Monthly Archives: April 2004

Chalabi’s star falls as US seeks scapegoat for post-war problems

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/Apr/30/Chalabis-star-falls-as-US-seeks-scapegoat-for-post-war-problems.ashx#ixzz2axT5SGTB

Before the war, no Arab was more influential on US policy toward Iraq than Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a favorite of the hawkish neoconservative faction in and around the Bush administration. Now Washington is placing its complete confidence in Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran Algerian diplomat and UN special envoy to Iraq.

The two have been engaged in an open spat that reveals much about the evolving US strategy in Iraq, and about power struggles within the Bush administration.

As Brahimi has been slowly unveiling aspects of his plan for an Iraqi transitional authority to be installed on June 30, it has become increasingly clear that there will be a concerted attempt to exclude some figures – especially Chalabi – who serve on the Iraqi Governing Council which is to be disbanded.

Chalabi has responded by dismissing Brahimi as “an Algerian with an Arab nationalist agenda” and “a controversial … not a unifying figure.” Though Chalabi still has supporters in the administration – some in the Pentagon and vice-president’s office are said to continue to advocate a major role for him – his falling star indicates a clear deterioration in the influence of neoconservative thinking on Iraq.

To some extent at least, Chalabi represents pre-war attitudes in Washington; simple certainties about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), Saddam Hussein’s links to Al-Qaeda, and the prospects for a stable, democratic, pro-American and pro-Israeli Iraq emerging soon after a US invasion. Brahimi’s rise reflects a deepening recognition of more complex realities and greater challenges; a growing sense that the United States must deal with existing circumstances in Iraqi rather than attempting to quickly reshape the country in its own image.

These changes indicate the strengthening of State Department and CIA attitudes toward Iraq, which always viewed Chalabi with skepticism and advocated a greater role for multilateral institutions and regional figures.

Andrew Cockburn, a journalist who has written extensively on Iraq, told The Daily Star: “Chalabi is a victim of the shift in power in Washington, and the complete collapse of the American agenda in Iraq – the other example being the ascendancy of Brahimi.”

Supporters of both sides have been making furious attacks in the US media. The pro-Israeli New York Sun featured an anti-Brahimi story entitled, Bush’s Iraq Man Betrayed the Lebanese to Syrian Regime. The Los Angeles Times quoted a Republican congressional staffer as calling the story “character assassination.” The neoconservative Wall Street Journal made a similar attack asking: “Whose side is Brahimi on?” The opposite attitude was summed up by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times column demanding that the administration “dump Chalabi and other carpetbaggers. They are US stooges who undermine the legitimacy of any government they are in.”

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is among the most influential commentators on Iraq at the moment, urged the committee to investigate what happened to intelligence files of the former regime entrusted to Chalabi early in the occupation.

“My expectation is that you will find Chalabi systematically destroyed records incriminating him and his cronies, and used other records to bribe and blackmail people in Iraq into supporting him, and probably even fabricated others that implicated rivals of his in activity supportive of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” Pollack told the committee.

Nothing endeared Chalabi more to his neoconservative supporters than his assurances that Iraqis in general – other than Saddam Hussein – had no problem with Israel, and his trip to Israel in the mid-1990s to visit then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By contrast, Brahimi recently identified Israeli policies as “the greatest poison” in the Middle East, prompting howls of outrage from Israel’s US supporters, but no diminution in Washington’s virtually unconditional backing for him.

Another clear sign that the Washington is changing course on Iraq is its reversal on the “de-Baathification” program, which Chalabi heads. The US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has acknowledged that the policy of banning all members of the deposed Baath Party excluded too much of the technocratic Iraqi middle class, and that the program had been run in a corrupt and unfair manner.

Faisal Istrabadi of the Iraqi Independent Democrats and a legal adviser to Adnan Pachachi agreed, telling The Daily Star: “There was no greater advocate of de-baathification than I, but on-the-ground realities meant that, as it was done, it was too comprehensive and too rife with corruption. The policy failed as a result.”

Chalabi has also been widely blamed for concocting bogus information from Iraqi “defectors” who, in the drive toward war, spun elaborate tales of WMDs and terrorism ties to US government agencies and journalists, most notoriously Judith Miller of the New York Times, in exchange for millions of dollars from the Pentagon.

Cockburn said simply: “Chalabi’s outlived his usefulness – he’s signally failed to deliver any puppet regime in Baghdad.”

“When the neoconservatives were in ascendance,” Cockburn said, “he was a useful appendage and good for dealing with credulous journalists. His sponsors have failed to produce the goods in the war and now, rather unfairly, seek to blame him.”

