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Iraq defies the script

By Hamid Ansari

The excuse for going to war, put forth with certitude, is now coming apart in what is becoming a trans-Atlantic competition.

ANCIENT LANDS are legend-laden. Iraq is no exception. It has witnessed the ebb and flow of time, and of conquerors and empires considered invincible. The challenge inevitably came from unexpected quarters. Something of that sort seems to have happened in Iraq. The invasion succeeded; thereafter, nothing worked to plan. Iraqi resistance forced a change of schedules intended to ensure an early notional handover of authority to a handpicked assembly and a government of the same hue working within the confines of a constitution drafted by handpicked lawyers.

Now a recluse of a Grand Ayatollah, communicating through virtually illegible hand written notes, has forced a review of the schedule and of the methodology. He and his vast following are holding the Coalition Authority to their primary promise: establishment of democracy. They argue that this is possible only through immediate elections. The official excuse, of unavailability of authentic electoral rolls, was laid to rest when Baroness Symons tended to admit in the House of Lords on January 15 that the existing Oil-For-Food-Ration List could be used for direct elections.

It is not only the schedules that are unravelling. The excuse for going to war, put forth with certitude, is now coming apart in what is becoming a trans-Atlantic competition.

A comprehensive report last month by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that "Administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs." The allegations of the former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, the resignation of David Kay, and the changed tune of Colin Powell, tells the same story.

The Panorama documentary of the BBC portrays another aspect of it and perhaps sets the stage for the Hutton Report later this week. The latest in the series is a report by the British American Security Council (BASIC), a U.K.-based charity working on security issues, entitled "Unravelling the Known Unknowns: Why no WMD have been found in Iraq". Its finding is brutally simple: "there is nothing to be found". It amplifies that "despite unparalleled searching, nothing has turned up and the evidence is overwhelming that Iraq did not have banned weapons at the time that the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq. The brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime was not an adequate justification for war, and the U.S. and British authorities did not seriously try to make it one until long after the war began and all the false justifications began to fall apart."

The Report raises substantive questions. Does the fault lie with the intelligence agencies or at higher levels? What are the implications of these intelligence and political failings and what are the policy lessons for future challenges involving suspected WMD proliferation? It recommends that "Tony Blair and George Bush must acknowledge that they were wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that they were taking sweeping action to rectify the concerns that led to this miscalculation" and cites with approval the remark of a former CIA analyst: "Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth. The only way we can regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways."

It suggests that the intelligence agencies need greater visibility and accountability and that their role in regard to collection of information on the WMD question should be reviewed in the light of the Iraq experience so that "future non-proliferation and counter-proliferation strategies are based on carefully collected and analysed open evidence rather then on prejudice or political expediency." It urges that the doctrine of pre-emption — "a flawed and dangerous instrument of foreign policy" — should be reassessed since its wider acceptance would lead to vigilante justice and a breakdown of the international order.

The BASIC report makes one recommendation with wider ramifications: "In terms of transferring WMD materials to non-state actors, the biggest risk lies in theft or diversion of the huge stockpiles in the existing nuclear states." The WMD threat reduction, it argues, is not just a `rogue' state problem and the existing nuclear-armed states (including the U.S. and U.K.) should therefore reaffirm their intention to implement the 13 disarmament steps agreed to in 2000.

The Iraq war has done enormous damage to the credibility of the premier members of the Alliance, and to world order. Public opinion in these states, presumably, would induce their political establishments to learn appropriate lessons from the experience in terms of their domestic processes, though even here the mob mentality and the inclination of the oversight mechanisms on Capitol Hill and in Westminster to look the other way when national security is invoked (but not demonstrated) does give cause for concern. For the wider world a corrective mechanism within these states alone would be grossly inadequate if it did little to check the prescriptive mindset with regard to the rest of the world.

In Davos last week Kofi Annan bemoaned the role of the United Nations itself and said the efficacy of its Charter, and the system of collective security, is now under serious strain. He drew attention to the implications of a developing dichotomy between globalisation on the one side and the failure of the world order on the other. One can only hope that such clarity in regard to principles would not be undone through a bout of "pragmatic" adjustments resulting in a legitimisation of the invasion.

It could be argued that in the final analysis the ultimate index is that of public welfare. Data emanating from the Coalition Authority still shows unemployment level at above 50 per cent, electricity generation well below the pre-war level, and public order characterised by rampant insecurity. After nine months of occupation, it is still difficult for the votaries of success to worship at its alter.

(The writer is a former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.)

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