Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Big Mistake

From Robert Pollock's interview with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
"The biggest mistake, honestly, if you go back, was not entrusting the Iraqis as partners, to empower them, to see them do their part, to fill the vacuum, to have a national unity government," he says. According to Gen. Jay Garner, who briefly ruled Iraq before he was peremptorily replaced by Mr. Bremer in May 2003, that was exactly the plan. His provisional government probably would have included Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, secular Shiites Ahmed Chalabi and Ayad Allawi, religious Shiite Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and the Sunni Adnan Pachachi. The idea was that free elections would soon follow.

But "if you read Bremer's book ["My Year in Iraq"], when he came, one of his tasks was to stop these 'exiles,' " Mr. Zebari says. "I think the biggest sin was to change the mission from liberation to occupation. That is the mother of all sins, honestly."

With his use of "exiles," Mr. Zebari is deploying--with some irony--the derogatory term many U.S. diplomats used to refer to the leading anti-Saddam opposition figures. Never mind that the term hardly fit the Kurdish leaders, who had already built what amounted to an autonomous state in Northern Iraq under cover of a U.S. "no-fly" zone. But there was an idea that the group was somehow too "unrepresentative" to serve even as a temporary government.

Where did Mr. Bremer get the idea to slow things down? I ask. "Many people collaborated. It wasn't his idea as such. There was Security Council Resolution 1483 that changed the whole thing. The Americans and British collaborated on that, relying on advice from international lawyers that one way to rebuild this country is to free it from the sanctions--from the U.N.-imposed sanctions--and sanctions can only be lifted when you have an Iraqi authority to negotiate. There isn't. And these bunch of people sitting in that hotel are not up to that job, so let's make ourselves the authority. . . . I think that was the big mistake."
I don't think it's going to be found with Rumsfeld and troop strengths.

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