One of the most vocal supporters of both the war and Chalabi in Washington, journalist Christopher Hitchens, told The Daily Star: “Since there cannot be an inquest into what has been going wrong in Iraq that would blame someone in the US government without it turning fratricidal, and though (Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul) Wolfowitz and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell might like to blame each other, both have hostages from each other’s camp, so to speak, so the best bet seems to try to blame poor old Ahmed.”

“He makes a pretty easy scapegoat,” Hitchens argues, “because in fact the original charge against him – that he is a puppet of the Bush Administration – isn’t true. He’s come athwart everyone, and this allows him to be blamed for everything that has gone wrong.”

Some continue to argue that if only more weight and support had been thrown behind Chalabi, the United States might have avoided many of the travails it now faces in Iraq.

This was among the thrusts of a gloomy internal Coalition Provisional Authority memo recently exposed by investigative reporter Jason Vest, who told The Daily Star: “The support shown to Chalabi in the memo sums up the self-deluding quality of those determined to press on with the original administration agenda in the face of clear and recognized evidence of its folly.”

Even given the obvious shifts indicated in the move away from Chalabi and toward Brahimi, Washington still seems to be looking for the panacea for the ills of Iraq to come from an individual Arab, and is still hoping to discover the formula for a rapid – almost magical – transformation of that society.

In the meantime, of course, the United States has made it quite clear that the transfer of “sovereignty” on June 30 will not entail a redistribution of real authority in Iraq.

As Cockburn put it: “All of this seems to me to be slightly beside the point, since Iraq will in fact continue to be ruled by General Sanchez or some other US general after June 30.”

Television exposes Washington to Palestinian plight

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/Apr/29/Television-exposes-Washington-to-Palestinian-plight.ashx#ixzz2axTUSciW

Elderly Palestinian priests gingerly place a crucifix on the hood of an Israeli military vehicle, while a voiceover solemnly explains how Christians living under occupation are prevented from going to Jerusalem to pray.

Israeli troops in watchtowers sporting the Star of David glare down at impoverished children playing in the bullet-riddled squalor of a Gaza refugee camp.

These are hardly familiar images to American television viewers, but starting last week, audiences in the greater Washington area have been exposed to four television advertisements which powerfully argue aspects of the Palestinian cause.

The ads, running on the Cox cable service, one of the main providers in the capital, are the first sustained effort to promote the Palestinian issue in the same way that American politicians and companies have traditionally sought to influence public opinion – television.

They carry a more powerful message to a much larger audience than newspaper ads and billboards that had, until now, been the highlight of pro-Palestinian public education in the United States.

The ads are the brainchild of a grassroots group of young Americans called Imagine Life.

A gala fundraiser to inaugurate the campaign held at the Ritz-Carlton in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia on April 19, included representatives of partner organizations including Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace and Adam Shapiro of the International Solidarity Movement.

In an emotional presentation, Surasky said that she and many other Jewish-Americans were appalled by the treatment of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and that an increasing segment of her community is standing up to the Israeli government and pro-Israel organizations, saying: “You don’t speak for me. You are not doing this in my name.”

According to Russ Rands, a spokesman for Imagine Life, “The purpose of these advertisements is to humanize the Palestinian people and communicate important realities about their suffering to the American public.”

He added: “We hope that this educational campaign will fill a giant void in the American conversation about the Middle East – a realistic understanding of the Palestinian experience.”

This is not the first campaign of its kind that has been planned – only the first that has actually been broadcast.

In the summer of 2001, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) contracted for the broadcasting of a series of ads featuring Palestinian-Americans from many walks of life identifying themselves proudly, and referring people to a website where they could learn more about the suffering of their brethren in the Middle East.

The ads were scheduled to begin airing on Sept. 12, 2001, but the terrorist attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, led to a quick decision to postpone the project indefinitely.

Imagine Life’s ads are not generic, as ADC’s were. They tackle specific issues facing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and pro-Palestine advocates in the US.

The ad highlighting the suffering of Palestinian Christian communities directly counters a number of themes in pro-Israeli propaganda: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pits Muslims against Jews in a religious war, and that Christians in the United States should stand by Israel.

This discourse elides the very existence of a Palestinian Christian community and, when it does acknowledge it, blames the Palestinian Authority, not the Israeli occupation, for oppressing them.

The millennialist theme in pro-Israel advocacy in the United States has been expanding in recent years, as the evangelical Christian right has moved away from anti-abortion activism to making support for the Israeli far-right its main political platform. Influential preachers such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham have increasingly abandoned defense of the unborn fetus in favor of defense of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon.

