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Is the U.S. bringing democracy to Iraq?

By Sharon Smith | November 21, 2003 | Page 9

UNTIL LAST week, George W. Bush insisted Iraqis were not "ready" to rule themselves, while the occupation's chief administrator, Paul Bremer, warned, "short-cutting" the road to self-rule "would be dangerous." But after an emergency summons to Washington last week, Bremer has placed Iraq on the fast track to "sovereignty"--announcing that the U.S. occupation will officially end in June and power will be assumed by an interim Iraqi government.

This rapid change of course marks an about face from the occupiers' original plan for Iraq--that formal authority would be handed to an Iraqi government only after overseeing the drafting of a new constitution.

But this carrot is accompanied by a giant stick. The announcement of the rush toward Iraqi sovereignty was coupled with the unveiling of "Operation Iron Hammer," the U.S. military crackdown on suspected insurgents. U.S. troops are now bombing targets in Baghdad neighborhoods while stepping up house-to-house searches rounding up Iraqi civilian "suspects."

With the clock steadily ticking toward Election 2004, this is just the latest smoke-and-mirrors ploy by an increasingly desperate Bush White House to provide an "exit strategy" for an occupation that is careening toward disaster--vividly illustrated by the mounting U.S. death toll.

The new plan will not bring the Iraqi people one step closer to democracy--power will be transferred in name only. "Our presence here will change from an occupation to an invited presence," Bremer said as he predicted U.S. troops would remain in Iraq for years to come. Bremer is especially hazy about the details of how the interim government will be chosen--leaving open the possibility of the selection of local delegates to a "transitional assembly" by the Iraqi Governing Council (itself hand-picked by the U.S. occupiers) who would then elect an interim government.

Direct democracy in Iraq would entitle Iraq's majority Shiite population a determining voice in Iraq's future, potentially leading to an Islamic republic--an outcome the U.S. is determined to prevent at all costs. An Iraqi "transitional assembly" harks back to Afghanistan's loya jirga, held in June 2002, which elected the interim government headed by President Hamid Karzai.

Far from a showering of democracy, the U.S. flew in U.S. State Dept. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad--a former Unocal oil executive--to work hand in glove with Karzai (a former consultant for Unocal) and Afghan warlords to manipulate the votes behind the scenes. The U.S. determined the political landscape of post-Taliban Afghanistan, allowing the gang of warlords who ruled the country before the Taliban to resume control.

Eighteen months after the loya jirga, Afghanistan remains under the gangster rule of the warlords, women once again face mass rape and torture, and Afghanistan has produced its second largest harvest of opium in history, supplying 75 percent of the poppies used for the world's narcotics. And 10,000 U.S. troops remain stationed there, fighting a war with no end in sight.

Bush has hailed the new plan for Iraq as "an important step toward realizing the vision of Iraq as a democratic, pluralistic country at peace with its neighbors." The Bush administration expects the world to believe that our unelected president--who recently banned the American press from filming the coffins of dead U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq--will usher in an era of unfettered democracy to Iraq.

But like the one before it, the new plan looks doomed to fail in the face of the swelling Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation. Even the CIA is now warning that growing numbers of Iraqis are joining the resistance--estimated by some intelligence sources at more than 50,000 active supporters.

The CIA argued that the U.S. military's own policies have fueled hostility among Shiites--as in the recent killing of the mayor of Sadr City by trigger-happy U.S. troops--and the new crackdown is likely to drive more ordinary Iraqis to resist. As journalist Robert Fisk noted recently in Britain's Independent newspaper, "Bush claims he's going to introduce democracy in the Middle East when his soldiers are facing more than resistance in Iraq. They are facing an insurrection."

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