On the U.S. plans for a new Iraqi provisional government

An Iraqi cover for continued U.S. occupation

by Mark, Detroit
(CV #33, March 25, 2004)

From one fraud to another
The interim constitution
The interim constitution and conflicts within the bourgeoisie in Iraq
The November 2003 plan for a sham provisional government
The November plan and fundamentalist opposition
The UN tries to reconcile the occupation regime and the fundamentalist clerics
Bush's covers up for Islamic fundamentalist attacks on women


. The U.S.-led occupation regime tells the Iraqi people it's there to liberate them, and then subjects them to its dictate. Thus, it has faced widespread and persistent resistance. The longer this quagmire drags on, the more the administration is feeling the heat in the U.S. too. In this situation the Bush regime feels obliged to have more of an Iraqi cover for the occupation. Hence, they are attempting to patch together an Iraqi provisional government by the end of June. They have no intention of easing their repression of the masses. But along with this, they are cautiously moving to give more of a role in running things to sections of the Iraqi bourgeoisie they deem fit. The Bush regime hopes this quells the anger of the Iraqi masses against the occupation. By giving the Iraqi bourgeoisie more of a role, they are trying to shift attention away from their own responsibility for the miserable state of affairs in Iraq and have the Iraqi officials absorb more of the blame. By the same token, by giving more of a role to newly-created Iraqi police and military forces in the repression of the masses, they hope to keep U.S. casualties from mounting.

. The Bush administration promotes its transition to the provisional government as marking the end of the U. S. occupation and the start of real Iraqi self-rule. From now on, they claim, U.S. troops will merely be there at the invitation of the Iraqi people. With such rhetoric, Bush hopes not only to placate the Iraqi masses, but make the American people believe that Bush's debacle in Iraq is really a great triumph just as the presidential election campaign swings into high gear.

. But the reality of the situation is something else. Under the U.S. plans for the provisional government, the U.S. occupation doesn't really end, but changes form. More of the daily anti-insurgency policing and political affairs will be in the hands of the provisional government. But the huge U.S. troop presence will remain in Iraq and will always be there to intervene if the provisional government is unable to put down mass unrest or if policy decisions start jeopardizing U.S. interests. Indeed, since the provisional Iraqi government will rely on the U.S. to protect it from the masses, its ability to say no to U. S. plans for Iraq will inevitably be compromised. Moreover, while the CPA will no longer govern, an army of officials, advisors and CIA agents brought in by the CPA will remain, now under the guise of a 3,000-member diplomatic mission. These officials have for some time been picking and grooming the new Iraqi bureaucracy, so undoubtedly they'll still have much influence over the provisional government's policies. Moreover, before the provisional government even takes power, the U.S. has helped write an interim constitution and has sought other agreements that will provide for a continued military presence and insure that Iraq becomes an unregulated capitalist haven for the multinationals.

. The Bush plan opposes the Iraqi people having any say about the occupation, its plans, or the composition of the new Iraqi government. Thus, it opposes elections. For the U.S., Iraqi sovereignty need not have anything to do with elemental democratic rights.

. The U.S. opposition to elections for the provisional government is an affront to the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people and shows the imperialist occupation is afraid power might pass to people they don't like. In particular they are wary of the domination of Islamic fundamentalists. There is much hypocrisy in this stand, however, as the U.S. is also courting certain Islamic clerics and has signed off on an interim Iraqi constitution that incorporates the notion that Iraqi law mustn't contradict Islamic beliefs. Moreover, the threat of fundamentalist oppression cannot justify the oppression of the occupation authority.