By highlighting the suffering of Palestinian Christian communities, Imagine Life is directly challenging one of the most powerful tendencies which blur distinctions between American and Israeli interests and even identities.

Playing on the strengths of television as a medium, the ad uses powerful visual imagery (such as confrontations between clergy and Israeli soldiers), along with music and effective sound bites – “Palestinian Christians suffer under occupation just as Muslims do,” “the vast majority of Christians here are Palestinians” – to undermine the assumptions that many Americans have about Palestinians, Israelis and the conflict.

Of course, the challenges facing pro-Palestinian advocacy go far deeper than evangelical religious sentiments. The European Jewish and Israeli historical narrative, with the Holocaust as its climax and the founding of Israel as its redemptive denouement, is part of the consciousness of most Americans. The Palestinian narrative is almost entirely unknown, and its main features, the nakba of 1947-48 and decades of exile, dispossession and occupation, are either unknown or hotly contested.

And then there is the generalized negativity about the Arab world and Islam that has become an increasing feature of American popular culture since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Imagine Life’s campaign bears some comparison to other grassroots public-relations efforts such as the influential website ElectronicIntifada.net (EI), an online clearinghouse for information and media criticism on the Palestine issue.

EI co-founder Ali Abunimah, told The Daily Star: “We start from a position where Palestinians are seen first of all as Arabs and Muslims, which means in negative terrain in terms of US public opinion.

“Indeed,” he continued, “most Americans have been conditioned by their general cultural background to identify with Israelis and give them at all stages the benefit of the doubt, whereas Palestinians often encounter the opposite bias.”

But Abunimah is optimistic, saying: “On the other hand, I’ve found it’s no problem to convince Americans that Palestinians have a case once they’ve decided they’re willing to listen.”

He believes that “our rhetorical strategies in fact do work, for the most part, but we lack the resources to communicate them to a wide audience on a sustained basis.”

Imagine Life is aiming at just such a sustained effort and is working toward moving beyond the Washington area. A second phase of issue ads is already in the works, and the group is eyeing markets such as South Carolina, New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

The long-term goal is clearly to affect not only American discourse on Palestine, but American policies as well.

Another leader of the Imagine Life campaign, Nina Ghannam, explained: “Our hope is that these advertisements will be an important contribution to promoting responsible and fair US policies that will enhance the prospects for peace.”

Few harbor any illusions about how difficult and protracted a struggle this will be, and even given their ambitious start, the Imagine Life activists are already expressing concern about the funding needed to expand and even sustain their campaign.

Abunimah agreed, saying: “Ultimately, the skill and passion of people who are throwing themselves into this effort with all of their might cannot suffice until we get the Arab and Arab-American communities to invest in what is being done now on too small a scale and to train emerging generations for the coming challenges of the future.”

US court ruling on POWs may cast long shadow

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/Apr/24/US-court-ruling-on-POWs-may-cast-long-shadow.ashx#ixzz2axTkAK8D

In one of the first major post-Sept. 11, 2001, cases to reach the United States Supreme Court, the nine justices this week heard arguments in a case brought by some detainees held in Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The legal issues are narrowly drawn but the implications and stakes, for both domestic and foreign policies, could hardly be more far reaching.

The case examines the jurisdictional issue of whether US courts have any oversight of the government’s handling of the detainees. The plaintiffs, citizens of Australia, Britain and Kuwait, are among about 600 inmates at Camp X-Ray, most allegedly captured during the invasion of Afghanistan or in Pakistan. The prisoners sought redress from civilian American courts on the lack of any mechanism by which they can challenge their detention and status as “enemy combatants.”

Even if they prevail, the case will not decide what kind of hearing process they should be afforded. The decision is likely to hinge on highly technical issues such as whether US law applies in Guantanamo, which has been under American control for over 100 years based on a perpetual lease which makes Cuba the “ultimate sovereign,” and whether there is a distinction in access to American courts between citizens and non-citizens detained outside the US.

However, the court’s ruling, which is expected by the end of June, is widely anticipated to set the tone for how it will view future civil liberties and human rights challenges to the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

It is the first in a series of contests in coming weeks and months pitting traditional American ideas of civil liberties and due process against the administration’s assertions of wartime exigency and executive authority. Next week the court will hear arguments involving the detention of US citizens as “enemy combatants,” and further difficult issues that lie beyond that.

