Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Will A Sovereign Government Help To Quell The Insurgency?

The United Nations has unanimously approved a resolution endorsing the upcoming U.S. handover of power to a sovereign Iraqi government. But will the transfer of sovereignty help to quell Iraqi insurgencies?

Prague, 9 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In the past few days, Iraq has reached two milestones that U.S. and Iraqi officials have long said should help reduce the country's persistent security problems.

One is the formation last week of a new interim administration to take Iraq to a first round of elections in January.

The second is yesterday's endorsement by the UN Security Council of that administration becoming Iraq's sovereign government.

Just before the UN vote in New York, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari restated his belief that these events will convince his countrymen they have a legitimate government of their own.

"There is also the question of how legitimate this new interim government is, since we haven't had the chance to have elections or to have [an] elected representative government. So, with the involvement of the United Nations, with providing some international legitimacy to the new interim government, I think it will be more acceptable to the people of Iraq," Zebari said.

But will the formation of an interim government endorsed by the United States help to isolate Iraq's insurgents, who seem to reject all efforts to establish a new order?

RFE/RL put the question to two analysts who are closely watching the situation.

Daniel Neep of the Royal United Services Institute in London says establishing a sovereign government will not be enough by itself to dissolve the insurgency. He says that will only come if the new government is able to win the public's confidence by its performance in office.

"I think in the short term it is going to make very little difference. We tend to focus on the UN resolution as giving international legitimacy, but does it necessarily mean that in Iraq? The Iraqis, of course, see the UN as being the body which imposed sanctions on them for so long, and so it has a different kind of image within Iraq itself. I wonder whether we are paying slightly too much attention to this rather academic question of sovereignty. I think perhaps sovereignty is not the key for most Iraqis. Really, legitimacy is, and the only legitimacy that a government can get is through its performance once it is in office," Neep says.

Neep says he does not expect any lessening of insurgent violence in the run-up to 30 June, when the United States formally hands over political power to the new government.

But he says that after the deadline it reached, the new government will have a chance to define its own anti-insurgency policies. One of those policies may be to seek consensual solutions for dealing with uprisings, rather than relying on force, as the U.S.-led coalition has often done previously.

"I think the interim government will espouse a different kind of approach to dealing with certain types of insurgency than the U.S. If you look at what happened in Fallujah, I think an Iraqi government would be extremely loath to engage in a major operation like that. They would go straight to the kind of solution that the U.S. ended up adopting, which was in trying to co-opt local leaders of the insurgency and reach some kind of accommodation with them. It's much more of an 'Iraqi' approach, trying to not alienate local political figures but trying to bring them into the system," Neep says.

It is not yet clear how much freedom the new interim government will have to pursue such strategies if they conflict with the assessments of U.S. officials. Washington will lead the multinational force now tasked under the UN resolution with securing Iraq until the country completes its political transition by the end of 2005.

The new UN resolution specifically "welcomes that arrangements are being put in place to establish a partnership between the multinational forces and the sovereign Interim Government of Iraq to ensure coordination between the two." But the resolution's wording leaves the mechanics of the partnership to be defined in practice.

Another key challenge for the new interim government as it seeks to isolate the insurgents will be to make clear progress in improving the living conditions of ordinary Iraqis.

Joost Hiltermann is a regional expert with the International Crisis Group, based in Amman. He tells RFE/RL that the insurgents have benefited to date from the widespread disappointment among Iraqis with the pace of change in their country.

"[The insurgents] have been able to feed on a fertile environment because people have been so disaffected by both the political situation, the economic situation, the law-and-order situation, that they have not actively done anything to oppose the insurgents. They have allowed themselves to be intimidated by the insurgents," Hiltermann says. "So, I think what needs to happen in Iraq in order for the insurgency to be addressed is a dramatic improvement in living conditions of people, in the law-and-order situation, in the employment situation, so that vast masses of people in principle would benefit from the change in government."

Hiltermann predicts that in the coming months insurgents will continue to try to undermine efforts to reconstruct Iraq by launching attacks on Iraqi officials and police and by sabotaging pipelines and other key infrastructure targets.

He says that the insurgents' strategy recognizes that the new Iraqi state's prospects for winning the hearts and minds of its citizens will be determined far more by economic issues than by what happens at the United Nations.

Insurgents kept up their pressure in Iraq today by launching a mortar attack on forces loyal to an Iraqi general charged with imposing security in the central city of Al-Fallujah.

At the same time, saboteurs blew up an oil pipeline north of Baghdad, forcing what Iraqi officials say is a 10 percent cut in output for the national electricity grid.

The attacks follow car bombings yesterday in the northern city of Mosul and the northeastern city of Baquba that killed 14 Iraqis and one U.S. soldier.