Handover of Power to Iraqis

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Sunday, July 04, 2004

The long-awaited handover of power from the U.S.-led forces to Iraqis eventually happened just before the expected June 30, 2004 deadline. However, the apparently limited nature of the sovereignty handed over, as well as some insights into key figures in this issue reveals what may still be a difficult future for Iraq if real democracy and freedom is to be considered.

This web page has the following sub-sections:

  1. Transition to Iraqi Control
  2. Only Limited Sovereignty for Iraqis?
    1. Fears before handover that sovereignty would be limited
    2. Iraqi Sovereignty handed over early and quickly
    3. Iraqi Sovereignty indeed turns out to be very limited
    4. Sovereignty Under Continued Occupation?
    5. U.S. Retains Real Control; U.N. Role Unclear
    6. Real Legitimacy
    7. Media handling of handover
    8. U.S.-led Coalition Cannot Account for Billions of Iraq's Dollars
  3. Who is Iyad Allawi?
  4. Who is Ahmed Chalabi?
  5. Chalabi provides detailed insights into world propaganda campaign to gain support for a war against Iraq
    1. Propaganda and lobbying to convince a people to go to war
    2. U.S. Government funnelling lots of money to agitators
    3. Support in future Iraqi government
    4. U.S. Government out-sources creation of opposition
      1. Out-sourcing global propaganda campaign
      2. Out-sourcing global media management
      3. Disinformation campaigns
    5. Chalabi’s own agendas
    6. Pitting American Politicians and institutions against each other
    7. Iraq and September 11 link for Bush

Transition to Iraqi Control

Transition to Iraqi control is proving controversial to say the least.

At the beginning of August, as Associated Press reported (August 5, 2003), Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said that Arab League members will not recognise Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council and instead will wait until post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is led by an elected government. (An irony, also noted by AP, was the Arab League members themselves are hardly democratic!)

As mentioned further below and in more detail in the rebuilding Iraq part of this web site, the U.S. is less willing for the United Nations to take the leading role in Iraq's rebuilding and transitioning of power away from the occupying forces. But, as Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service notes, the reasons may be due to a wider geopolitical strategy:

Asked [in an interview with the National Journal] how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, “I hope they're there a long time”, and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.

“One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)”, he said. “And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade”.

“Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East”, Garner added.

While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly.

Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, during which they expect to draw down their forces.

If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle between Cheney and the Pentagon on the one hand and the State Department on the other over how much control Washington is willing to give the United Nations over the transition to Iraqi rule becomes more comprehensible.

Ceding too much control, particularly before a base agreement can be reached with whatever Iraqi authority will take over Jun. 30, will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.

Jim Lobe, Chalabi, Garner Provide New Clues to War, Inter Press Service, February 20, 2004

The Guardian reported (May 18, 2003) that U.S and U.K. officials had “indefinitely scrapped plans for a transitional government and Spain revealed a gaping hole in funding for reconstruction.” In addition, “US and British diplomats announced they would remain in charge for an undisclosed period.” This fueled more anger at the U.S. and U.K. with more concerns of occupation and imperialism. To their defence, the U.S. and U.K. say that transition would take time and happen gradually and that security needs to be restored first.

In the end, the original June 30, 2004 deadline for handover was actually early by a couple of days. But, the nature of the handover and the level of sovereignty that Iraq actuall appears to have seems limited:

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Only Limited Sovereignty for Iraqis?

Both before and after the handover, it was feared that handing over sovereignty to Iraq might not be as simplistic as what the Bush and Blair governments would like to present to the whole world. With the various geopolitical interests at stake as discussed elsewhere on this site, the nature of the sovereignty would likely allow the U.S. to have continued influence.

Fears before handover that sovereignty would be limited

For a long time the Bush administration was unclear on when and how power would be transitioned to the Iraqis. Under pressure Bush announced that by June 30, sovereignty would be transferred to Iraqis. However, this has been met with concern that given the security situation and the various power factions, this time scale might be difficult. Yet on the other hand, the longer it was delayed, the more instability it would cause.

Nonetheless, the type of sovereignty is also coming under criticism. Marc Grossman, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs had revealed that Iraqi sovereignty would be severely limited and the U.S. would retain law-making and military decisions. Citing the New York Times analysis of this at length:

The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws...

... Only 10 weeks from the scheduled transfer of sovereignty, the administration is still not sure exactly who will govern in Baghdad, or precisely how they will be selected.

...Asked [by several senators] whether the new Iraqi government would have a chance to approve military operations led by American commanders, who would be in charge of both foreign and Iraqi forces, a senior official said Americans would have the final say.

“The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account,” said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. But he added that American commanders will “have the right, and the power, and the obligation” to decide.

...In another sphere, Mr. Grossman said there would be curbs on the powers of the National Conference of Iraqis that Mr. Brahimi envisions as a consultative body. The conference, he said, is not expected to pass new laws or revise the laws adopted under the American occupation.

“We don't believe that the period between the 1st of July and the end of December should be a time for making new laws,” Mr. Grossman said.

...Since last November, when the June 30 transfer of sovereignty was approved by President Bush and decreed by Mr. Bremer in Iraq, the United States has insisted that Iraq would have a full transfer of sovereignty on that date.

Mr. Grossman, however, referred in testimony on Wednesday to what he said would be “limited sovereignty,” a phrase he did not repeat on Thursday, apparently because it raised eyebrows among those not expecting the administration to acknowledge that the sovereignty would be less than full-fledged.

