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Iraq: Handover -- Bremer's Legacy Will Linger As Iraqis Assume Mantle Of Governance (Part 3)

Bremer: 414 days as Iraq's civil administrator (file photo) In a surprise move two days ahead of schedule, the U.S. yesterday ceded the sovereignty of Iraq to the government of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Former Iraqi civil administrator L. Paul Bremer leaves behind a country far from capable of ensuring its own security, and a government with laws and regulations that still bear his imprint.

Washington, 29 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- "As recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 1546, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist on June 28, at which point the occupation will end and the Iraqi interim government will assume and exercise full sovereign authority on behalf of the Iraqi people."

With those words, L. Paul Bremer yesterday formally ended his 414-day tenure as the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq and promptly left the country.

Before the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush said it expected ordinary Iraqis to welcome coalition soldiers because they had deposed Saddam Hussein as president. Instead, many Iraqis expressed ambivalence about the invasion. They were glad to see Hussein's departure, yet resisted the idea of occupation.

Widespread looting was followed by sporadic bombings and other attacks that, in the past year, have grown into what appears to be a coordinated resistance.

The situation in Iraq is far different from Germany, for example, after the defeat of the Nazis, according to Marina Ottaway and Kenneth Allard. Ottaway is an analyst for the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy center. Allard is a retired U.S. Army colonel who teaches military history at Georgetown University, also in Washington.
"The U.S. has zero credibility in the Arab world." -- Marina Ottaway, analyst for the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Both Ottaway and Allard tell RFE/RL that the post-World War II allies faced no armed resistance in Germany because the Germans were, for the most part, less hostile to their occupiers than Iraqis are today. And, while no country can be said to be entirely homogeneous, the Germans had a far more unified character nearly 60 years ago than the Iraqis do today.

Iraq, Allard says, has three distinct and mutually hostile cultures: the Kurds in the north, the Sunni Muslims in the center, and the Shi'a in the south. He says each of these ethnic divisions is further divided by clans that are used to taking care of their needs by themselves, not through a government.

Allard says that despite reports of foreign fighters in Iraq, he believes the core of the current resistance is made up of Iraqis themselves. He says this is how they respond when someone -- whether indigenous or an invader -- decides to impose a new order on them.

"Those have always been the classical problems of dealing with and governing Iraq. And they have classically been solved by the most violent possible means," Allard says. "When you get that tradition, that heritage, it is not terribly encouraging for anybody that comes in with the objective of simply taking over and doing something different. And that is what we're trying to do."

Allard says the Bush administration evidently was oblivious to this reality, even though he applauds what he believes was the good intention of ridding Iraq of a dictator and trying to import liberal democracy.

"I think it is probably a legitimate objective, and it certainly says a great deal for the United States, for the people that are in charge of that policy, as well as for their good intentions. It does not say terribly much about their realism, about their understanding of what the difficulties would be," Allard says.

The United States at least has tried to minimize some of these difficulties by having Bremer issue several formal restrictions on Iraq's new interim government and the popularly elected government that is expected to follow.

Some are merely updates to Iraq's old legal code. But others are more intrusive, such as one that creates a seven-member electoral commission that is authorized to ban political parties, and their candidates, from the democratic process.

Under Iraq's transitional constitution, these rules cannot be repealed without the approval of a majority of the cabinet, the president, and both vice presidents.

But Ottaway says she is not concerned that Bremer's influence will be felt too strongly in Iraq long after he is gone. She explains that in many countries, constitutions can be changed more easily than they are in the West. And she says getting the necessary quorum to overturn one of Bremer's rules should not be too difficult.

"I'm not sure that it's going to be all that difficult to put together a majority of the cabinet and the president and the vice presidents and so on. Secondly, I'm not sure what's going to happen if Allawi was to come out and say, 'We think that it is in the best interest of the country to allow such-and-such a party to run for elections.' I don't think the U.S. would be in a position to do very much without undermining the credibility of the Iraqi government," Ottaway says.

But then, Ottaway says, this government might have trouble establishing its credibility from the very start. Its credibility is linked to that of its creator, the United States.

"On the issue of credibility,” Ottaway says, “let me point out that the U.S. has zero credibility in the Arab world."

(Click here for the other four parts in this series and more news and analysis on Iraq's handover of power.)