Bremer suddenly left Iraq on Monday, having "transferred sovereignty" to
the caretaker Iraqi government two days early.
It is hard to interpret this move as anything but a precipitous flight. It
is just speculation on my part, but I suspect that the Americans must have developed
intelligence that there might be a major strike on the Coalition Provisional
Headquarters on Wednesday if a formal ceremony were held to mark a transfer
of sovereignty. Since the U.S. military is so weak in Iraq and appears to have
poor intelligence on the guerrilla insurgency, the Bush administration could
not take the chance that a major bombing or other attack would mar the ceremony.
The surprise move will throw off all the major news organizations, which were
planning intensive coverage of the ceremonies originally planned for Wednesday.
This entire exercise is a publicity stunt and has almost no substance to it.
Gwen Ifill said on U.S. television on Sunday that she had talked to Condoleezza
Rice, and that her hope was that when something went wrong in Iraq, the journalists
would now grill Allawi about it rather than the Bush administration. (Or words
to that effect). Ifill seems to me to have given away the whole Bush show. That's
what this whole thing is about. It is public relations and manipulation of journalists.
Let's see if they fall for it.
Allawi is not popular and was not elected by anyone in Iraq. The Kurds were
sullen today. There were no public celebrations in Baghdad. When people in the
Arab world are really happy, there is celebratory fire. They are willing to
give Allawi a chance, but that is different from wholehearted support.
What has changed? The big change is that Allawi now controls the Iraqi government's
$20 billion a year in income. About $10 billion of that is oil revenues, and
those may be hurt this year by extensive sabotage. To tell you the truth, I
can't imagine where the other $10 billion comes from. The government can't collect
much in taxes. Some of it may be foreign aid, but not much of that has come
in. The problem is that the Iraqi government probably needs $30 billion to run
the government properly, and with only two-thirds of that or less, the government
will be weak and somewhat ineffective.
Since Bremer was a congenital screw-up, just getting him and his CPA out of
the country and out of control may be a good step forward. Allawi won't care
about Polish style shock therapy for the economy. Allawi does not have any investment
in keeping Iraq weak or preventing it from having a proper army. But how the
Iraqi military, if brought back, can operate in a security environment where
there are 160,000 foreign troops under U.S. command is unclear.
So that some group of Iraqis now control the budget and can set key policy
in some regards may be significant. But the caretaker government is hedged by
American power. Negroponte (the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad who has just arrived
in the country) will control $18 billion in U.S. aid to Iraq. Rumsfeld will
go on controlling the U.S. and coalition military. There isn't much space left
for real Iraqi sovereignty in all that.
Another danger is that Allawi will overshoot and provide too much security.
He is infatuated with reviving the Ba'ath secret police or Mukhabarat, and bringing
back Saddam's domestic spies. Unlike the regular army, which had dirty and clean
elements, all of the secret police are dirty, and if they are restored, civil
liberties are a dead letter.
The guerrilla insurgency will continue, perhaps become more active. My wife
Shahin, always a keen and canny observer, thinks the guerrillas will make their
priority number one the assassination of Allawi.
also the article by Michael Hill of the Baltimore Sun, where I and others