The United Nations and Iraq

I support the demand of the peace movement, “Bring the Troops Home Now!” I also support the demand, “Democracy and Self-Determination for the Iraqi People.” It’s very easy to take such positions.

The hard part is, what next? Is that it? Is that the extent to which we should go? Should we have nothing to say about how to go from the current U.S. occupation to an Iraq run by and for Iraqis?

Some on the political Left say yes. They oppose any call for the United Nations or anyone else—like, say, the Arab League–to replace the U.S. They argue—very accurately—that the United Nations is complicit in the Iraq tragedy via its imposition of economic sanctions for 12 years prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion, both of which have devastated Iraqi society. And they argue—with legitimacy—that the U.N. going into Iraq this summer while the U.S. was occupying the country was a mistake, giving support to that occupation.

But there are several problems with this position.

Iraq is a country that has been ruled by a dictatorial regime for close to three decades. There is very little of a “civil society” to speak of other than mosques and religious groups, with the exception of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and their two political parties.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a society in which the Shiite majority was repressed by a predominantly Sunni regime. Some in Sunni areas received privileges not available to others. There are grievances and resentments that have the potential to severely strain efforts to form a democratic Iraq.

In addition, there is at least one rift within the Shiite population between more moderate and more radical Shiites that led to the attempted assassination last week of a leading moderate cleric.

And who knows how well organized the members of the former Hussein regime still are and will be in the future.

It is reasonable to expect that an Iraq left to itself to sort out its form(s) of governance if/when the United States leaves would be an Iraq that would experience significant internal struggles, including armed struggles and possibly civil war. A civil war, if it developed, could easily spread beyond Iraq’s borders into neighboring countries.

And then there’s Turkey, whose military could well move into northern Iraq once the U.S. is gone.

These are some of the reasons why others on the Left have called for the U.S. to leave and, then, for the U.N. to take over as part of a transitional step towards Iraqi self-government. Or, alternatively, for the U.S. to announce its plans to leave within a fixed time period and during that time period, the U.N. would assume increasing control, along with representatives of Iraqi society.

Note that this is not and cannot be misunderstood as what is now being pushed by some elements of the Bush Administration: U.N. participation on the ground in Iraq while the U.S. continues its occupation. The peace movement must be clear and firm in its opposition to this plan.

The opposition to the position of the U.N. replacing the U.S. for an interim period of time grounds itself in a historically-accurate critique of the U.N. as a U.S.-subservient body. Denis Halliday, the former UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, said just a few days ago that “The UN Security Council has been taken over and corrupted by the US and UK, particularly with regards to Iraq, Palestine and Israel.”

So what are we to do? Stay quiet? Not take a position beyond “U.S. Out” and “Iraq for Iraqis?”

One thing that makes sense to me is to be very specific about what needs to be done differently in Iraq. Dennis Kucinich just came out with a statement which calls for the UN to “take over management, accounting and distribution to the Iraqi people of Iraq’s oil profits. There must be no privatization of the Iraqi oil industry. The UN must handle the awarding of all contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq so that there can be no more sweetheart contracts for companies like Halliburton.”

This is an improvement over a general demand for the UN to just replace the US.

We could demand that any interim peacekeeping troops be predominantly Arab or Arab-speaking.

We could demand that any transitional authority—perhaps a joint UN/Arab League force, without any US or UK participation—have a definite time limit.

We could demand that a transitional authority prioritize the organizing of popular assemblies at local levels to choose representatives to local Iraqi governing bodies and that those popularly-chosen representatives would be responsible for choosing delegates to participate in the development of a new Iraqi constitution.

We could demand that reparations be paid by the United States, the money to be taken out of reductions in the Pentagon budget, for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Of course, we are still left with the conundrum of there being no, repeat no, institutional entity with the clean hands and the track record we would all like there to be. The United Nations is a reflection of the reality of an unjust and bleeding world dominated by a brutal and rapacious corporate elite. The Arab League, on the surface a more logical alternative, is a relatively toothless body where kings and oil potentates have major influence.

So where do I come down on this question? Reluctantly, it seems to me the best of a series of bad options is a UN/Arab League transitional administration with a specific timetable and specific mandates, as listed above, as to what it should be doing.

After all, when we were trying to stop the war last fall and winter, we were marching on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and putting pressure on the U.S. Congress, not exactly a body with a stirling track record. But it was the only institutional option available to us if we were to head off a Bush Administration attack.

And what if we and the Iraqi resistance and the rest of the world are successful in driving the U.S. out of Iraq? Even if the replacement for the U.S. leaves a great deal to be desired, there will be avenues for applying pressure that don’t exist now under U.S. occupation. People throughout the Middle East and the world will feel empowered if the Bush Administration and its Democratic Party supporters are not able to do what they are trying to do. Their drive towards a “New American Century” will have been seriously set back.

It is rare that the people win complete victories. They’re usually partial. But partial victories can help to build towards that new future, that world based upon social justice and environmental sustainability, so desperately needed.

Forcing the demented warmongers now in power out of Iraq will not be a small thing.