...Mr. Grossman was also asked what would happen if the new government wanted to adopt a foreign policy opposed by the United States, such as forging close relations with two neighbors, Iran and Syria.

The United States, he replied, would have to use the kind of persuasion used by any American ambassador in any country.

Steven R. Weisman, White House Says Iraq Sovereignty Could Be Limited, New York Times, April 23, 2004

Side Note

Given the question of how an Iraqi government chance to approve a U.S. military operation led by American commanders, while not explicitly mentioned in the above article, it is generally believed (and implied by the question) that the U.S. would retain a military presence even when sovereignty is handed over to Iraqis. Yet, many could likely find it hard to agree that the U.S. would have the “right” to be in charge of foreign and Iraqi forces. Another comment that could be added is that the “persuasion used by any American ambassador in any country” has often been of a threatening nature, subtly or directly, as U.S. interests of course are at stake. In the world of diplomacy, power is exercised as needed.

Iraqi Sovereignty handed over early and quickly

When sovereignty was handed over, it came very quickly -- some two days before it was meant to. The U.S.-led Coalition forces and the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi (who was the one that suggested the early handover) implied this was to prevent resistance and terrorist groups from foiling a handover and catching them off guard, while critics suggested this may be because the U.S. still did not have full control of the security situation and if it was difficult enough to provide security in general, then providing security during an official handover ceremony would be impossible. (The quick and early handover was also done in secret and finished before it was announced to the world, and even some of the new Iraqi ministers!)

The demand of tougher security and increased stability may prove to be a double-edged sword, Inter Press Service (IPS) noted, because on the one hand this was an opportunity for a government to prove itself, though on the other hand, those who want to sabotage any democracy may increase terrorist attacks.

The same IPS article also noted that an advisor to the new minister of the interior was relieved that Coalition head Paul Bremer was leaving so quickly and that power had transitioned, because they were always afraid if Paul Bremer would have overruled their decisions. “While Bremer was around he still exercised ultimate authority,” the advisor said. “We never knew when one of our instructions would be countered by him.”

Iraqi Sovereignty indeed turns out to be very limited

Win Without War, an antiwar coalition in the U.S. summarizes why the hand over of power to Iraq is controversial and how the U.S. retains a lot of indirect control:

  • Every US soldier, Coalition employee and private contractor will be immune from Iraqi law - Halliburton and its employees will remain above Iraqi law;
  • Iraqis will continue to live under US edicts - covering everything from tax law to crime to foreign policy - designed to perpetuate US power for years to come;
  • The US will continue to control the Republican Palace - Iraq's White House - despite the demand of Iraq's new “sovereign” president for the Americans to hand it over;
  • US taxpayers will continue to pay more than all of the coalition nations combined for Iraqi security and reconstruction by a margin of 120 to 1;
  • The majority of Iraqis want US troops to leave Iraq, believing that the troops are an obstacle to security, not a source of it.
Raising False Expectations will Fuel Insurgency And International Terrorism, Making America Less Safe, Win Without War, June 29, 2004

In addition, the antiwar coalition feared that U.S. actions were making Americans less safe by

  1. Fueling the insurgency in Iraq and terrorism world-wide;
  2. Weakening America by diminishing its credibility even further while continuing to isolate the U.S. from allies.

The above was a press release for a full page ad they had taken out in the New York Times. The copy of the ad on their own web site provides sources for their claims and points.

The Washington Post noted how U.S. Administrator for Iraq until the handover, Paul Bremmer, had curbed the powe of Iraqis in various ways, and is quoted at length:

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has issued a raft of edicts revising Iraq's legal code and has appointed at least two dozen Iraqis to government jobs with multi-year terms in an attempt to promote his concepts of governance long after the planned handover of political authority on Wednesday.

Some of the orders signed by Bremer, which will remain in effect unless overturned by Iraq's interim government, restrict the power of the interim government and impose U.S.-crafted rules for the country's democratic transition. Among the most controversial orders is the enactment of an elections law that gives a seven-member commission the power to disqualify political parties and any of the candidates they support.

The effect of other regulations could last much longer. Bremer has ordered that the national security adviser and the national intelligence chief chosen by the interim prime minister he selected, Ayad Allawi, be given five-year terms, imposing Allawi's choices on the elected government that is to take over next year.

Bremer also has appointed Iraqis handpicked by his aides to influential positions in the interim government. He has installed inspectors-general for five-year terms in every ministry. He has formed and filled commissions to regulate communications, public broadcasting and securities markets. He named a public-integrity commissioner who will have the power to refer corrupt government officials for prosecution.

Some Iraqi officials condemn Bremer's edicts and appointments as an effort to exert U.S. control over the country after the transfer of political authority....

Bremer has defended his issuance of many of the orders as necessary to implement democratic reforms and update Iraq's out-of-date legal code. He said he regarded the installation of inspectors-general in ministries, the creation of independent commissions and the changes to Iraqi law as important steps to fight corruption and cronyism, which in turn would help the formation of democratic institutions.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Walter Pincus, U.S. Edicts Curb Power Of Iraq's Leadership, Washington Post, June 27, 2004, Page A01

While a number of other rules Bremer has drafted also sound positive, many, when considered in the backdrop of insecurity and violence may be met with stern resistence. The above Post article also ended with comments from Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who is a specialist on Iraq. Cole, the Post said, noted that the appointed electoral commission's power to eliminate political parties or candidates for not obeying laws would allow it “to disqualify people someone didn't like.”

