Monday, June 28, 2004

All Better Now 

WASHINGTON POST: U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has issued a raft of edicts revising Iraq's legal code and has appointed at least two dozen Iraqis to government jobs with multi-year terms in an attempt to promote his concepts of governance long after the planned handover of political authority on Wednesday.

Some of the orders signed by Bremer, which will remain in effect unless overturned by Iraq's interim government, restrict the power of the interim government and impose U.S.-crafted rules for the country's democratic transition. Among the most controversial orders is the enactment of an elections law that gives a seven-member commission the power to disqualify political parties and any of the candidates they support.

The effect of other regulations could last much longer. Bremer has ordered that the national security adviser and the national intelligence chief chosen by the interim prime minister he selected, Ayad Allawi, be given five-year terms, imposing Allawi's choices on the elected government that is to take over next year.

Bremer also has appointed Iraqis handpicked by his aides to influential positions in the interim government. He has installed inspectors-general for five-year terms in every ministry. He has formed and filled commissions to regulate communications, public broadcasting and securities markets. He named a public-integrity commissioner who will have the power to refer corrupt government officials for prosecution.

Some Iraqi officials condemn Bremer's edicts and appointments as an effort to exert U.S. control over the country after the transfer of political authority. "They have established a system to meddle in our affairs," said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the Governing Council, a recently dissolved body that advised Bremer for the past year. "Iraqis should decide many of these issues."

TOM ENGELHARDT: I just want to suggest that while the Bush administration, faced with unexpected resistance -- ever wider, ever deeper, ever more violent and horrific -- has spent the last year or more planning, bungling, and fumbling to bring its Iraqi pseudostate into existence, it has also given birth to another pseudocreation: a pseudo-opposition.

Here, for instance, is a passage, you'll rarely see in the American press. In a piece for the Independent, the British journalist Patrick Cockburn writes, "The rebels are nationalist and religious. The US always appears to underestimate the strength of Iraqi nationalism." As a term, nationalism has long been oddly wielded in the United States. Americans are almost never described (here) as nationalistic. We are "patriotic," and patriotism, it turns out, is an almost purely American trait. On the other hand, over recent decades, other peoples, particularly in the non-western world were seldom patriotic, they were nationalistic; and those among them who fought for sovereignty and power never patriots, but at best nationalists. Nationalism in our American world has long had a distinctly pejorative quality. It brings to mind not the flag, mom, and apple pie (nor the flag, mom, and shish kebob), but a force over the edge, slightly unhinged, fanatical, dangerous; something, at best, to be managed. That's the way it's been here for a long time.

But here's the curious thing in the Iraq situation, we have become, if anything, more patriotic than ever in our own self-description, but they have become nothing at all – or rather they have been only "former Baathists," "bitter-enders," "foreign fighters." (Note that no mainstream American reporter would ever call Americans in Iraq "foreign fighters.") They are religious fanatics, al-Qaeda supporters, terrorists. With a few honorable exceptions -- Los Angeles Times reports, for instance, have recently begun to deal with Iraqi nationalism -- nationalism as a term has largely disappeared from our media, even though without it you can't begin to understand what has happened, even though the urge for one's own unoccupied, unfettered country still rules the earth and drives masses of people to lengths that even fierce religious fundamentalism can seldom take them. Nationalism, independence, sovereignty -- these are near religious phenomena (as is "patriotism," after all) and not to acknowledge them frontally assures that your analysis will make next to no sense.

NEWSWEEK: On a recent day, [Lt. Gen. David] Petraeus went to pay a courtesy call on the minister of Defense. To make the two-minute drive from his own headquarters at the Republican Palace to the Defense Ministry, located in another palace in the Green Zone, Petraeus had to travel by armored car, with heavily armed civilian bodyguards. Even on a good day, Defense Ministry offices often seem "rather like an anthill sorting itself out after being stepped on," as one Western adviser puts it. But this wasn't a good day. During the previous 48 hours, two deputy ministers in the interim government had been assassinated in separate attacks; the general in charge of the border police had come under fire and barely escaped; a suicide car bomb had killed five policemen at their station near Baghdad; three hostages had been murdered (a Lebanese and two Iraqis, all contractors), and three rockets had hit the Republican Palace.

The defense minister, Hazim Shaalan, is a former banker who more recently worked as a real-estate agent in London. "After June 30," said Shaalan, "we will hit these people and teach them a good lesson they won't forget. Americans and allied forces have certain restrictions we won't have." He declined to be more specific, except to say, "It's our country, it's our culture, and we have different laws than you do." (A few days later, after yet another suicide bombing, he was more blunt: "We will cut off their hands and behead them.")

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