Dust off the flak jacket. Lay low. And stay off the streets...

At the end of his latest tour, our correspondent reflects on a horrific week in the nation and looks ahead to 30 June

By Robert Fisk

04 April 2004 "The Independent"
-- What would happen if the Americans left tomorrow? This has become the latest buzz-question in the US media. Civil war. Chaos. Anarchy. So we cannot leave. We have to protect the Iraqi people. Ergo, the Iraqi people don't want us to leave. We are protecting them from civil war. We are saving them from themselves. The problem is that many Iraqis would prefer to have the responsibility to look after themselves without our presence.

Simple. On 30 June, "we" are handing over sovereignty - a delicate and illusionary commodity - to the Iraqi "people" who will, no doubt, be profoundly grateful for our generosity. The Baghdad palace of the occupying power will then become the largest American embassy in the world and our appointed and unelected "Iraqi government" will become the beacon of freedom, liberty, equality and everything else we profoundly wish it to be. But now, let's take a look at the facts.

As Nathan Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, has pointed out, the so-called "Coalition Provisional Authority" - the occupying power - has issued unchangeable "orders" on highly significant matters, non-governmental organisations and the judiciary. For example, this places the Iraqi military under US military command until a final constitution begins operating; the new "government" - unelected, of course - will have no power over the Special Tribunals to try former members of the Baath Party.

The Americans control the central bank law and companies law. Institutions to control the press and television in Iraq have been set up by the Americans, including a Communications and Media Commission which will be "solely responsible for licensing and regulating telecommunications, information and other media in Iraq". "Lingering pockets" of American influence will remain.

Thank you, Professor Brown. I got an idea of what this means last week. I am working on a story which revolves around the fate of Saddam Hussein and which, Inshallah, God willing, will appear in The Independent this week. Three times last week, I called my source in a Middle East country, and each time I closed the line, the phone line remained open and the number on my phone transferred to a British telephone number - clearly registered on my receiver - which, when I tried to call it, brought the message "number unassigned". The number was "0044 (for Britain) 000920167". When I asked The Independent foreign desk to patch me into this number, they were unable to do so. When they tried to call the number independently, they received a single unending one-tone sound. Why is GCHQ interested in my calls? Welcome to New Iraq.

The United States also believes it has found a UN resolution which allows it to keep 110,000 US troops in Iraq. Paul Bremer, the US proconsul, has already issued an executive order specifying that the new Iraqi armed forces will be under the command of the American commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who will lead US forces after the "transfer" of power on 30 June. UN Resolution 1511, which conferred the mandate for the US-led alliance - and here I have to thank my old and trusted colleague John Burns of The New York Times - can be used to provide legal justification for the US military command to operate until 31 December, 2005. The interim government will thus provide for the kind of "status of forces" agreement that the US has in dozens of nations where its forces are deployed.

Thus when "sovereignty" is handed over, power will remain in American hands until "the completion of the political process" has been achieved. In other words, Iraq will remain under Anglo-American occupation. The Sunni Muslims, who will have a member in the three-man presidency, claim that this recognises Iraq's interest in having US troops fight Iraq's enemies - or America's version of Iraq's "enemies" - and their insurgency.

Already Iraqis are worried about this. A 1987 Saddamite law which forbids Iraqi workers in state-owned organisations from forming trade unions is to remain in being. Resistance at the work site - political "resistance", that is - will be illegal and trade union leaders can be arrested.

Ordinary Iraqis - ie, those who do not work in Bremer's presidential palace and have no interest in such matters because they want electricity, petrol, work - have shown little interest in these legal titbits. They should have done so.

For what is going to happen on 30 June is not a "handover" of power. We are going to see a mythical "sovereignty" handed to American-paid and sponsored Iraqis who will do Washington's bidding. And favoured for the future US "ambassador" in Iraq is none other than Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-conservative pro-Israeli academic who is a member of the US administration and one of the "hawks" who encouraged the whole disastrous US invasion of Iraq.

So what will the "resistance" do? Any guerrilla force will attempt to overthrow this new administration, to attack its police stations and the "new" Iraqi army. It's not difficult to see what the US has in mind. Already, Iraqi troops man checkpoints with Americans. They share guard duty on Bremer's palace. They wear shades and in many cases - in Sammara, for example - they mount their own checkpoints wearing face masks and hoods. Black hoods are going to be the face of the new "sovereign" Iraq, the new and "independent" Iraq.

Anything, in other words, to get American troops out of the firing line, into desert barracks - where they can be attacked with mortars but will be invulnerable to serious assault - by insurgents, "terrorists" as they will increasingly come to be called. After all, only "terrorists" could attack the army of the new and liberated Iraq.

Therein, to use an old cliché, lies the rub. Will Iraqis respect this new army, this new police force, this new "sovereignty"? I doubt it. They would like an end to the lawlessness, the killings and the kidnaps which have characterised the American occupation for the past year. But they want to live in a country outside US control - and this they will not have.

So come 30 June, dust off the flak jackets, lie low and - if you are a Westerner - stay off the streets and pray that American-paid Iraqis will protect you, along with the thousands of foreign mercenaries who have already been brought into the country. The Americans haven't done very well in protecting their own so far - let us not mention here the atrocity of the killing, mutilating and public hanging of the naked bodies of US citizens in Fallujah last week - so what chance do their Iraqi servants have?

So on 30 June, it's flak jackets on. And dial 000920167. 

Copyright: The Independent. 

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