Indirect rule triumphs in Iraq

In his glowing portrait of "sovereign" Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reveals something very important. He quotes Allawi from over a decade ago, when he was attempting to overthrow Saddam Hussein, as saying, "We were originally leading members of the Baath Party, so we still have a lot of supporters in the Iraqi establishment. We subscribe to the theory that we can only change the regime through the existing establishment."

And here we see the only viable option that the United States ever had in achieving its goals in Iraq — decapitate the Baath power structure but preserve the body, substituting the USA as the new overlord.

America's goals have always been control of Iraq's oil, permanent military bases from which to police the Middle East, and access for American corporations. The spectacularly arrogant neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon thought the best way to do this would be to eliminate the old power structure: abolish the army, dismantle the Baathist bureaucracy, transfer control of the economy from the state to American corporations, and impose American clients like Ahmed Chalabi as the new lords. They thought the Iraqi people would welcome foreign domination since it was replacing Sunni brutality.

But the occupation failed. Iraqis did not welcome the domination of the country that had attacked them twice in 12 years and imposed devastating sanctions on them in between. The promises of reconstruction were left unfulfilled. Security was impossible to maintain as members of the military and Sunni establishment took up arms, and were eventually joined by Shia. Privatizing the economy into American hands ran into legal trouble.

The balance of power within the administration shifted from the neoconservatives to the more cautious planners in State and the CIA. Allawi was a CIA asset for years, and always a rival to Chalabi. His elevation represents a decisive repudiation of the revolutionary neoconservative attempt at outright colonialism, now replaced by the honored imperial use of indirect rule thru existing power structures.

Allawi has moved quickly to reestablish the old ruling apparatus, reconstituting the military and giving himself sweeping powers to impose martial law. The Baath bureaucracy, because it was needed to keep things running, was never purged except at the highest levels. This will become the social base for the new American approach.

This is the same approach the USA used in the occupations it ran after World War II: West Germany, Japan, South Korea. Destroy the leadership for its crime of disloyalty to America, but retain the economic and bureaucratic elites as long as they swear fealty to the United States. In Germany and Japan the formula was highly effective. But Iraq may be more like Korea, because an independent power center exists outside of the state and business elites. In Korea, it was popular and highly organized revolutionary leftist organizations; in Iraq it's the Shia, organized thru important clerics. Resistance to American goals wasn't exterminated in Korea until the use of wholesale repression followed by catastrophic war. This may be Iraq's fate as well.

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