The Guantanamo case is as much defined by its political context as its legal content, with the administration presenting itself as defending an embattled US up to the limits of the letter of the law but not beyond, and its critics charging that it has gone too far.

Solicitor General Theodore Olson encapsulated the administration’s appeal in the first sentence of his presentation: “The United States is at war.”

Olson’s presence in the court was itself a reminder of the horror of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as his wife, the wellknown commentator Barbara Olson, was a passenger on American Airlines flight 77 which struck the Pentagon.

John Gibbons, lawyer for the detainees, argued that by denying US courts have any jurisdiction in Guantanamo Bay, the administration has set up a “lawless enclave,” and believes its “actions are absolutely immune from judicial examination.”

Many observers were struck by the degree of skepticism a number of the justices showed in their questioning of Olson. Justice John Paul Stevens immediately countered Olson’s invocation of war by asking if his arguments would be the same after the war is over. When Olson said they would, Stevens observed: “So the existence of the war is really irrelevant to the legal issue.”

Justice Stephen Breyer summed up doubts about the administration’s claims when he told Olson: “It seems rather contrary to an idea of a Constitution with three branches that the Executive would be free to do whatever they want … without a check.”

Not surprisingly, advocates of both sides claim to be upholding established legal norms.

Mark Moller of the libertarian Cato Institute told The Daily Star: “The Bush administration’s position is out of line with historical practice. Since the start of the Republic, courts have accepted habeas petitions from non-citizens in time of war and the federal habeas statute does not make such a distinction either.”

“History and geography suggest that such a complaint cannot be made,” countered Paul Rosenzweig of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“There were never such hearings about detainees in Vietnam, and the US Constitution never applies outside the United States.”

According to Rosenzweig, “the only laws that apply in Guantanamo are international law, insofar as the United States has agreed to it, and US domestic law, to the extent the government says it does.”

Lee Casey, a Washington attorney who was part of a group of private legal experts who submitted a brief in support of the Bush administration, went further, saying that if the court asserted jurisdiction over foreign nationals held outside the US, “such a ruling could open the floodgates for individuals detained all over the world.”

Another friend of the court brief, filed by a group of US military veterans, sided with the detainees and urged the justices to consider what kind of precedent for Americans captured in conflict was being established by the treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners.

These concerns reflect another subtext to the case – international perceptions that Camp X-Ray represents an unacceptable violation of legal norms. Even the closest US allies, such as Britain and Australia, have expressed deep concern that their citizens are being held at Guantanamo without any legal protections, since their “enemy combatant” identification places them beyond the Geneva Conventions which apply to prisoners of war or any system of domestic laws.

Critics of the administration are quick to identify the foreign policy implications of the case. Professor David Cole of Georgetown University pointed out that “it is in the United States’ interests to deal with the detainees in a manner the world perceives as fair and just, and so far we have failed to do that.”

Rosenzweig acknowledged these concerns, but insisted “international perceptions have to take a back seat to security. If the choice is between annoying the French and keeping our country safe, I opt for the second.”

While Americans have been more sensitive to concerns of European allies about Camp X-Ray, international dismay over the detentions may be most damaging in the Middle East.

The identity of most of the Guantanamo prisoners is not known. As a Human Rights Watch report said, “the public still does not know who the detainees are, what they have allegedly done and whether and when they will be charged with crimes or released.”

It is believed that many of the detainees at Camp X-Ray are Arabs, since the US military operated under the assumption that foreign fighters in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan were Al-Qaeda members, and were regarded as posing a far more serious threat than locals.

Many Afghan troops were assumed to be low-level Taleban members, and were detained in Afghanistan. In many cases, they were simply disarmed and released from custody.

According to a survey by United Press International (UPI) published on April 2, “At least 160 of the 650 detainees acknowledged by the Pentagon as being held at … Guantanamo, Cuba … are from Saudi Arabia.”

UPI added “the other top nationalities being held are Yemen with 85, Pakistan with 82, Jordan and Egypt, each with 30.”

Jumana Musa, of Amnesty International’s Washington office, had a different view, telling The Daily Star: “It is thought that about one third of the detainees are from Yemen, but we can’t be certain of course.”

The spectacle of hundreds of Arabs being held under what are widely regarded as arbitrary and onerous conditions, plays strongly into the notion that the US war on terrorism is fundamentally unjust and involves a disregard for Arabs basic rights.

Growing perceptions in the Middle East lump the Guantanamo detentions with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, US support for the policies of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon and support for human rights abuses by Arab governments as evidence of a general American hostility to Arabs.