Cole “likened the power of the commission to that of religious mullahs in Iran, who routinely use their authority to remove candidates before an election. ‘In a way, Mr. Bremer is using a more subtle form than the one used by hard-liners in Iran to control their elections,’ Cole said.”

The Associated Press made a number of observations. For example

Although the interim government will have full sovereignty, it will operate under major restrictions - some of them imposed at the urging of the influential Shiite clergy which sought to limit the powers of an unelected administration.

For example, the interim government will only hold power seven months until, as directed by a United Nations Security Council resolution, there must be elections “in no case later than” Jan. 31. The Americans will still hold responsibility for security. And the interim government will not be able to amend the Transitional Administrative Law, or the interim constitution. That document outlines many civil liberties guarantees that would make problematic a declaration of emergency.

Tarek El Tablawy, In surprise move, U.S. transfers sovereignty to Iraqi government ahead of schedule, Associated Press, June 28, 2004

There are at least two additional interesting things to note from the above:

  1. The Post article implied that some of Bremer's orders will remain in effect “unless overturned by Iraq's interim government”, while AP noted that the interim government would not be able to amend the transitional law or interim consitution. If AP is right, then it would strengthen critics' argument of U.S. control, and even if the Post is right that the interim government can overrule all the laws, then it still shows U.S. intentions.
  2. Perhaps an interesting observation for those who see all forms of Islam as a threat to the world in some way is the note AP made that it was the influential Shiite clergy that sought to limit the powers of an unelected administration picked by the current U.S. administration. (As an opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun notes (July 4, 2004), democracy may come from a different source than expected. “Someday there may be real democracy in Iraq. If that day comes, it may be because a legitimate Iraqi leadership was inspired by the nobility and eloquence of America's founding fathers, the common sense and decency and honesty of their motivations. Not much of that exists among their political descendants in Washington today.”)

Associated Press also noted an example of a controversial law that Bremer had signed which gave U.S. and other Western civilian contractors immunity from Iraqi law while performing their jobs in Iraq. The idea outraged many Iraqis the AP noted, as the law allows foreigners to act with impunity even after the occupation.

Sovereignty Under Continued Occupation?

The issue of remaining U.S. forces under U.S. command presents a dilemma. On the one hand some argue that they are needed to help with security. On the other hand, others argue that it is because of their presence that there is worse security and instability.

A commentary by M. B. Naqvi in IPS argues that transfer of sovereignty is fiction, while occupation remains fact. “What kind of sovereignty will [Iraq] have if there are foreign armies in the country and under foreign command - an arrangement it cannot change?” Naqi Asks.

Long time political commentator, Tariq Ali also weighs in saying that this is not sovereignty:

The plan to “transfer sovereignty” to Iraqis on June 30 is [ironic], as all Iraqis remember, this is a farcical repeat of what the British did after World War I when they received a League of Nations mandate to run Iraq. When the lease expired they kept their military bases and dominated Iraqi politics. The British embassy in Baghdad made the key decisions.

After June 30 it will be the US embassy that will play this role and John Negroponte, a tried and tested colonial official, who watched benignly as the death squads created mayhem in Central America, will be the de facto ruler of Iraq. The former CIA agent, Ayad Allawi, who worked as a low-level police spy for the Saddam regime and was responsible for handing over the names of numerous dissidents, will be the new “Prime Minister”.

... US ideologues such as Samuel Huntington now speak of the “democratic paradox”. The paradox is the fact that people might elect governments unfriendly to the US.

And few doubt that the two key demands of any genuinely elected government in Iraq would be (a) the withdrawal of all foreign troops and (b) Iraqi control of Iraqi oil. It is this that unites a large bulk of the country.

Tariq Ali, This Is Not Sovereignty, ZNet Commentaries, July 3, 2004

Painting a far bleaker picture and looking at Iraq in an international context, Francis Boyle, professor of international law says that many of the more powerful countries in the U.N. Security Council are only interested in carving up Iraq for their own interests. “The peoples of the world are now witnessing the rapid decline of the United Nations itself along the lines of what happened to the League of Nations in the 1930s. Can World War III be far behind?” he asked.

U.S. Retains Real Control; U.N. Role Unclear

At the beginning of June, 2004, United Nations (UN) resolution 1546 was unanimously passed endorsing the June 30 transfer of sovereignty in Iraq and giving authorization for a U.S.-led multinational force. The unanimity came because there was enough ambiguity and compromise in the resolution. Amongst many other things, the resolution:

  • Would allow the multinational force to serve “at the request of the incoming interim government of Iraq” and the force can be asked to leave at anytime.
  • Allow the force to take “all necessary measures to contribute to maintenance of security and stability” in Iraq allowing a 12-month deadline for the force to be reviewed.
  • Leave the interim government in power until national elections are held preferrably on December 31, 2004 though no later than January 31, 2005.

As CSM noted (in anticipation of the resolution), this would be good for both the U.S. in its international relations, and for Iraq, that will be given some world legitimacy even though it is a hand-picked interim government.

However, as Christian Science Monitor also added

  • There was a lack of any real definition of a UN role;
  • Along with continuing limits on the abilities of a new Iraqi government, the US will remain largely in charge of Iraq;
  • The “multinational” force would comprise of 158,000 foreign troops, under U.S. command, 138,000 of which are American.

