According to a closely held Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) memo written in early March, the reality in Iraq isn't nearly so rosy as President Bush pretends. According to the memo's author - a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq - chances for democracy have been severely imperilled by a year's worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA. The memo, provided to this reporter by a Western intelligence official, portrays a country mired in dysfunction and corruption, overseen by a CPA that "handle(s) an issue like six-year-olds play soccer."
But it is particularly pointed on the subject of cronyism and corruption within the Governing Council, the provisional Iraqi government subordinate to the CPA whose responsibilities include re-staffing Iraq's government departments.
"In retrospect," the memo asserts, "both for political and organizational reasons, the decision to allow the Governing Council to pick 25 ministers did the greatest damage. Not only did we endorse nepotism, with men choosing their sons and brothers-in-law, but we also failed to use our prerogative to shape a system that would work.... Our failure to promote accountability has hurt us."
In the broadest sense, according to the memo's author, the CPA's bunker-in-Baghdad mentality has contributed to the potential for civil war all over the country. "(CPA administrator L. Paul) Bremer has encouraged re-centralization in Iraq because it is easier to control a Governing Council less than a kilometre away from the palace rather than 18 different provincial councils (that) would otherwise have budgetary authority," he says.
The net effect has been a "desperation to dominate Baghdad, and an absolutism born of regional isolation." The memo also describes the CPA as "handicapped by (its) security bubble," and derides the U.S. government for spending "millions importing sport utility vehicles that are used exclusively to drive the kilometre and a half" between CPA and Governing Council headquarters when "we would have been much better off with a small fleet of used cars and a bicycle for every Green Zone resident."
While boosters of the Iraqi invasion delight in the phrase "25 million free Iraqis," if the CPA memo is any indication, this newfound liberty does not include freedom from fear. "Baghdadis have an uneasy sense that they are heading towards civil war," it says. "Sunnis, Shias and Kurd professionals say that they themselves, friends and associates are buying weapons, fearing for the future." The memo also notes that while Iraqi police "remain too fearful to enforce regulations," they are making a pretty penny as small arms dealers, with the CPA as an unwitting partner.
"The CPA is ironically driving the weapons market," it reveals. "Iraqi police sell their U.S.-supplied weapons on the black market; they are promptly resupplied. Interior ministry weapons buybacks keep the price of arms high."
Asserting that the U.S. must "use our prerogative as an occupying power to signal that corruption will not be tolerated," the CPA memo recommends taking action against at least four Iraqi ministers whose names have been deleted from the document. Also edited out is the name of a minister whose acceptance of "alleged kickbacks should be especially serious for us, since he was one of two ministers who met the president and had his picture taken with him."
Developing this theme, the memo asserts that the U.S. "share(s) culpability in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis" for engendering Iraq's currently cronyistic state; since "we appointed the Governing Council members... their corruption is our corruption." The author then notes that two individuals - names again deleted - have successfully worked to exclude followers of certain strains of Shia from obtaining ministerial-level positions.
"People from Kut (a city south of Baghdad recently besieged by Shiite forces loyal to Muqtada al Sadr), for example, see that they have no representation on the Governing Council, and many predict civil war since they doubt that the Governing Council will really allow elections."
Fanning the embers of distrust is the U.S.'s failure to acknowledge that the constituencies of key Governing Council members "are not based on ideology, but rather on the muscle of their respective personal militias and the patronage we allow them to bestow," according to the memo's author.
According to a Washington, DC-based senior military official whose responsibilities include Iraq, the CPA now estimates there are at least 30 separate militias active in Iraq, and "essentially, [the CPA] doesn't know what to do with regard to them - which is frightening, because the CPA's authority essentially ends on June 30, and any Iraqi incentive to get rid of the militias is likely to go away after that date. Sending U.S. troops around Iraq against Iraqis isn't likely to endear the new Iraqi government to its citizens."
And then there is the problem of Iran. According to the memo, "Iranian money is pouring in" to occupied Iraq - particularly the area under British control - and it asserts it is "a mistake" to stick to a policy of "not rock[ing] the boat" with the Iranians, as "the Iranian actors with which the State Department likes to do business lack the power to deliver on promises" to exercise restraint in Iraq.
Famously, Lord Cromer once described Great Britain's approach to the Land of the Nile: "We do not rule Egypt; we rule those who rule Egypt." Compare that with several statements made by the U.S. official who wrote the memo considered here. Of one senior Iraqi official, he states that "it is better to keep [him] a happy drunk than an angry drunk." And he says of two others that they are "much more compliant when their cheques are delayed or fail to appear," adding that "the same is true with other Governing Council members." The attitudes aren't much different, are they? Sometimes the truest and most heartbreaking view is afforded from the wheel of the mighty ship of state.