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A plan for peace in Iraq

About the author
Maura Stephens has been a professional journalist and editor since 1977.

“I wish for Iraq to be like other countries,” my friend H wrote to me recently. “I live in very bad circumstances. Sometimes I wish to kill myself because our life is too bad.”

My friends in Iraq are increasingly frantic, paralysed by fear, in need of help and something to hope for. The attacks in Jordan on 9 November have only added to their agony; Amman is the place where many Iraqis have found refuge, if only for a few days, from the nightmare their lives have become.

The Bush administration had a plan for Iraq – the trickle-down plan: bomb the country, give contracts to already-mega-rich friends to rebuild it, and let the free markets work.

It was a bad plan.

The idea was to let free markets take root by privatising all the businesses that had formerly been government-run. Democracy would take hold, through the capitalist system that has been so successful elsewhere.

Also by Maura Stephens in openDemocracy:

“Letter to my Baghdad friends” (June 2005)

“Broken links in Iraq” (August 2005)

“The heart of Burma” (September 2005)

“Why torture is OK” (October 2005)

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Since the invasion most former government workers – made redundant by Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 – have become unemployed. Even now, more than two-and-a-half years later, official numbers place the unemployment rate in the 65% range. (From my research and discussions with many Iraqis, I think it may be as high as 80%-85%.) There is no better recipe for disaster than to have a majority of men unemployed, especially men who have a wife, children, and other dependents. Add to that the intolerable conditions of rarely working electricity, unreliable telecommunications, ill-equipped schools, barely functioning health care, and a lack of fresh water and food.

Formerly state-owned factories sit idle. They need emergency generators because of the daily blackouts, and they need money to purchase parts and raw materials. Otherwise they are capable of making what is needed to rebuild the country, using Iraqi workers. Instead contracts are going to non-Iraqi companies that employ non-Iraqi workers. The United States Congress has appropriated billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Iraq, yet Iraq’s formerly state-owned factories have been almost completely excluded from receiving contracts. And most of the materials for the reconstruction have been imported at great expense – a waste of money and a slap in the face to the Iraqi people.

Apparently the Bush administration expected the Iraqi people to wait for the free market to make non-Iraqi companies prosperous and then trickle that prosperity down to the Iraqis.

Sectarian division in Iraq has grown to adulthood in just a little over two years. We saw no sign of it in summer 2003; a third or more of the hundreds of people we met were from “mixed families” – Kurd married to Shi’a, Sunni married to Kurd, Sunni married to Shi’a. The schisms that have exploded since the US occupation seem to have been fuelled largely by outside pressure. Apparently some Bush hawks believe that widely divergent parties and perennial conflict make for more interesting politics.

Now the Iraqi people are to have elections in December to choose a new government. Yet with more than 100 Iraqi civilians being killed daily, most of them are too busy trying to keep themselves and their families safe and fed to immerse themselves in policy considerations. Many of my Iraqi friends didn’t have the time or luxury to read the constitution that was voted on last month. (This is not atypical of the Bush administration’s tactics; hardly anyone, including Congress members, had time to read the “Patriot Act” before it was passed just seven weeks after 11 September 2001.)

Bush may well plan to deflect further criticism on Iraq by taking the nation in even deeper somewhere else. In 2002 the administration said that Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Libya are considered by the United States as possible targets for nuclear attack. This kind of rhetoric, not to mention this kind of attitude, fosters resentment, if not potential conflicts. The United States already has a military presence in more than 1,000 places around the world. US troops have been deployed recently in the Philippines, Yemen, Georgia, Colombia, and Indonesia, creating new possibilities for expanded war [see Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, “The Coming Wars”, 24 & 31 January 2005]

All this despite the travesty in Iraq, the utter devastation, the ruination of millions of lives. Yet we hear no administration apology, no admission of mistakes. George W Bush has said that he can’t think of a single error he has made [see Washington Post , 16 January 2005].

Bush believes he has a holy mandate to continue his failed policies in Iraq, driven by the dominionist ideologies of the Project for a New American Century. I believe the reason Americans may have elected him in November 2004 is that they are unaccustomed to admitting defeat, or wrongdoing, and thus did not want to “change horses in midstream”. But now a majority of them want US troops out of Iraq before things get unimaginably worse.