. Of course, the question of what forces will come to power in elections is also of concern for the Iraqi masses. Fundamentalist rule would be a horror. In fact it must be recognized that under present conditions, one or the other secular or religious bourgeois forces, or combinations of such forces, will come to power. But this does not mean that the mass demand for elections is wrong. To deny elections would mean perpetuating the tyranny of the occupation authority. This would hardly be a guarantee against the Islamic fanatics either since the U.S. has already made concessions to them. The only real alternative is for the Iraqi working people to develop their own trend which fights on two fronts: against the occupation and against the fundamentalist clerics and other reactionaries. This is tied up with the struggle for democratization, which includes not just national elections but local and regional elections, the ending of imperialist dictate (even under a UN umbrella), freedom for the masses to organize, separation of mosque and state, etc.

From one fraud to another

The provisional government that is supposed to take power in June is really not the first attempt to provide an Iraqi cover to the occupation. Soon after the occupation, the so-called Iraqi Government Council (IGC) was established for this purpose. IGC members were hand-picked by the U. S. and had no real power as CPA leader L. Paul Bremer had to approve all decisions. The IGC included an array of bourgeois forces with contending visions of the future of Iraq and a shared disdain of the masses. There were exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, whose main base of support was the Cheney-Rumsfeld crowd in the Bush administration. There were secular bourgeois nationalist groups rooted in Iraq, such as the main Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK. There were Sunni and Shia religious forces, including the Shia fundamentalists of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Even the leader of the so-called Communist Party of Iraq was brought in, a misnamed group which long ago abandoned revolutionary class struggle for reformism and alliances with an array of bourgeois nationalist forces.

. Under U.S. tutelage, the IGC was supposed to write a constitution which would be followed by elections down the road sometime. But it quickly became evident that the Iraqi people weren't buying this fraud. The IGC was devoid of popular support and fast becoming a target of the masses. On top of this, the U. S. grew somewhat disenchanted with its own creation. It was upset with the IGC's failure to do anything about security and restoration of basic services. Meanwhile the IGC complained that the U. S. hadn't empowered it to do anything.

. So in November 2003 the Bush administration and the IGC adopted a new plan which would replace the IGC with a provisional government in June of this year. This plan too had nothing to do with democracy. Due to massive opposition inside Iraq, a big part of this plan was scrapped. Still it is worthwhile to look at the discarded part of the plan as well as it provides a stark example of the occupation regime's attitude toward the rights of the Iraqi working people. It shows U. S. imperialism measures a country's democracy not by the extent of rights for the masses, but by how cooperative its government is with the U.S.

The interim constitution

. The first step of the November plan was that the U.S. and its IGC stooges were to write a temporary constitution, sometimes referred to in the press as a "fundamental law." This part of the plan went ahead and in early March the interim constitution was adopted by the IGC. The U.S. not only helped write the constitution but the occupation authority had to approve it, which it did. As for the Iraqi people, they had no input or vote on the matter.

. The U.S.-IGC November deal also was supposed to provide for a separate agreement to be reached by the end of March on the status of occupation military forces once the provisional government is formed. The November agreement sets the parameters on this matter, requiring the future Iraqi government "giving wide latitude" to the coalition forces in Iraq. The new interim constitution embodies these principles, stating in Article 59 that "the Iraqi Armed Forces will be a principal partner in the multinational force operating in Iraq under unified command" of the U.S -led occupation forces. In any case, both U. S. and British officials have long made known they plan to keep troops in Iraq for at least a couple of more years no matter what.

. Evidently the CPA also wanted a host of "free-market" reforms it has already imposed to help the multinational corporations invade Iraq to be incorporated into the new fundamental law. The interim constitution does say that all decrees of the CPA will remain in effect for the time being, though it also states a future Iraqi legislature that is supposed to come into being at the beginning of next year would be able to rescind or change these decrees.

. The new interim constitution makes clear that the provisional government, which it officially calls the Iraqi Interim Government, will not be an elected body. It is to be chosen by "deliberations and consultations" "conducted by the [Iraqi] Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority and possibly in consultation with the United Nations." However, it does promise elections at the end of this year for a national assembly. This assembly is supposed to write a permanent constitution by mid-August 2005. If it can accomplishes this, and this is a big if given contradictions within the Iraqi bourgeoisie, there's to be a referendum on the permanent constitution in October 2005. If the constitution is approved, elections for a regular government are to be held in December 2005. This elections timetable is similar to the one envisioned in the November 2003 agreement.