CSM also spoke to Lee Feinstein, a security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and former official at the State Department, who indicated the preference of the U.S. to have some control and influence in Iraq: “The Bush administration could have made getting more international participation - troops and money - a larger focus of its diplomacy, and it would have used the resolution to do that,” says Mr. Feinstein, “But that would have required real bargaining, whereas they preferred the large American embassy that's being set up working pretty much alone with the Iraqi government.”

Due to the continued U.S. presence and command in this way, some criticize the U.N. resolution of, in effect, legitimizing the occupation.

Real Legitimacy

Perhaps Iraq's real legitimacy will come from the U.S. truly leaving Iraq, eventually. As so many have pointed out, not all the resistance is terrorist and Islamic militancy in nature. Some resistenence appears to be because of the want to get rid of foreign occupation from their land. No doubt, some non-Islamic militant/extremist groups also want to fill in power vaccums themselves, and may not be democratic either, but not all resistance can be characterized that way, either.

On Friday July 2, 2004, Channel 4 news (I think -- it could have been the BBC) in U.K. broadcast a piece on Iraq looking at the torture legacy of Saddam Hussein. They intervied someone who claimed to have been tortured by Saddam for many years in prison. Yet, almost surprisingly, when questioned about his views on the current occupation forces, he said that while he was happy the U.S. got rid of Saddam, at his earliest opportunity he would like to join forces with others who are violently trying to eject the U.S. from their land. One of the things that had convinced him of this cause was the torture U.S. troops were committing on Iraqi captives. Ironically, having suffered torture for many years under Saddam Hussein, this person was now equating the U.S. occupation forces with Saddam.

Professor of History, William Marina offers an interesting parallel in history:

The lessons of the American Revolution applicable to today epitomize the adage, “those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Such a sea-change has occurred in Iraq, as continued American occupation and misuse of power has resulted in increasing numbers of common Iraqis seeing America's involvement - and America's hand-picked replacement government - as illegitimate.

The second parallel to draw between the American Revolution and Iraq today is the power of the militia. For despite the popular picture of George Washington and his forces, it was ultimately the popular militia that truly defeated the organized British army. The British left New England early in the War, and controlled really only New York City for the duration. They evacuated Philadelphia due to American pressure. British soldiers did not go out at night in less than battalion strength.

Americans in Iraq are similarly hunkered down and facing a hostile and armed populace. Even for well-equipped armies, confrontation inevitably means killing many among the civilian population who sustain these unconventional forces. And the vicious cycle is that such violence only reinforces the “loss of legitimacy” that feeds continued insurgence. The first rule of counterinsurgency is to separate the guerrilla or irregular forces from the general population. This implies the occupiers have control, in some sense, of the entire country. And such is far from the case in Iraq.

In America, the conflict with the British played out from 1768 to1783, and it took until 1789 to craft a Constitution that could be agreed upon. The sooner the Iraqis can start their own Constitutional Convention, forging a system that is truly “of and for” their people, one with “legitimacy” and capable of gaining the consent of the governed, the sooner insurgency, death, and destruction will end in Iraq.

William Marina, The American Revolution and Iraq, The Independent Institute, July 2, 2004

Media handling of handover

Many mainstream media outlets have presented a sort of idealistic view of what the handover represents, though a few have noted various ironies, some, such as Channel 4 in the UK even suggesting that the transfer of sovereignty may still be viewed as occupation. David Edwards, co-editor of media watchdog MediaLens, surveys a lot of mainstream media responses and notes:

In short, nothing has changed. The same broadcast media that fooled itself into fooling the public into taking the Bush-Blair case for war seriously - Iraq possessed lethal WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction], had links to al-Qaeda, and therefore posed a “serious and current” threat to the West - is now trying to fool us into taking the Bush-Blair case for Iraqi “sovereignty” seriously. The media are not neutral observers of deception, they are central players.

David Edwards, Let Freedom Reign - The Big Lie, ZNet Commentaries, July 4, 2004

U.S.-led Coalition Cannot Account for Billions of Iraq's Dollars

At the end of June 2004, just when the new interim government was to be announced, the British charity and development organization, Christian Aid noted that:

The US-controlled coalition in Baghdad is handing over power to an Iraqi government without having properly accounted for what it has done with some $20 billion of Iraq's own money...

Christian Aid believes this situation is in flagrant breach of the UN Security Council resolution that gave control of Iraq's oil revenues and other Iraqi funds to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)....

Resolution 1483 of May 2003 said that Iraq's oil revenues should be paid into the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), that this money should be spent in the interests of the Iraqi people, and be independently audited. But it took until April 2004 to appoint an auditor - leaving only a matter of weeks to go through the books.

Fuelling suspicion: the coalition and Iraq's oil billions, Christian Aid, June 28, 2004

However, as Christian Aid also notes, they themselves highlighted in October 2003 that some $4 billion were unaccounted for then. That this is Iraq's money and being handled by the U.S., and still not being accounted for, is perhaps as scandalous as Sadam Hussein's lavish spending on weapons and palaces.

Iraq starts off with a lot of its own money missing as a result, which is a big problem in a country with a lot of instability and violence, unemployment and urgently needing to show credibility and effort to get things moving.

