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Chalabi: What Iraqis Want

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A year after Saddam was deposed, the Iraqi people are grateful for liberation but tired of occupation and delayed promises. Only sovereignty, democracy and justice will satisfy us now.



April 15, 2004; Page A14

The most ominous harbinger for the future of Iraq to emerge from the week of bloodshed that has engulfed parts of the country is the collapse of the indigenous Iraqi security structures put in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Few of the police resisted Muqtada al-Sadr's activists while some joined his militia and many simply ran away. Half of the army mutinied. The intelligence service did not produce accurate or useful intelligence, and elements of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC), which is designed to be a national paramilitary force, also mutinied and may be implicated in the murder and mutilation of the four Americans which touched off the siege of Fallujah.

While not all members of the police, army and ICDC failed to do their duty, enough did that the CPA must undertake an urgent review of its plan to stand up coherent Iraqi security forces before the handover of sovereignty on June 30. The CPA's policy of recruiting law enforcement officers and soldiers without allowing nominations or vetting from its allies within the Iraqi political system must be revised. If not, then the new Iraq will end up with security forces of dubious loyalty and little courage or motivation.

The one bright spot among the Iraqi security forces has been the 36th Battalion of the ICDC. This special unit, which was formed from the hardened fighters of the anti-Saddam opposition, has performed admirably and bravely in Fallujah. The officers and men of this battalion were nominated by the main political parties of the struggle against Saddam, who are America's chief allies in Iraq today: the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Congress. These parties and others are able to immediately field a cadre of loyal and motivated troops. Most importantly we can provide forces that have been vetted and vouched for.

Reconstituting the old Iraqi army would be a grave mistake. The notion that CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer's decision to disband Saddam's army contributed to the postwar violence in Iraq is simplistic and wrong. The army was overwhelmingly made up of conscripts, mostly from the Shia majority. They did not want to be there and they took the first chance they could to go home. They would have deeply resented any attempt to keep them in the army they hated. The officer corps was mainly from Saddam's minority community. Some were steadfast supporters of the Baath Party and many of those are leading the postwar terrorism. U.S. Marines have confirmed that ex-Republican Guard officers are among the organizers of the Fallujah insurgents. Others are guilty of crimes, human-rights abuses and corruption, and are not fit for duty. Mr. Bremer made the correct decision to wipe the slate clean and build a new professional Iraqi army which will have as its primary purpose the defense of the nation, not the oppression of the people.

The CPA, the Iraqi Governing Council and the provisional government that will take power on June 30 must make greater efforts to bring the fruits of liberation to the lives of the mass of the Iraqi people. Sadr has attracted support because of growing discontent among the Shia. Dispossessed, abused and disenfranchised for so many years under the Baath, Iraq's Shia rejoiced at America's promises of liberation and democracy. Yet one year later liberation has become occupation, democracy is delayed, Baathists are returning to positions of influence, and while mass graves and torture centers have been revealed, the victims have yet to receive justice.

The alienation of the Shia is fostered by increasing calls in Washington, backed by the Arab capitals, for scaling back de-Baathification and bringing about "national reconciliation" between Iraq's communities. Both of these are seen by the Shia as euphemisms for renewed Baathist domination and Shia disenfranchisement. Careless comments by American politicians such as Sens. Carl Levin and Jay Rockefeller, who recently criticized the de-Baathification process, are replayed with glee by the Arab media and serve only to heighten the anxieties of the Shia majority and propel them into the arms of Sadr.

At the same time there must be greater efforts to empower the leaders in the Sunni community who are opposed to Saddam and Baathism and will support democracy in the new Iraq. There are many such leaders but they lack resources, organizational skills and, most importantly, the confidence to speak out. Iraqis must understand that democracy is not a zero-sum game where one community will triumph at the expense of others.

A year after Saddam was deposed, the Iraqi people are grateful for liberation but tired of occupation and delayed promises. Only sovereignty, democracy and justice will satisfy us now.

Mr. Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is founder of the Iraqi National Congress.


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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-01-06 07:15 AM

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