. But it should be noted that previous election plans have been canceled by the Bush administration when they didn't think the "right" people would be elected. That's why the November agreement and the interim constitution oppose national elections for the provisional government. In 2003 the U.S. canceled many local elections for this reason. And a previous plan to hold national elections by the end of 2004 was also junked. The U.S. policy shifts according to their needs of the moment, not what the Iraqi people want.

The interim constitution and
conflicts within the bourgeoisie in Iraq

. Meanwhile, the interim constitution has not solved many of the major conflicts between different sections of the Iraqi bourgeoisie. Everyone in the IGC grudgingly agreed to the constitution, but only because it left out certain contentious issues and because it was seen as a temporary truce, not a lasting agreement. Indeed, no sooner was it signed, when various parties to it announced they would start campaigning against the features they didn't like.

. One of the on-going fights is over the role of Islamic law. Initial drafts of the constitution stated there should be some influence of Islamic law in the constitution, but fundamentalist clerics were demanding language that would make Islamic law the basis of Iraqi law. The interim constitution tried to tap-dance around the question. It kept the draft's concept of Islam as "a source of legislation" along with other sources. But it attempted to placate the clerics by also adding that no law could be enacted which violates "the universally agreed tenets of Islam". These concessions to religious bigotry are bad enough, but top Shia fundamentalist clerics are still not really satisfied. Indeed only a few days before the interim constitution was signed, eight Shia members of the 25-member IGC walked out of talks on the constitution to protest the reversal of a previous IGC provision which put in place anti-women laws in accordance with Sharia law.

. Nor could the volatile issue of Kurdish rights be resolved. The non-Kurdish bourgeoisie has never recognized the right of self-determination for the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. At most they will only grant the Kurds a certain autonomy and they are divided over that. The interim constitution makes no mention of the right of self-determination for the Kurds.

. For their part, the bourgeois nationalist leaders of the Kurds agree to autonomy in general, but they have their own ideas of what type of autonomy should exist. For instance, there are disputes over what territories will constitute Kurdish areas. This is a major bone of contention because certain regions the Kurdish leadership claim should be under their autonomous government contain some of the richest oil fields in Iraq. Kurdish leaders also want the constitution to prohibit future non-Kurdish Iraqi armed forces from setting foot inside their autonomous region. The rights of minorities (Turkoman, Assyrians, Shias) inside the Kurdish areas is another controversial issue. And they have seen violence and discrimination against them under the reign of the Kurdish leadership and want guarantees against this. The Turkmen representative on the IGC rejected the demands of the Kurdish leadership and threatened to demand an autonomous Turkoman region if they were granted. In the interim constitution many such issues are avoided or left vague and subject to different interpretations. So what's agreed upon will likely satisfy no one.

. In fact, immediately after signing the interim constitution, 12 of the 13 Shia member of the Iraqi Governing Council announced they wanted to quickly overturn certain provisions. Their main target seems to be a measure that says that a future permanent constitution would not pass, even though it received an overall majority of votes, if there were at least three provinces or governates where it failed to get at least one-third of the vote. Since there are three Kurdish provinces, this provision would, among other things, give the Kurds a veto over any constitution that they overwhelmingly opposed. The fight on this provision portends a series of upcoming battles between factions of the bourgeoisie in Iraq over Kurdish rights, oil revenues, etc. Indeed, as Joseph Siegle of the bourgeois think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations put it, the interim constitution is "more a set of guidelines than an enforceable legal document."

The November 2003 plan for a sham provisional government

. There is an interim constitution, but how to form the provisional government that will administer it is currently up in the air. The November agreement between the IGC and the occupation regime had a plan for this, but this part of the agreement collapsed.