IPS also reporting on Christian Aid's report also adds that lack of transparency is leading to unaccountability:

Groups critical of the lack of transparency in the CPA's spending have been particularly angry that the authority is using Iraqi money to pay for questionable contracts -- some awarded without a public tendering process -- with U.S. companies.

Washington has restricted the most lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq to gigantic U.S. companies that appear set to rack up profitable contracts, fuelling accusations that the Bush administration is seeking to benefit a select few U.S. companies rather than find the best, and possibly the cheapest, options to help the Iraqi people rebuild.

Emad Mekay, Charity Finds Billions Missing In Iraqi Oil Revenues, Inter Press Service, June 28, 2004

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Who is Iyad Allawi?

The country's new interim president and prime minister don't rate highly with Iraqis, Time magazine noted (June 1, 2004).

The Iraqi Prime Minister chosen was Iyad Allawi (a Shia Muslim), and the President, Ghazi al-Yawer (a Sunni Muslim). Because there will not be proper democratic elections for Iraq until 2005, these two and the rest of the interim government were handpicked by the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (which itself was mostly handpicked by the U.S.) The Council had also picked a team of people to write Iraq's new constitution.

Time noted that “The two men at the top of the list ... were just last month ranked bottom of a list of potential leaders - by their own countrymen.”

Allawi provided the claim that Iraqi WMDs could be operational in 45 minutes.

As well as concerns about U.S. handpicking members of the interim government, it was also implied that the U.N. Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also had a questionable hand in this, though many point out that he too was constrained by U.S. interests. (In May 2004, the U.N. Special Representative in Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi described Bremer as “the dictator of Iraq”. “Nothing happens without his agreement in this country,” Brahimi said, as IPS noted.)

Yet Allawi has three major things going against him:

  1. His CIA connections (despite some criticism from him of the U.S-led Coalition), as well as former connections to the British MI6;
  2. Being a former Ba'athist; and
  3. Being a returning exile

Time highlights this, too:

Why do Iraqis have such a poor opinion of Allawi? Sadoun al-Dulame, executive director of the ICRSS [Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies], pointed to one reason: “Every newspaper that has reported about his appointment has mentioned his CIA connection.” Although Allawi has sniped at the U.S.-led Coalition in recent months, it's his ties to Langley that seem to have registered with Iraqis. (His organization, the Iraqi National Accord, is funded by the CIA.) “He's a CIA man, like [Ahmed] Chalabi,” said Raed Abu Hassan, a Baghdad University political science post-grad. “In this country, CIA connections are political poison.” It doesn't help that the Shiite Allawi is also a former Baathist, and a returning exile. Many Iraqis are scornful of politicians who left the country during the Saddam era.

Aparism Ghosh, Who's Iyad Allawi, and Why Should He Run Iraq?, Time, June 1, 2004

Al-Yawer is virtually unknown and was not an active political figure during Saddam's reign, though he is a leading figure of a northern Iraqi tribe who had kept a low profile until only recently.

Because Allawi will be really running the government, his past and the concern it raises with many Iraqis may make things even more difficult.

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Who is Ahmed Chalabi?

As The Guardian article mentioned above also noted, “Huge divisions are now apparent within Iraq's opposition, not least between returning Iraqi exiles, like Ahmed Chalabi, who have been demanding prominent positions in any transitional government, and the grassroots movements, many of them focused on local Shia leaders who are demanding an Islamic state.” This also implies the divisions within Iraq's opposition groups could mean that long term occupation by the U.S. and U.K. (which may also be illegal, according to the British Attorney General, without further U.N. resolutions) could fuel more hostility.

Since writing the above, Chalabi fell out of favor with the U.S. but looking at his background and some of the details he reveals about how the Iraq war came about is very instructive.

Some such as Ahmed Chalabi (head of the Iraqi National Congress INC) are controversial. The neo-conservative and right-wing hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office for a long time had been resting their hopes on Chalabi for a transition that will protect Washington's many interests in Iraq, as noted by Jim Lobe for the Inter Press Service (February 20, 2004).

The above report noted that Chalabi had shrugged off accusations that his group had deliberately misled the Bush administration for providing misleading information to go to war on Iraq. He has long been known to be friendly to neo-conservatives in the U.S. administration, and the way he shrugged off the accusations led to more concerns about the Bush administration going to war on false pretenses:

“As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful”, [Chalabi] told the [Telegraph] newspaper. “That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants”.

It was an amazing admission, and certain to fuel growing suspicions on Capitol Hill that Chalabi, whose INC received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past decade, effectively conspired with his supporters in and around the administration to take the United States to war on pretences they knew, or had reason to know, were false.

Indeed, it now appears increasingly that defectors handled by the INC were sources for the most spectacular and detailed -- if completely unfounded -- information about Hussein's alleged WMD programmes, not only to U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to U.S. mainstream media, especially the “New York Times”, according to a recent report in the New York “Review of Books”.

Within the administration, Chalabi worked most closely with those who had championed his cause for a decade, particularly neo-conservatives around Cheney and Rumsfeld -- Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defence Douglas Feith and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

... Chalabi even participated in a secret DPB [Defence Policy Board] meeting just a few days after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon in which the main topic of discussion, according to the “Wall Street Journal”, was how 9/11 could be used as a pretext for attacking Iraq.

Jim Lobe, Chalabi, Garner Provide New Clues to War, Inter Press Service, February 20, 2004

Lobe also notes in the same article that Chalabi's family has “extensive interests in a company that has already been awarded more than 400 million dollars in reconstruction contracts.”

