Replace Khalilzad!
By Abbas J. Ali, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 2, 2006, 01:51

Under considerable pressure from the Iraqi populace, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has boldly attempted to regain the integrity of his office. In his press conference (October 25) he denounced Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad�s intervention in government affairs and his demands that the Iraqi government follow a timetable to implement his instructions.

In response to Khalilzad�s dictates Al-Maliki stated, �This government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to set a timetable for it.�

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on October 26 dismissed suggestions that the process of setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government was a formal one and involved fixed deadlines. Similarly, President Bush tried to downplay the issue and declared that the Iraqi government is �sovereign.� Nevertheless, Ambassador Khalilzad has forcefully pursued his plan for benchmarks and fixed timetables.

On October 27, al-Malilik appeared to understand the limit of his authority and swiftly reversed his earlier statement, �We do not believe in a timetable.� He acknowledged in a joint statement with Khalilzad that �The Iraqi government has made clear the issues that must be resolved with timelines for them to take positive steps forward on behalf of the Iraqi people.� This development evidences that al- Maliki is resigned to the fact that the ultimate source of authority in Baghdad is Khalilzad, not the Iraqi people.

International affairs experts have been wondering how Khalilzad, when it comes to Iraq, bluntly defies the secretary of defense and President Bush. On several occasions, Khalilzad has ignored instructions from his superiors. In an interview with Fox News (October 17), Bush rejected the idea of establishing three �autonomous regions� in Iraq. However, Khalilzad in a meeting with the Kurdish warlords in Northern Iraq assured them that the U.S. is not against an autonomous Kurdish region and made it clear that Kurdish militias can engage in security matters in other parts of Iraq (Asharq alawsat, October 27).

Khalilzad is not a typical diplomat. He is an ideologue and a committed neoconservative. Trained and mentored by leading neoconservatives (e.g. Paul Wolfowitz, Albert Wohlstetter, Richard Perle, etc.) he has learned how to fuel crises and create political vacuums, while disregarding the gravity of their consequences. In 1990, for example, he was an adamant advocate of attacking Saddam and Iraq. Once the popular uprising against Saddam took place in March 1991 and Saddam lost control of most of Iraq, Khalilzad was the first to call for maintaining Saddam in power.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, Khalilzad was the chief architect of creating regional governments that are out of reach of the center. But it was Iraq that Khalilzad, from the beginning, viewed as a solely neoconservative venture ripe for anarchistic experimentation. As President Bush�s envoy for the �Free Iraqis� in 2002, Khalilzad gave exceptional attention to whom among Iraqis in exile should be on the final list to attend the London Conference. It was during that conference that Khalilzad identified those participants who share the neoconservatives� vision for a fragmented and polarized Iraq.

Immediately after he arrived in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador in June 2005, Khalilzad made sure that all Iraq security and defense matters were kept in the hands of foreign rather than Iraqi officers. Furthermore, he embarked aggressively on institutionalizing sectarian discourse and identity, which were mostly alien to Iraqi cultural norms. Since then, recruiting of Iraqi army and police was done on the grounds of sectarian identity.

The New York Times (March 7, 2006) in an interview with Maj. General Joseph Peterson in charge of the Iraqi police, reported that previously applicants for security jobs were not asked about their sectarian affiliations. The general, though admitting that Iraqis �prefer to think of themselves as one people rather than in terms of sects,� acknowledged that most recent recruits for security have been from a minority sect. The report, too, revealed that most of the recruits for the army are from an ethnic Kurdish minority.

Recently, Iraqi forces, which are under the direct command of the occupational troops and are not supervised by the Iraqi government, have flourished. These armed forces constitute a threat to Iraqi security and have been accused by the government and Iraqi citizens of being responsible for death squads and the kidnapping of innocent people. These forces encompass the Facilities Protection Forces (140,000), Special Forces, including what Iraqis called �al-Qathr� or the dirty Brigade (10,000 mainly from Kurdish and Bedr militias), and the al-Shabh (Ghost) Forces (primarily from former Saddam�s Baath Party).

Critics argue that these forces have been instrumental in facilitating terrorism and inciting sectarian strife and unrest. Indeed, Iraqis from various religious groups have accused these three forces of conducting cleansing in several parts of Iraq; especially in and around Baghdad. News reports evidence that most violence conducted by these forces has targeted the Iraqi majority. Subsequently, the majority has become preoccupied with its survival and some of its armed groups have resorted to indiscriminate revenge.

Iraqi experts believe that Khalilzad�s recent instructions of �Timetables� for al-Maliki has not only tended to weaken the prime minister, but also to corner the patriotic forces among the majority and subdue them into accepting the partition of the country. These experts point out four recent developments: foreign troops�intensification of raids against cities where patriotic feeling is strong; strong encouragement and support by the occupational powers to those who espouse partitioning Iraq (e.g., Kurdish warlords, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, etc.); increasing terrorism against the majority, and the announcement by terrorist groups of establishing an Islamic Emirate in the northwest of the country.

In a joint statement on October 28, President Bush and al-Maliki specified three common goals: accelerating the pace of training the Iraqi Security Force; Iraqi assumption of command and control over Iraqi forces, and transferring responsibility for security to the government of Iraq. These goals are not new and as long as the neoconservatives are in control; they may be mere illusion.

There is a consensus among Iraqis that violence and chaos in Iraq are directly linked to the presence of foreign troops. Experts and ordinary Iraqis, however, consider the arrival of Khalilzad in Bagdad a turning point in Iraqi history. Terrorism and sectarian strife have intensified and there is no remote possibility that the situation might improve under the occupation.

The Washington Post (October 29, 2006) describes Baghdad in gloomy terms stating, �Carnage its rhythm and despair its mantra, the capital, it seems, no longer embraces life.� It is doubtful that any progress in preventing the complete ruin of Iraq is possible while Khalilzad is in charge of Baghdad. The dismantling of the neoconservatives� design for Iraq is not only in the interest of America, but a moral duty.

Abbas J. Ali, Ph.D., is a professor and director in the School of International Management, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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