Testimonies recently obtained by FRB-I uncover details that puncture the dominant US-narrative surrounding the ‘transfer of sovereignty’ to a new Iraqi-entity. In portraying themselves as liberators, George. W. Bush’s administration rode mightily upon the claim of restoring what rightfully belongs to Iraq, omitting the fact that they had suspended its's sovereignty upon invading the country.
Was Iraq not a sovereign actor pre-2003? Acknowledging this fact would require America to recognise the right of Iraqis to defend their lands and dignity.
The piece presented unpacks the question of what guided the decision of handing power back. Testimonies featured reveal a contradiction in the form of ‘sovereignty’ America awarded Iraq in June 2004, and the conventional understanding of sovereignty — since the force that occupied Iraq 14 years ago, has maintained its firmly rooted militarised presence.
Against this backdrop, sovereignty translated into a social contract that Iraqis were forced uncomfortably into, without agreement or consent.
An American powered sovereignty
The installation of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) — a caretaker government comprised of 25 US-vetted Iraqi exiles — was touted as proof of America’s benevolent intentions. The commitment and ability of the men chosen to satisfy Iraq's variegated demands, stirred deep concerns. It was not long before society and onlookers realised that the men brought to politics were unable to sway the outcome of US-sponsored regime change.
The gift of sovereignty was preceded by its suspension.
The occupant decided early on that the slate would be wiped clean. National laws were unravelled and legislative and judicial organs were paralysed.
Media-consultant Mustafa Kamil who worked in Iraq between the year 2000 and 2005, spoke to FRB-I about the ‘American peace’ he encountered, and the backdoor discussions and secret dealings he witnessed firsthand.
“The push back to square one was initiated”, he began, “by the zone of immunity Americans drew around themselves, uprooting old laws, and transplanting new ones, under the Coalition Provisional Authority’s (CPA) direction” he said.
The power vacuum and lawlessness that transformed Iraq into the wild west, was gradually filled by unknown non-state actors, Kamil explained, revisiting his memory of Iraq at the time.
But Iraq’s institutions were the first to fall victim to the US-led invasion.
CPA chieftain, Paul Bremer — head of the occupational body — after replacing a softer Jay Garner, claimed to be exercising the powers of the government, temporarily.
Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, adopted May 22, Britain and America were recognised, on the one hand, as occupying forces, but on the other, the UN stressed the right of Iraqis to determine their own political future.
Orders issued by the CPA, actively prevented a diversity of Iraqi factions from entering the political process, and denied them the choice of forming their own democratic institutions and guiding mechanisms.
Then-UN special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, cautioned America over the exclusion of Iraqis who opposed America’s plans from the negotiating table. Brahimi viewed America's selection as a thin representation of Iraq’s regions, noting that neither Mosul nor Kut were represented.
Bremer’s monopolistic tendencies, were summarised in Brahimi’s comparison of him as a dictator, whether jokingly or otherwise. Brahimi, as reported by The Times, had proposed his vision for transitioning Iraq from occupation to self-rule, by dissolving the IGC and “replacing it with a caretaker government headed by politically disinterested technocrats.”
The reality was clear, and Brahimi resigned himself to the restrictions that limited his powers as envoy. How then would Iraqis fair?
In later years, Bremer’s predecessor, Jay Garner criticised CPA’s orders 1 and 2, in particular, for dismantling the most important foundations of the state, spawning in turn, anti-US insurgency elements some of which have splintered into insurgent and terrorist formations.
“The new government was anything but the product of UN and Iraqi cooperation, as it was sold by America, who in fact eradicated civic, public, military, fiscal and political institutions, and the foundations on which they stood” Kamil said.
The more adhesive details of how Iraq’s polity would look, according to Kamil, were secretly drafted in the lead up to the war, during the infamous ‘Hilton Conference’ in London — one of the main power bases of the Iraqi opposition, alongside Damascus, Tehran and Washington.