After years of collaboration (detailed below), into May of 2004, Chalabi appeared to fall out of favour with the Bush Administration. Reasons implied include:

  • A lot of discredited claims of proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction came from sources that Chalabi provided. The poor intelligence has caused major embarrassment with the Bush Administration and fury elsewhere.
  • Claims (which Chalabi denies) that he passed classified U.S. government information to Iran (something related to informing Iranian intelligence that the CIA had broken some of their codes.)

In addition, he was hardly popular with Iraqis, as he had worked with the Americans and was a returning exile, both of which are not looked on favorably.

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Chalabi provides detailed insights into world propaganda campaign to gain support for a war against Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi may no longer be Washington’s most favored Iraqi and may not, for now, hold any of the top positions in the Iraq government, but the lessons from Chalabi, his background, his long relation with the U.S., and how he helped the U.S. in creating the climate for a war are very important to understand how some aspects of power, foreign policy and propaganda work. The following summarizes a report from The Manipulator by Jane Mayer, in The New Yorker, May 29, 2004:

Propaganda and lobbying to convince a people to go to war

Chalabi followed very closely the example of how U.S. President Roosevelt, who abhorred the Nazis, at a time when isolationist sentiment was paramount in the United States, managed to persuade the American people to go to war. (Chalabi lobbied for the Iraq Liberation Act, which Congress passed in 1998, making regime change an official priority for the U.S.)

Chalabi succeeded in getting the U.S. to invade Iraq. “Judith Kipper, the Council on Foreign Relations director, said that, [in the mid-1990s] Chalabi made ‘a deliberate decision to turn to the right,’ having realized that conservatives were more likely than liberals to back the use of force against Saddam.” But subsequent political fallouts and problems for the U.S. can’t solely be blamed on Chalabi, for that would be scapegoating and by-passing accountability.

U.S. Government funnelling lots of money to agitators

The U.S. government, from 1992 until Chalabi fell out of favor, funnelled more than 100 million dollars to the INC, 39 million of which came from the current Bush Administration. This was used to create the false and exaggerated claims to help rouse an opposition and justify war.

Support in future Iraqi government

In the case of Chalabi, Mayer reported that a U.S. State Department official told her that “Every list of Iraqis they wanted to work with for positions in the government of postwar Iraq included Chalabi and all of the members of his organization.”

U.S. Government out-sources creation of opposition

A technique to avoid direct implication in something is to get others to do it, and help them if needed. Sometimes this is covert (where a lot of conspiracy theories come from, or, when real leaks about darker operations from CIA and others are revealed, they can easily be dismissed as conspiracy nonsense, if needed).

With Iraq, as Mayer noted, “In addition to generating anti-Saddam news stories and creating a travelling ‘atrocity exhibit,’ which documented the human-rights abuses of Saddam’s regime, the Rendon Group — a public relations firm, specializing in ‘perception management’, was charged with the delicate task of helping to create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam.”

This involved out-sourcing the global propagana and media campaigns using expert public relation companies and planting false stories as part of a disinformation campaign:

Out-sourcing global propaganda campaign

Chalabi’s key lobbyist in Washington was Francis Brooke. During the 1990s the company Brooke worked for, the Rendon Group, received funding from the C.I.A to help create an external opposition movement to Saddam Hussein. Rendon Group, “set out to influence global political opinion against Saddam.” The C.I.A. could’t do this directly due to scandals surrounding similar things in previous decades, so they out-sourced the propaganda operation. (This technique also serve to distance a government from claims of direct involvement.)

Out-sourcing global media management

Planting stories (some true, some false, some exaggerated or twisted), is a common technique. In the case of Iraq, “The [Rendon] group began offering information to British journalists, and many articles subsequently appeared in the London press. Occasionally, [Brooke] said, the company would be reprimanded by project managers in Washington when too many of those stories were picked up by the American press, thereby transgressing laws that prohibited domestic propaganda. But, for the most part, Brooke said, ‘It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic.’” (Emphasis Added)

Disinformation campaigns

Mayer notes the length that the INC went to, with the knowledge of the U.S:

In 1994, [former C.I.A. officer Robert] Baer said, he went with Chalabi to visit “a forgery shop” that the I.N.C. had set up inside ... Kurdistan. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.” Baer had no evidence that Chalabi forged any of the disputed intelligence documents that were used to foment alarm in the run-up to the war. But, he said, “he was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” In the Los Angeles Times, Hugh Pope wrote of one harmless-seeming prank that emerged from Chalabi’s specialty shop: a precise mockup of an Iraqi newspaper that was filled with stories about Saddam’s human-rights abuses. Another faked document ended up directly affecting Baer. It was a copy of a forged letter to Chalabi, made to look as if it were written on the stationery of President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter asked for Chalabi’s help in an American-led assassination plot against Saddam. “It was a complete fake,” Baer said, adding that he believed it was an effort to hoodwink the Iranians into joining a plot against Saddam; an indication of American involvement, Chalabi hoped, would convince them that the effort was serious. Brooke acknowledged that the I.N.C. had run a forgery shop, but denied that Chalabi had created the phony assassination letter. “That would be illegal,” he said. To Baer’s dismay, the letter eventually made its way to Langley, Virginia, and the C.I.A. accused him of being involved in the scheme. Baer said he had to pass a polygraph test in order to prove otherwise.

