We hope the early turnover of sovereignty in Iraq did foil a possible terrorist attack timed to coincide with the scheduled turnover today, although there’s no direct evidence of that. It’s about time the terrorists were fooled or frustrated.
No matter the timing of the ceremony, of course, what all parties choose to call sovereignty at this point is somewhat less than complete so long as 140,000 U.S. and other foreign troops occupy Iraq and are looked to as the chief guarantor of security.
It would be foolish not to expect more terrorist actions designed to hamstring the interim government. Those people held captive and threatened with beheading, including a U.S. Marine based at Camp Pendleton, are warning signs enough of the seriousness of the terrorist and insurgent intentions.
The handover itself, as Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute said, is “largely symbolic anyway, but it is an important symbol. It is a signal that the United States does not plan to maintain permanent control over Iraq.” If it is followed by actions that suggest genuine independence, that in itself should begin to quell terrorist acts.
In addition to the obvious security problems — insurgents and terrorists are active and not enough Iraqi police and military personnel are trained and mobilized to control them — Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi faces the daunting task of convincing Iraqis and their neighbors that Iraqis are truly running the country now.
The most helpful thing the United States could do would be to announce a date certain when U.S. military forces will be withdrawn from Iraq.
Without those troops available as a symbol of foreign occupation, Iraqi terrorists will lose the kind of credibility that leads some Iraqis to wink at their actions or even help and harbor them. The violence won’t end overnight, of course, but in combination with decent intelligence and police work, the immediate terrorist threat might be neutralized.
Beyond establishing better security, an important priority for the new Iraqi government will be to establish some psychological distance between itself and the United States. The United States says it will stay as long as the new government wants us to; the United States should plan that timetable with Iraqi government officials. At least one military estimate called for maintaining current troop strength through 2007. That seems long and counterproductive to Iraqis.
And, we would suggest the new government review dozens of decrees that U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer put in place before leaving. Over the last few weeks Bremer issued decrees reforming the Iraqi legal system and setting rules for the transition to democracy and elections.
Among them are a rule giving a seven-member commission the power to disqualify political parties and the candidates they support, and requiring that a third of the candidates on every party’s slate be women. Bremer also appointed inspectors general for five-year terms in every ministry and decreed that the national security adviser and national intelligence chief appointed by Allawi serve five years, regardless of the outcome of elections.
Many of these 97 decrees are well-meaning efforts to counter corruption and cronyism in the new government. But Western-style institutions (or institutions some political scientists wish had been adopted in the West) do not fit every country and culture.
The new government would do well to review these decrees and invalidate at least some of them, if only as a gesture of independence.
It works best for all for the United States to remake its relationship with Iraq as swiftly as possible — from one of occupier to ally; from giving orders through a U.S. administrator to consulting through Ambassador John Negroponte; and eventually, from awarding special contracts to do work in a war zone to encouraging voluntary trade among many.
Even under the best of circumstances the road ahead for Allawi’s government is a hard one. We wish him a modicum of peace and better fortune than is likely to be his lot.