. Under the November agreement, the provisional government was to be chosen not by a popular vote, but by caucuses around the country dominated by local tribal chiefs, clerics and other forces oppressing the Iraqi working masses. The caucuses were supposed to choose the representatives to a transitional national assembly. According to the November agreement, the CPA was to "supervise" the process under which the unelected IGC, along with largely unelected provincial and local councils would pick five members each for a 15-member "organizing committee" which solicits nominations for the caucuses. The organizing committee then was to vote on who would be in the caucuses, with 11 of 15 votes required for approval. So the representatives of the Iraqi provisional government were to be "elected" by unelected caucus members chosen by an unelected organizing committee chosen by unelected Iraqi officials imposed on the people by an unelected occupation authority.

The November plan and fundamentalist opposition

. The U.S. plan for the provisional government ignored the will of the masses. A section of reactionary Islamic fundamentalist clerics began protesting the plan too. Shia Muslim leader Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani demanded immediate elections, and in January his call for elections brought 100,000 demonstrators into the streets to denounce Bush's plan. While the Iraqi people want and deserve free elections, the aims of Al-Sistani and other Islamic fundamentalists are anything but democratic. Their ultimate goal is an Islamic theocracy and they have ties to the ayatollahs running Iran. Allegedly, they don't attach the same importance to the ayatollahs directly running the government as is done in Iran. But they want Iraqi laws to conform to their fundamentalist anti-woman, anti-democratic beliefs. Because Shia Muslims are the majority of the country and Al-Sistani and his allies have a large following, they believe elections will bring to power people amenable to their theocratic vision.

. The Bush administration feared elections would lead to a fundamentalist victory. It portrayed its opposition to elections as saving the people from theocratic oppression, while ignoring that the alternative it was offering was the imperialist tyranny of the occupation regime. Actually the U.S. is not opposed to an oppressive regime in Iraq as such. They just want one that fits their plans. Thus, they recruited all sorts of secular and religious reactionaries into their hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council planned the same for the provisional government. Indeed they were friendly to Hussein in the 80's and even after they turned against Hussein they spent many years trying to organize a coup to install dissident pro-U.S. generals from Hussein's army in power.

. But while the U.S. could care less about democracy, they are worried about whether Islamic clerics with strong ties to Iran will be reliable U.S. allies. They are also concerned about the Shia fundamentalists shutting out other sections of the Iraqi bourgeoisie, many of whom have stronger ties to the U.S. This would interfere with U.S. plans to balance power between the bourgeois sectors of different ethnic and religious groups. This is in line with U.S. desires for a united Iraq under the domination of imperialism and the local exploiters. True, a fundamentalist regime in Iraq would also embarrass the Bush regime which claims it's bringing democracy, women's rights, etc. to the Middle East. However, U.S. imperialism has shown itself quite capable of working with the worst religious and secular dregs, despite certain misgivings, if it serves their interests of the moment. Just look at Afghanistan where the U.S. replaced the brutal Taliban regime with a coalition of other anti-women fundamentalist warlords.

. In fact, conditions in Iraq began driving the Bush administration to increasing efforts to placate the fundamentalists. The dilemma for U.S. imperialism was that while they feared Shia clerical domination, they also feared the possibility of the clerics calling for a mass uprising should they reject U.S. overtures. While the clerics have reactionary aims, the masses want elections and if they call for resistance to the occupation, the U.S. fears the consequences. While there have been anti-occupation protests all over Iraq, the most consistent resistance has been in heavily Sunni Muslim central Iraq. If resistance in the predominantly Shia south was to greatly escalate, the occupation regime would face a major disaster. The imperialists' concern about such a scenario could be seen in reports that even British military officers based in southern Iraq were recommending elections as the only alternative to a huge uprising, though this contradicted the Blair government's official stand. This is why Bush became intent on trying to find a way to placate the fundamentalists and incorporate them into their plans.

