From Bonn to Baghdad

Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on the Iraqi issue, was picked to conduct the accelerated involvement of the UN into the Iraqi dossier, especially as the time for the “hand-over” of sovereignty from the US to local authorities was fast approaching. The selection of the veteran Algerian diplomat was solely made on the merits of what has been rated as his “successful mission” in Afghanistan, starting with the Bonn agreement of December 2001. It appears that the Bush Administration would like to see the same “success” be replicated in Iraq. We can only wish, for the sake of the Iraqi people and that of regional and further international stability, that he does a better job there than the one he did in Afghanistan.

Ethnicity and US Contentment

In the case of Afghanistan, Mr. Brahimi worked in duet with Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, NSC adviser and George Bush’s special envoy on the Afghan dossier, to set up a “transitional authority”. During the December 2001 Bonn negotiations and throughout his two-year tenure in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi showed two important problematic aspects of his action in the Afghan stabilization and normalization dossier:

– It appeared very soon obvious that Mr. Brahimi did not have any real leverage over the US envoy Khalilzad, who heavy-handedly controlled the Bonn meeting and its outcome, and therefore clearly showed the limits of his authority, despite his mandate.

– Mr. Brahimi seems to give an exaggerated importance to ethnic and tribal factors, on which he seems to almost exclusively base his judgment when he seeks to strike a balance in any power-sharing process.

Mimicking the Afghan “Stabilization” Process

If the purpose in Iraq, like it is being done in Afghanistan, is to create an ersatz of a democracy, then the path taken is the right one. Mr. Brahimi, this time coupled with another of President G. W. Bush’s envoys (Robert Blackwell), is the man up for the task:

1). A Transitional Authority à la Bonn – Mr. Brahimi will set up a transitional government à la Bonn, based on what he believes the different ethnic/religious groups of Iraq are entitled to. Of course, even with this logic, there will be room for serious disagreement in absence of reliable numbers, but this will not deter Mr. Brahimi in his conviction that fairness and democracy require that a government be based on ethnicity first and foremost (!).

2). A Leader à la Karzai – Mr. Brahimi will then agree to select –” impose – a person “friendly” to Washington, à la Karzai, to lead the Iraqi Transitional Authority.

3). A Grand Representative Council à la Loya Jirga – The next step would be to convene in a few months a Grand Representative Council in Baghdad, equivalent to the two flawed Loya Jirga organized under Mr. Brahimi’s tenure in Kabul, with the sole purpose of attempting to legitimize the artificial power-sharing agreement made at the commencing of the post June 30th process.

4). General Elections à la Afghan? – Finally, probably with the consent of the US, Mr. Brahimi will supervise the organization of general elections, probably delayed once or twice, but nevertheless held in the end. Our comparing with the Afghan case stops here because elections have not yet been held in Afghanistan; although by judging the preparations, it is unlikely that they be a great victory for democracy.

5). Mission accomplished à la Brahimi? – Lastly, Mr. Brahimi will be lauded by Mr. Kofi Annan and the US Administration for having followed a schedule and helped reestablish democracy, at least the semblance of it, no matter if the government he has helped set up has no basis, the security situation is worse than it has ever been and the country is under constant exterior and interior threats.

Why Brahimi Failed in Afghanistan

Unlike Mr. Richard Holbrooke, former US Ambassador to the UN, who a few days ago on public television and Fox News repeatedly dismissed Mr. Brahimi with a prejudiced tone, wondering how the US could trust an Arab to come up with a solution beneficial to the US, our contention of Mr. Brahimi’s action has nothing personal but is rather based on the experience of his failure as the representative of the UN and, as such, as guarantor and chief implementer of the international community’s genuine commitment to bring back Afghanistan to security, welfare and democracy.

Mr. Barhimi did not really confront proactively any of the major issues putting in jeopardy the goals set in Bonn, approved by the UN Security Council, and opted to go along with the US lead and keep a blind eye on Mr. Karzai’s Government undemocratic handling of the two Loya Jirgas of June 2002 and December 2003, as well as on the almost daily encroachments made to the letter and the spirit of the Bonn agreement.

As for sovereignty, with the military presence of American troops and the ubiquitous presence of the pro-consul Khalilzad in Kabul, adding to this the overwhelming role of Washington in financing everything from salaries to reconstruction, one can easily guess that “sovereignty” and “independence” are to be excluded from the current Afghan lexicon.

“Afghanization” of Iraq

Iraqis are going to experiment more or less a similar situation, obviously with some differences. But, after June 30th, 2004, Iraq’s budget will be in the coffers of Ambassador Negroponte and the US military will accomplish its mission in the “fight against terrorism”. It’s difficult to see, in this type of situation, where the sovereignty and independence of any future Iraqi authority will be. As a reaction to the foreign presence, armed guerrillas will continue developing as will do in parallel armed militias, somewhat institutionalizing warlords à la Dostum, therefore further ruining any chances Iraq may have had to reach stability, security and have a democratically elected government. I do not want to mention here how this chaotic situation à la Afghan would help all kind of trafficking (narcotics) and smuggling (weapons) flourish!

In the end, the situation à la Afghan that would be (is already?) created in Iraq would be detrimental first and foremost to the Iraqis and of course to the US, because it would have blatantly failed, to the whole Middle-East because Iraq would have become a center of continued instability, and to the World generally because of security/terrorism and oil related implications.

Elections Are Key

The US should have offered the Iraqis within weeks of their invasion, if they wanted to assure them of their good intentions, the quick holding of free and fair elections and the promise that their troops would withdraw the day after the results are proclaimed. Instead, they pushed back any date and even dismissed the idea of elections and stressed that they would stay in Iraq “as long as it would be necessary”, thus diverting the political debate from the future of a democratic Iraq to that of the existence of occupation troops, and substituting oral arguments to martial ones in the streets of Baghdad, Fallujah or Najjaf.

The question here is, considering the small window of opportunity remaining to salvage the otherwise catastrophic Iraq policy of the Bush Administration, why repeat the errors made on the Afghan arena and try to emulate a flawed example? Undoubtedly, the key to lay the foundation for lasting stability in Iraq as in Afghanistan is to help hold general elections under international supervision and scrutiny. An unequivocally lawfully elected government is not only the sine qua non primary condition to democracy but it is also the best defense against extremism, political instability and the unequaled foundation for further economic and social development.