troops and "a real long-term increase in the force in Iraq" could bring security. But these troops, if they arrive, will provide security to no one--not to the Iraqis, not to their fellow soldiers, not to the UN. American soldiers have become a direct provocation to more violence, not only because of the brutality of the occupation in Iraq but also because of US support for Israel's deadly occupation of Palestinian territory. In the minds of many Iraqis, the two occupations have blended into a single anti-Arab outrage, with Israeli and US soldiers viewed as interchangeable and Iraqis openly identifying with Palestinians.
Without US troops, the major incitement to violence would be removed, allowing the country to be stabilized with far fewer soldiers and far less force. Iraq would still face security challenges--there would still be extremists willing to die to impose Islamic law as well as attempts by Saddam loyalists to regain power. On the other hand, with Sunnis and Shiites now so united against the occupation, it's the best possible moment for an honest broker to negotiate an equitable power-sharing agreement.
Some will argue that the United States is too strong to be forced out of Iraq. But from the start Bush needed multilateral cover for this war--that's why he formed the "coalition of the willing," and it's why he is going to the UN now. Imagine what could happen if countries keep pulling out of the coalition, if France and Germany refuse to recognize an occupied Iraq as a sovereign nation. Imagine if the UN decided not to ride to Washington's rescue. It would become an occupation of one.
The invasion of Iraq began with a call to mutiny--a call made by the United States. In the weeks leading up to last year's invasion, US Central Command bombarded Iraqi military and political officials with phone calls and e-mails urging them to defect from Saddam's ranks. Fighter planes dropped 8 million leaflets urging Iraqi soldiers to abandon their posts and assuring that no harm would come to them.
Of course, these soldiers were promptly fired when Paul Bremer took over and are now being frantically rehired as part of the reversal of the de-Baathification policy. It's just one more example of lethal incompetence that should lead all remaining supporters of US policy in Iraq to one inescapable conclusion: It's time for a mutiny.