Jane Mayer, The Manipulator, The New Yorker, May 29, 2004

While the above were in the mid-1990s, in the lead up to the 2003 war, the I.N.C. were planting many stories (“products” as they called it) in the mainstream media. Some outlets reported fake stories as front-page items.

And consider the following:

In an unusual arrangement, two months before the invasion began, the chief correspondent for the [New York] Times, Patrick E. Tyler, who was in charge of overseeing the paper’s war coverage, hired Chalabi’s niece, Sarah Khalil, to be the paper’s office manager in Kuwait. Chalabi had long been a source for Tyler. Chalabi’s daughter Tamara, who was in Kuwait at the time, told me that Khalil helped her father’s efforts while she was working for the Times.

Jane Mayer, The Manipulator, The New Yorker, May 29, 2004

Noting how “information can become propaganda”, Mayer told of how the Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected wrote the influential memoir Saddam’s bombmaker, even though he had not been involved in Iraq’s nuclear program for nearly a decade, and even then did not have a prominent role, and had made various false claims. Furthermore, “Chalabi’s people helped Hamza to promote his story to the media, and the tale became widely known. Cheney began giving alarmist speeches about the imminent Iraqi nuclear threat. On August 26, 2002, he declared that Saddam had ‘resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons,’ and might soon be able to engage in ‘nuclear blackmail’ with his enemies.” For a population that had suffered its worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil just under a year earlier, such scaremongering would likely be effective.

Indeed, for those wondering why the Bush Administration simply didn’t build the case for war on humanitarian grounds (no-one could seriously deny Saddam’s ruthlessness), it seems that the Bush Administration felt the really effective way to try and build the case would be to play on fears of American citizens by asserting claims of rogue/terrorist links and weapons of mass destruction. As a result, Mayer concluded, “the war was largely marketed domestically as a scare campaign, and the I.N.C. was enlisted to promote the danger posed by Saddam’s regime.”

The huge list of things the U.S. claimed regarding Iraq has been discussed at length in other parts of this site, so is not repeated here, other than to say that many of the claims fed to the media, the Security Council, and, as it seems to appear, to other governments, were part of a campaign to get support for war. (Mayer’s report also lists many examples of disinformation that have not been mentioned on this site.) Some of the techniques used are highlighted a bit further below.

Chalabi’s own agendas

In the case of Iraq and Chalabi, Mayer details Chalabi’s rise, numerous connections to top world politicians, and a lot of corruption and manipulation that Chalabi was capable and accused of. Adding an interesting perspective, Mayer describes in detail that Chalabi came from a family that was extremely wealthy and powerful in Iraq (and somewhat ruthless according to some accounts). When Saddam Hussein came to power, the previous ruling elite (which his family was part of) lost out immensely. Democracy and freedom might be words used for the general public, but since then, Mayer implies, Iraq regime change has been a personal agenda for Chalabi.

Pitting American Politicians and institutions against each other

Chalabi had made many close political ties but had a falling out with the CIA and the Clinton Administration. Brooke and Chalabi used this to bring the neoconservatives into the picture:

The I.N.C.’s disastrous history of foiled C.I.A. operations under the Clinton Administration could be turned into a partisan weapon for the Republicans. “Clinton gave us a huge opportunity,” Brooke said. “We took a Republican Congress and pitted it against a Democratic White House. We really hurt and embarrassed the President.” The Republican leadership in Congress, he conceded, “didn’t care that much about the ammunition. They just wanted to beat up the President.” Nonetheless, he said, senior Republican senators, including Trent Lott and Jesse Helms, “were very receptive, right away.”.

“Judith Kipper, the Council on Foreign Relations director, said that, around this time, Chalabi made ‘a deliberate decision to turn to the right,’ having realized that conservatives were more likely than liberals to back the use of force against Saddam.”

As Brooke put it, “We thought very carefully about this, and realized there were only a couple of hundred people” in Washington who were influential in shaping policy toward Iraq. He and Chalabi set out to win these people over. Before long, Chalabi was on a first-name basis with thirty members of Congress, such as Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich, and was attending social functions with Richard Perle, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, who was now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Dick Cheney, who was the C.E.O. of Halliburton. According to Brooke, “From the beginning, Cheney was in philosophical agreement with this plan.”

Jane Mayer, The Manipulator, The New Yorker, May 29, 2004

More manipulation was evident:

“I should have asked him what [Chalabi] could give me,” [Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott] Ritter said [when Chalabi offered evidence of Saddam Husseins weapons programs in the mid 1990s]. “Instead, I let him ask me, ‘What do you need?’” The result, he said, was that “we made the biggest mistake in the intelligence business: we identified all of our gaps.” Over the next several hours, Ritter said, he outlined most of the U.N. inspectors' capabilities and theories, telling Chalabi how they had searched for underground bunkers with ground-penetrating radar. He also told Chalabi of his suspicion that Saddam may have had mobile chemical- or biological-weapons laboratories, which would explain why investigators hadn’t been able to find them. “We made that up!” Ritter said. “We told Chalabi, and, lo and behold, he’s fabricated a source for the mobile labs.” (The I.N.C. has been accused of sponsoring a source who claimed knowledge of mobile labs.) When Ritter left the U.N., in August, 1998, there was still no evidence of mobile weapons laboratories. Chalabi’s people, Ritter said, eventually supplied detailed intelligence on Saddam’s alleged W.M.D. programs, but “it was all crap.”

