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[casi] Broken promise: Why I quit Iraq

Interesting piece from the Canadian Globe and Mail.

Broken promise: Why I quit Iraq
America's approach to governing Baghdad has failed to involve Iraqis, says
ISAM al-KHAFAJI, who returned home to help rebuild his country

Globe and Mail
Friday, July 18, 2003

On July 9, with deep sorrow, I respectfully submitted my resignation as a
member of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council to U.S. Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

I did this with great sadness but, in doing so, I was able to leave Iraq
with a clear conscience. If I stayed any longer, I might not be able to say
that. I feared my role with the reconstruction council was sliding from what
I had originally envisioned -- working with allies in a democratic
fashion -- to collaborating with occupying forces.

I had returned to Baghdad in May, just a few weeks after the fall of Saddam
Hussein, with much hope after 25 years in exile from my country. It was one
of the most difficult decisions of my life to accept the invitation of the
U.S. government to return to Iraq with more than 140 other Iraqis as part of
this council to help with the post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation of
ministries so that Iraq could eventually be turned over to a transitional

My understanding of this council, which first reported to Jay Garner, the
retired United States general, and now to civil administrator Paul Bremer,
was that it would work with Iraq's ministries, not as ministers but, in the
background, as advisers. Its goal was to restore Iraq's badly damaged
infrastructure -- the electricity, the hospitals, the water supplies and the
transportation routes -- at least to its pre-war state so that the country
could be turned over to a transitional government. Though we council members
came from all over the world, we all are Iraqis. Many of us have been exiled
for many years, but we still consider ourselves Iraqis. When you keep in
touch with what is going on in your country, it is not a big deal whether
you are outside.

I accepted the fact that we were a defeated country, and I had no problem
working with the United States to pull my country out of a quagmire. But
there seemed to be no interest on the part of the coalition in involving
Iraqis as advisers on the future of their country. Our role was very
limited. Even reporters who visited us took note, writing that although the
reconstruction council has an office within the presidential palace, there
seems to be little done there apart from members reading their e-mail --
certainly a luxury in post-war Baghdad.

There was so much euphoria when Baghdad first fell, but the Americans came
in and acted with arrogance. While many Iraqis are relieved to see Saddam
out of power, and accept the fact that the U.S. is the only power than can
secure some semblance of order, they now see the U.S. acting as an occupier.

Sadly, the vision for a transitional government and democratic elections,
put forward by Mr. Wolfowitz seems to have been forgotten in the everyday
pressures of post-war Iraq. Mr. Wolfowitz is a visionary, but he has not
done the work to see the concrete application of his vision. He said he
wanted to help bring democracy to Iraq and many of us thought we should
support him because we too want to see democracy in Iraq. In practice,
however, he is just one player -- albeit a big player -- and there are many
others on the ground in Iraq who do not share his vision. Many reports have
noted that even the soldiers here bluntly say they take their orders from
their general, not from Mr. Bremer. Bitter disputes between the defense
department and the state department, which were evident even before the war
began and duly reported in the U.S. press, continue to affect the situation.
Even though Mr. Bremer has the formal authority within Iraq, it seems like
each and every decision must go back to Washington, and we are the victims
of indecision.

Iraq is now in almost total chaos. No one knows what is going on. We're not
talking here about trying to achieve an ideal political system. People
cannot understand why a superpower that can amass all that military might
can't get the electricity turned back on. Iraqis are now contrasting
Saddam's ability to bring back power after the war in 1991 to the apparent
inability of the U.S. to do so now. There are all kinds of conspiracy
theories. Many wonder if the U.S. has a reason for not wanting the
electricity back on.

Now Mr. Bremer has established the Iraqi Governing Council. Sitting together
to consider the future of Iraq are 25 representatives, hand-picked by the
U.S.-led coalition. The composition is not a bad one, but few of the members
have substantial domestic constituencies. (The exception is the Kurds whose
parties have been active among their people since the 1991 Gulf War.)
Whether the Council is effective or not depends on whether its members are
able to reach any consensus. I fear they will be played against one another.
To succeed, they must take a unified position on issues and tell Mr. Bremer
to go to Washington and say "this is what Iraqis want, now please give your
support for that." Ultimately, the Council must be prepared to say: "give us
full authority and we will ask for your advice when we need it."

I am thus far, the first and only member of the reconstruction council to
resign. There may be others, though many will no doubt stay and hope for the

For my part, I remain optimistic for my country, at least in the medium
term. When I think about the Iraqi people, how strong they are, how hard
they work without complaining under summertime temperatures reaching 55 C. I
feel there is much left within these people of Iraq. There are many signs
that Iraqis are working together, without serious tensions between
ethnicities. All this is good news for a future Iraq. In the short term
however, I fear there will be more conflicts run through with both Iraqi and
American blood.

I hope the day will come when I will return to Iraq. I miss it already.

Isam al-Khafaji is a professor of political economy at the University of
Amsterdam and author of the forthcoming Tormented Births: Passages to
Modernity in Europe and the Middle East. He was a member of the Democratic
Principles Working Group convened by the U.S. State Department last fall to
discuss the future of Iraqi governance.

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