. Then there were additional headaches for the occupation powers. In the situation of intense opposition to U.S. plans, even Cheney and Rumsfeld's favorite Iraqi leader, Ahmed Chalabi, began demanding an elected provisional government. Next, the U.S.-friendly IGC voted to pull out of its November agreement with the occupation regime for unelected caucuses choosing the June government. The November plan for choosing the provisional government was dead.

The UN tries to reconcile the occupation regime and
the fundamentalist clerics

. Bush, who before the Iraq war denounced the UN as ineffectual, thus found himself scrambling for a new way to slap together a provisional government. While before the war Bush denounced the UN as ineffectual, he now turned to the UN to facilitate an agreement between the occupation regime and the Shia clerics over a future Iraqi government. The UN is no ally of the Iraqi masses. It is a tool of the strongest imperialist governments. Despite misgivings, the UN wound up sanctioning the U.S./British war and the occupation. But there are differences among the imperialists over how to do this, and this is reflected in certain UN stands. The UN is not opposed to imperialist domination of Iraq, but has its own ideas how to carry this out.

. At the end of February, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan agreed with the U.S. that elections could not be held at present and that there should be a new unelected government in June. However, the UN rejected the U.S. plan for unelected caucuses to choose the provisional government. Now the whole situation was up in the air as no plan existed to form the provisional government. The UN put forward some suggestions, including expanding the present IGC to 150-200 members to serve as the provisional government in June and for other types of meetings to facilitate the new government and its constitution. But at we write, there is still no agreed-upon plan.

Bush's covers up for Islamic fundamentalist attacks on women

. While the controversy over the June provisional government forced Bush to bargain more with the fundamentalist clerics, even before this the U.S. had brought fundamentalist leaders such as Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), into the Iraqi Governing Council. In January, Al-Hakim was part of a delegation that met with Bush in Washington. In fact, in a February 8 TV interview on Meet the Press, Bush went out of his way to praise al-Hakim as a man of tolerance opposed to an Islamic extremist regime. In response to questioner Tim Russert's question about whether the U. S. would accept "an Islamic extremist regime" Bush stated, "They're not going to develop that." Bush said he was confident of that because "I remember speaking to Mr. al-Hakim here .  . and he said, it's going to be a free society where you can worship freely. This is a Shia fellow."

. Bush failed to mention that this tolerant fellow had only a few weeks earlier pushed a brutal anti-women resolution through the U. S. -backed Iraqi Governing Council. The measure, called "Resolution 137", abolished what secular laws existed under the Baath Party's system of civil status courts and replaced them with fundamentalist Sharia laws. The civil status courts dealt with marriage, divorce, inheritance and related matters. Under Sharia law, fanatical clerics could force all sorts of oppressive measures against women, relegating them to second-class citizens in society and slaves of their husbands in the family. Depending on the whim of the particular local cleric, women could be subject to forced marriage and compulsory religious clothing along with restrictions on the education, inheritance rights, custody of children, etc. It would also open up wide possibilities for legalized wife-beating and vicious punishments such as stoning for the slightest violations of religious codes.

. Bush also forgot to mention that there were mass protests against Al-Hakim's anti-women measures in Iraq. This law was also rejected by the Kurdish parliament which governs in heavily Kurdish northern Iraq. Under this heat, the American leader of the occupation regime, Paul Bremer, was forced to intervene and stop the law from being implemented.

. And this is hardly the only sign the fundamentalists want a theocratic regime. As mentioned above, they are pushing for the interim constitution to incorporate the principle that religious fundamentalism must be the basis of all Iraqi law. The fact that nonetheless Bush insists on whitewashing religious fanatics like Al-Hakim shows that U. S. has no principled opposition to clerical tyranny. It shows there is a real possibility that Bush and co. may reconcile themselves to the fundamentalist despots.

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