Ritter had one other memorable encounter with Chalabi. Six months after the London meeting, Ritter was feeling dispirited. U.N. investigators had discovered trace evidence of VX nerve gas on warheads in Iraq; he was concerned that Saddam was still hiding something. Chalabi invited him to the town house in Georgetown, and they discussed the VX discovery. Chalabi then talked to Ritter about doing intelligence work for the I.N.C. In a demonstration of his seriousness, he showed Ritter two studies advocating Saddam’s overthrow. One was a military plan, written, in part, by a conservative friend, retired General Wayne Downing, who had commanded the Special Forces in the first Gulf War. The study suggested that Iraqi insurgents would be able to topple Saddam almost by themselves. Since the plan required few American troops, it could be easily sold to Congress. Ritter, a former marine, told me that he wasn’t impressed. He recalled, “I said, ‘I don’t think the small units could do the jobs you’re saying. It’s a ploy to get the Americans involved.’” Chalabi, he said, did not deny it. “So how come the fact that you'd need more American assistance is not in the plan?” Ritter asked. “Because it’s too sensitive,” Chalabi replied.

Jane Mayer, The Manipulator, The New Yorker, May 29, 2004

Iraq and September 11 link for Bush

The Bush Administration were keen from the beginning to address the Iraq issue, and September 11 provided an opportune moment:

When the Bush Administration took office, in 2001, neoconservatives such as Wolfowitz and Perle were restored to power. Brooke told me that in February of that year Wolfowitz called him late one night and promised that this time Saddam would be deposed. ...

After the attacks of September 11th, many in the Administration began to consider a pre-emptive strike against Saddam’s regime, and they eagerly received Chalabi’s intelligence briefings. In 2002, an Information Collection Program for I.N.C. intelligence, which had been funded by the State Department, was transferred to the Defense Intelligence Agency, a division of the Pentagon. “Chalabi was the crutch the neocons leaned on to justify their intervention,” [General Anthony] Zinni said. “He twisted the intelligence that they based it on, and provided a picture so rosy and unrealistic they thought it would be easy.”

The C.I.A. remained skeptical of the defectors that the I.N.C. was promoting, and insisted on examining them independently. President Bush was informed of the C.I.A.’s view of Chalabi soon after taking office, but he ultimately sided with Vice-President Cheney and the neocons. In the months before the invasion of Iraq, Bush and Cheney both referred in public addresses to Saddam’s mobile weapons laboratories. Six weeks before the U.S. invasion, in a February 5, 2003, address to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell - who had initially found the intelligence on W.M.D.s inconclusive - spoke of unnamed eyewitnesses, one of whom had supplied “firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and rails.” It was, he testified, “one of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq.”

...

Chalabi and his supporters have argued that critics like Zinni have inflated the exiles' role in offering misleading intelligence about W.M.D.s. “How can we be blamed for the failure of the entire world’s intelligence?” Chalabi asked me. Certainly, there is blame to share, most notably among the war’s civilian planners in the Department of Defense and the White House, who flouted intelligence protocol by accepting the I.N.C.’s information without rigorous vetting. As Robert Baer, the former C.I.A. official, put it, “Chalabi was scamming the U.S. because the U.S. wanted to be scammed.”

Jane Mayer, The Manipulator, The New Yorker, May 29, 2004

(As an aside, the intelligence community appears to be taking the brunt of criticisms for failure in finding weapons of mass destruction. For a while many have thought the Bush Administration is trying to deflect criticisms of political accountability to technical issues of intelligence. The above would suggest that the President did know of the CIA’s reservations. If so, the decision to go to war seems less based on intelligence, more based on political decisions. Consequences should likely be political in nature too. Some are considering war crime charges against Bush, Blair and others, though these types of ramifications of their decisions are less discussed in the mainstream media.)

Some readers will point out that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant (true), so this criticism of Chalabi or the Bush Administration is unfair because of what they achieved. However, the point here is that the reasons they cite to the public versus the real goals can be wide off the mark, and so, questioning the motives of Chalabi, the Bush Administration and others is important. Fundamentally this is also about government accountability in deciding to go to war, because so many lives on all sides are affected. If concerns were truly humanitarian, it is likely that the massive global opposition would not be as large. Chalabi’s past suggests he is less than democratic, and the Bush Administraion is constantly being criticized for taking more draconian measures and being less and less democratic, especially in the international arena. Using human rights and democracy as the reason to invade Iraq from people who appear not to be so themselves is therefore a concern.

His popularity amongst Iraqis might be very limited, but Chalabi’s political acumen suggests he will be around for a long time.

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This article is part of the following collection:

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Tuesday, May 20, 2003
  • Last Updated: Sunday, July 04, 2004

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Document Revision History

DateReason
July 4, 2004A handover of power from U.S.-led forces to Iraqis has occurred. But the sovereignty seems to be limited. In addition, washington seems to have restricted lucrative oil contracts to mostly U.S. companies while the U.S-led coalition cannot account for some $20 billion of Iraq's money.
June 5, 2004An insight into Chalabi's past reveals important information about how the campaign to wage war on Iraq came about.
April 24, 2004Updated on controversy about how much power will be transitioned to Iraq; about the controversial Chalabi as U.S. preferred person to be part of Iraqi leadership

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