British Fear Uprising After One Year

British Fear Uprising after One Year

The British authorities in the Iraqi south are desperately afraid that the Americans are going to dawdle around so long in creating an Iraqi government that they will provoke a massive uprising. The British want a return of sovereignty to Iraqis by summer of 2004 at the latest. The US civil administrator, Paul Bremer concurs.

A long article on this issue in the Telegraph does not specify who among the Americans wants a longer US occupation. At one point it was alleged that forces in the State Department wanted a 2 year period of direct rule by the US. Rumsfeld and the Neocons seem to have wanted an even quicker turn-over of sovereignty to Iraqis, but the Iraqis they had in mind were named Ahmad Chalabi (a corrupt financier in their hip pocket).

One problem is the 7 stage plan issued by Mr. Bremer. It requires that a constitutional convention be chosen or elected and produce a new constitution before there are elections for a new government. The Interim Governing Council has not even been able to decide on a method of choosing the delegates (Shiites want them to be elected; Kurds want them to be appointed, and the Americans are siding with the Kurds).

A constitution would take at least a year to hammer out, maybe more (it took a year in Afghanistan). That puts us into early 2005, and into a stage of the crisis where the British fear we may begin to see organized Shiite resistance to the occupation forces.

As I have said before, you could just go back to a modified pre-Baath constitution and elect a temporary government under it, and then let it preside over a longer constitution-writing process, as in Afghanistan. That way you’d formally end the occupation and cease the illegal attempts of the Coalition Provisional Authority to reshape Iraqi society and the economy. The new Iraqi government would get its UN seat. The only ones inconvenienced would be US carpetbaggers, who might not be viewed with as much favor by an Iraqi government as they are by the American authorities.

The Americans have recreated in Iraq the late colonial period. As Fred Cooper has argued, late colonialism was different from earlier versions in adopting a developmentalist rhetoric. The colonial authorities were making lives better and contributing to literacy, schooling, industrialization, etc. The late colonial transition to local sovereignty followed various paths. In Algerian and Vietnam it went badly wrong and produced enormous violence and death. In Senegal, it was fairly smooth. There was even a French member of the Senegalese cabinet for decades after independence, as I recall.

The Coalition must aim for a Senegal outcome, not an Algerian one. But one of the ways you get Algeria is if you have a big constituency for prolonged colonialism in the home country. One worries that the Neocons and the Halliburtons could come to play the role of the colons or French settlers who opposed quick Algerian independence and so produced a disaster.

In any case, the British are the ones thinking about this right. Wolfowitz tells people that Muqtada al-Sadr has no “traction.” But degrees of traction change. What will his be next year this time?

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