Getting the US troops out quickly is one step in the only scenario that could possibly stem the violence and give the Iraqi people some hope. Here are my eight recommendations:

1) Fire Rumsfeld et al

The men who helped orchestrate this mess – those who crafted the statement in principles of the Project for a New American Century – must be made accountable for the disastrous results of their preventive war in Iraq, and until they are nobody in Iraq is going to believe a word coming out of this administration. Bush must fire defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Congress must impeach vice-president Dick Cheney. Under-secretaries of defense Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and former secretary of state Colin Powell have already left the administration, and “Scooter” Libby has been forced out. Ideally Condoleezza Rice should be replaced as secretary of state.

2) Give the Palestinian people a truly equal place at the negotiating table

The United States and the United Nations must work seriously with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to build a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and to create a Palestinian state. Bush has already paid lip-service to this, but now he has to show the US means business, or the Muslim world will never work with the United States toward peaceful solutions to problems in Iraq or anywhere in the middle east. Anti-Semitism will continue to grow, making Israel more vulnerable. American and European Jews need to get active on this issue, because they stand to lose so much. And people of other faiths who care about interfaith relations should help to build a coalition of resistance to the occupation, involving reconciliation, peace-building, and nation-building for both Palestinians and Israelis.

3) Give Congress the go-ahead to rebuild Iraq

Bush must empower the US Congress to form a bipartisan committee on the US role in rebuilding Iraq, led by moderates from both parties with expertise in both military and humanitarian affairs, and this committee must work closely with the United Nations. The United States must work within United Nations frameworks, without bullying other nations into submission. I wouldn’t hold my breath … but stranger things have happened.

4) Step down in Iraq

The Iraqi people have made it plain in recent polls that some 80% of them want the US out of their country. The United States must step down from its leadership role in the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq and cede this responsibility to Iraq’s relatively friendly neighbouring countries. Only Arab countries – Muslim countries – have a chance of winning the trust of Iraqis, along with respected international peacemakers. It is too late for the United States. All the PR in the world won’t make up for what Iraqis see now as fifteen years of punishment, including nearly three years of occupation. Twenty-eight – even twenty-four – months ago, there was a chance of proving that the US was sincere in its desire to help Iraqis. Now the promises it made are perceived as utterly insincere.

5) Invite others in to help

Iraqis are understandably mistrustful of the United Nations because of the years of sanctions, but an international group of friends led by internationally recognised peacemakers, in which relatively friendly neighbouring countries (while still far from perfect themselves) participate at the highest level, would have a much better chance to be accepted as partners in peace-building and government-building by most of Iraq’s legitimate political parties. I’ve heard this from dozens of friends and interviewees. As my friend D, a Shi’a from Mosul, says: “America cannot expect the Iraqi people to work with people who do not understand Muslim and Arabic culture.” Countries that could possibly share leadership, while very far from perfect themselves, are Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

I also suggest inviting Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, UN high commissioner for human rights, member of the International Commission of Jurists, and current executive director of the Ethical Globalisation Initiative; Desmond Tutu, whose voice of reason and gentleness of spirit are respected worldwide; and several moderate and well-respected Muslim clerics with no political baggage (I’m still researching these, but will be happy to consider nominations).

The United States must recognise that it is not the sovereign ruler of Iraq and that Iraqis are fully capable of creating a political system that works. It may not be the system the United States wants, but isn’t that what self-governing is all about?

6) Fund books, not bombs

The United States and its “coalition partners” must put their reconstruction money into Iraqi companies, hiring Iraqi workers to rebuild schools, homes, hospitals, and infrastructure. The big multinationals have to be sent home immediately.

7) Get the troops out

The United States must craft a policy for full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the middle of 2006, and stick to it. It should replace at least 30,000 of the departing troops with trained civilian peacekeeping personnel who would be available to serve under the new international peacekeeping body once it is formed, and generously support humanitarian and rebuilding efforts.

8) No military bases

The United States must pledge to maintain no permanent military bases in Iraq.

Conclusion

These steps are just a start; there is a lot more that will need to be done in Iraq if the country is ever to know peace. Something new has to be done to end the raging violence. The only chance that any of these policies will be implemented is if other countries work together to pressure Bush and if US citizens pressure their legislators to pressure the White House. It is heartening to know that some in the Congress, led by Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha are finally beginning to realise the Bush-Cheney plan is a losing proposition and the country needs to withdraw immediately from Iraq.

As individuals, Americans should lobby with their wallets. We have to stop patronising corporations – as customers and as investors – which follow practices against our beliefs, and we have to support those whose ethics are sound. We have to be there to help the Iraqi people.

This column uses material from several of Maura Stephens’s talks on Iraq.


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