Governing Wisely

Has Iraq's interim government got a chance? A Reason interview with veteran activist Chibli Mallat

(Page 3 of 3)

It is also true that the killing of hundreds of those poor kids in the Mehdi army is unwarranted. You want to go against Muqtada, you do not need 1) to wait so long; why was he not arrested on April 10, 2003, when Khoei was so savagely killed? And 2) to massacre all these poor people; you can only awaken the anger of ten, twenty members of each one's family.

There must be another way, including having Sistani (and the IGC) shoulder some responsibility: They leave Muqtada to rule Najaf, too bad for them. The US Army should not be doing their dirty work.

reason: When the WMD story first started to fall apart, Chalabi made a refreshingly direct comment: "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants." Since he's made the offer (and since Americans now have more than 800 reasons to be angry about bad pre-war intelligence), why should any American be concerned about his fate?

Mallat: WMD was a wrong reason to go to war in Iraq. Cheney and Wolfowitz were right, and Powell and Tenet who defended this argument to the detriment of Bush's policy (of regime change because of the regime's unique dictatorship) were wrong. The world is still paying the price. WMD was a tangentially good argument only because Saddam had used them against his people (and against Iran), so the argument of WMD should have been retrospective, not prospective.

reason: Thomas Friedman says President Bush is more concerned with getting re-elected than with making sure we "do Iraq right"? Do you agree? And if there isn't a serious enough commitment from the U.S., what are the odds that the transition and elections will work out?

Mallat: Both are tied together. Success in Iraq means better chances for Bush getting reelected. There is no contradiction there. I am skeptical about quick results, because of the undermining of the previous national unity government, and the likelihood of the UN resolution not saying what it needs to say: timetable for withdrawal, and human rights monitors.

reason: Is the Sadrist uprising winding down?

Mallat: Unclear. Sadr will not accept willingly to stand trial for the Khoei assassination. If he doesn't, the central reason for this whole mess is undermined, and he comes out as a winner. The conundrum is real.

reason: We hear that the majority of Iraqis want the violence to end and their country to be free and strong, but you could have said the same thing about the majority of Lebanese in 1983. If the U.S. can't come up with an iron-fist solution to the "security problem," are there any political prospects for Iraq?

Mallat: There is never a magical solution which is security-based. It can only be based on a sense of right. Again the beginning is human rights monitors. The US failed in Lebanon because Amine Gemayyel turned his presidency into a dictatorship, and Syria and others took advantage of his failure to speak for all Lebanese. I am not sure one can compare Lebanon to Iraq as the talk of a free Lebanon does not square with bringing the head of one extremist faction to power on the back of Sharon's tanks. The US government genuinely wants democracy in Baghdad. But then, human rights monitors are the starting point, not army boots.

reason: How would you assess the roles being played by Syria, Iran, and Jordan in Iraq right now?

Mallat: Each one has its list of hopes and fears. Here are the general poles. Syria: end of its own regime as fear, rout of the US as hope. Iran: end of its regime as fear, Iran-style Shi'is in power in Baghdad as hope. Jordan: Chalabi in government as fear, a more stable status quo as hope.

reason: What's going to happen to Saddam?

Mallat: He will probably be tried and hanged.

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