“Towards the end of May 2003, I met with a man who became minister of defence, and later culture, under Nouri al Maliki’s reign; Saadoun al Dulaimi. He enunciated these very words: ‘I am charged to receive either the ministry of defence or interior’ after Iraq was handed back sovereignty. Exactly that happened, two years later.
These allocations, Kamil explained, happened with the CIA’s full knowledge. The ‘Coordination and Follow-up Committee’ was established during the London conference for that exact purpose. Pulling together a total of 66 representatives, ‘US agents of power’, as Kamil described, became “responsible for receiving charge of Iraq’s ministerial institutions once the occupation formally ended”.
As Americans laid down new patterns of infrastructure and oversight, Iraqis from outside the ‘66-man core’ were slowly filtering into the IGC.
t would seem odd, surely, for America to accept such an intervention to protect its agenda, but the reality was that a quota needed to be met, and so the hunt for novices, minorities and women, began.
America needed to show the world it was doing right by Iraq.
A case in point, is the entry of state-employee and technocrat, Aqeel al Hashemi, who existed outside of the sealed parameters of Washington’s circle of 'trusted' men.
“Aqeel looked great on paper; a bilingual woman, with years of diplomatic and administrative experiences in state affairs” was how Kamil described her. But a perceived clash of rival interests, led to Hashemi’s murder, Kamil concluded.
The game, with all its players, was heavily guarded. Any emergent actors, that appeared on Iraq's nascent political scene, not Washington or C.I.A. backed, were denied the same privileges awarded to US confidantes.
One strong political candidate who entered the council reluctantly, was revered Iraqi diplomat, Adnan al Pachachi. His re-entry into politics revived hopes for an Iraqi-led nationalist political system and meaningful change.
“Pachachi landed in Baghdad on May 7th, 2003”, Kamil said. The media advisor went on to accompany Pachachi in his meetings with Massoud Barazani, Jalal Talabani, Abdul Aziz al Hakim, and Ibrahim al Jaafari. “I came to observe these political personalities closely” he explained, “as Pachachi met with each of them, alone sometimes, or together during other occasions.”
“As a man sought after by many, his presence did generate fear in the minds of those who perceived his involvement as a threat to American and British interests” Kamil said.
Pachachi was visited by the American occupational representative, Paul Bremer and his British counterpart, John Sawers, Britain’s special representative in Iraq. A rude awakening from Sawers jolted Pachachi into realising that Iraqis would be given no pass to repair their country and rebuild civil society.
Kamil’s testimony reveals revelatory remarks sounded by Sawers to Pachachi, who was told: “there is nothing for you [Iraqis] other than advisory positions and you will not be granted any administrative authority. The first ministry you will be handed is the ministry of health, leaving defence and interior till last”.
Unsatisfied with Sawers unashamed pronouncement — for backpedaling on promises Iraqis were made — Pachachi wrote a letter to Sheikh Zayed, asking him to discuss the matter further with Tony Blair’s government. The Sheikh sent his son Mohammad to lobby the British government, but the situation was irreparable.
Iraq’s legitimacy deficit
In the eyes of the people, the IGC, could not be recognised as sovereign, for the legitimacy it lacked.
The non-elected body exposes an important caveat about sovereignty, or rather competing, divisible sovereignties. The selection process exposes America’s imperial privileges, acting in pursuit of military ends, and its in-built hypocrisy for celebrating a war they claimed to have won. "No war or peace was won, or self-governance", Kamil said.
“Occupying forces, lest we forget, do not operate under conditions of stability, chaos is required, if they are to promote a culture of impunity and corruption” Kamil said, a reality that has left a permanent mark on Iraq.
Ministries have since been handed back, but the political show is firmly in the grasp of not only Americans but also Iranian military personnel, deemed “advisers” by the Iraqi government.
These actors litter Iraq’s battlefields, capitalising upon the weaknesses of a political process America implanted to reinforce its permanent presence in Iraq.