WASHINGTON - July 3 - The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) welcomes the transfer of certain powers this week to an interim Iraqi Government as a much-needed first step toward empowering the Iraqi people. But serious questions remain. The most immediate is: has real change taken place, or is the U.S. still in control of Iraq's future?
On June 28, 2004, the day of transfer, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy operations chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), told Associated Press Radio, "The political arm of our operation here has gone out of business. Certainly the military operation has not gone out of business."
This is not true or real sovereignty. The interim Iraqi Government will be hampered by a comprehensive set of binding military orders, an inability to make long-term policy decisions, and the presence of 138,000 US troops. Surging violence, which has led to 1,258 Iraqi deaths between May 4 and June 17, will further complicate steps towards independence.
Mary Ellen Mc Nish, AFSC's general secretary, described the required change: It's an awesome task -- nothing less than the complete reversal of existing practices and policies that were secretly designed, poorly planned, and decided without meaningful participation from the Iraqi people. These policies ultimately fail to address the most basic human needs of the Iraqis.
Restoring Security and Legitimacy
Great challenges await the new interim Iraqi Government as it establishes critical elements of civil society:
1) Creation of an Iraqi Army and security force to re-establish the rule of law these bodies were disbanded by the U.S. authorities;
2) Restoration of essential services health care, electricity and water and sanitation - to acceptable levels;
3) Establishment of peaceful conditions necessary to hold free and fair elections by January of 2005;
4) Development of a healing process among the religious and secular forces that are seeking ways to engage in the political process.
The United States must remove not only the public face of occupation, but also the hidden structures of control. AFSC recognizes the responsibility of the U.S. government to provide financial support and to recruit other funds from the international community to restore Iraq. But the scandal of a no-bid policy on reconstructions contracts awarded to U.S. firms and the resultant unregulated profiteering has been disastrous. As of June 28, fewer than 140 of the 2,300 promised construction projects had been started.
The collapse of government ministries and the disbanding of police and armed forces have thrown Iraq into a chaotic spiral. These conditions will not change with half-measures.
To correct these conditions, the U.S. must make several major changes: 1) stop this war, 2) end the occupation and begin a phased withdrawal of US troops, 3) make full reparations to the Iraqi people and government, and 4) cooperate with the Iraqi people to repair the terrible damage that the war and occupation have caused.
Challenging the vision
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is an ideological war a war of ideas without regard to human needs or security. The radical policy of first-strike or pre-emptive war was carried out with a frightening display of overwhelming military strength. It polarized opinion in this country and caused resentment and fear around the world.
The ideological roots of this war continue to shape the debate. Some people believe this is a war of liberation that would bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East, while others believe it is an imperial adventure, the extension of a modern empire and US domination. How people understand the war largely shapes their understanding of next steps.
AFSC challenges the continued U.S. military occupation. It fails to bring democracy and security, but instead fosters fear and domination. The painful impact of U.S. policies in Iraq is felt daily by men, women and children caught in the crossfire of a military adventure that is not of their making. Iraqis have the talent, dedication and capacity to transform their nation and create security, prosperity and peace. It is time for the U.S. and the international community to step aside and let Iraqis take charge of their own future.