Moller argues that the Guantanamo detentions are particularly problematic “given our role in Iraq and our stance of democracy promotion in the Middle East.”

Many observers concluded that this ruling would be determined by the positions of centrist Justices Sandra Day O’Conner and Anthony Kennedy.

Cole, who has argued a number of important civil liberties cases before the Supreme Court, told The Daily Star: “It’s clear that at least four justices were decidedly sympathetic to the detainees’ arguments, and both of the swing justices expressed at least some sympathy.

“Many people walking out of the courtroom would predict that it will be close, but perhaps five-four in favor of the detainees.”

Election concerns most likely behind Bush’s flip-flop

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Analysis/Apr/19/Election-concerns-most-likely-behind-Bushs-flip-flop.ashx#ixzz2axU103Hj

Political observers in Washington are virtually unanimous that domestic US election concerns drove President George W. Bush’s decision last week to endorse Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for “unilateral disengagement,” agree that Israel will not have to return to the borders of 1949, and declare that Palestinian refugees will be resettled in a Palestinian state “rather than Israel.”

At first glance, these positions seem a stunning reversal of decades of US policies holding that Israeli settlements are illegal or at least “obstacles to peace.” They also appear to contradict the president’s own “road map” which reserves issues including “borders, Jerusalem, refugees, (and) settlements” to be determined through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at an international conference.

On the other hand, Bush supporters have been quick to point out that his positions¬† mirror those which informed President Bill Clinton’s efforts to broker a Middle East peace at Camp David and Taba in 2000.

Some say Bush is merely formalizing long-established understandings that Israel will not have to leave all its settlements and that Palestinian refugees will not be permitted to return to Israel in large numbers, in the same way he was the first president to formally call for the creation of a Palestinian state.

It is widely believed in Washington that both Bush and his father see the elder Bush’s challenge to Israel over settlements as a major factor contributing to his loss in 1992 to Bill Clinton, and that Bush junior is determined not to repeat this mistake.

A Republican insider close to Bush agreed that election concerns played a role in the his shift, but said privately: “Bush continuously returns to the theme of the creation of a Palestinian state.”

He suggested that if Bush is re-elected, he would likely rethink some of the implications of his recent statements, saying, “after the election, there will be more options for dealing with Israel, and more ways of getting leverage.”

“The bottom line is that the only thing permanent about this is that the Israelis will leave Gaza,” he added, “everything else will be subject to change.”

The administration official who has pushed most forcefully for Bush to embrace Sharon’s plan is Elliott Abrams, the senior Middle East policy official at the National Security Council and a strong supporter of the Israeli far right. Abrams and other pro-Israel neoconservatives in the administration have presented this strong tilt toward Sharon as part of a strategic vision for the future of the Middle East. They argue that if Sharon pulls out of Gaza with US support, Palestinians will be able to construct effective institutions there which can pave the way for ending the occupation in much of the West Bank as well, setting the stage for at the creation of a Palestinian state.

At an April 14 briefing orchestrated by Abrams, a “senior administration official” was spinning furiously in that direction: “There’s nothing in this paper, in what the President said or his letter, that changes our policy on settlements. What’s new is that Sharon has decided to abandon settlements, both in Gaza and in the West Bank. We think that is a very positive precedent.”

But even those sympathetic to these strategic arguments see signs of election-year calculations at work. The Jewish Telegraph Agency quotes David Makovsky of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy as saying “Iraq points to the need of the administration for some achievement,” and that it “will want to showcase the Gaza pullout as an example of its success in the region.”

Many in Washington have expressed skepticism that the president’s embrace of Sharon’s unilateral plans will enhance the administration’s aura of being in control of developments in the Middle East.

Theodore H. Kattouf, until recently US ambassador to Syria and a State Department veteran, observed, “There may well be some who hope that this will lay the groundwork for a two-state solution and force the Palestinians into what they regard as a more realistic approach to peacemaking.” “But,” he continued, “it does not appear the Administration gave enough weight to how such a dramatic tilt would affect vital US interests in the region, especially Iraq, at such a difficult and sensitive time.”

Kattouf suggested election concerns were indeed at play, saying “senior officials are aware of the contretemps that surrounded the Bush (senior) when he took a stand against further settlement activity and … reduced loans to Israel on a dollar-for-dollar basis.”

But Kattouf said there were strategic as well as political motivations for the policy shift, as Bush and his advisers “almost certainly see the value in having the architect of the settlement movement dismantle some of those settlements, (and) establishing a precedent the importance of which should not be underestimated.”

“The real question,” Kattouf said, “is, did they overpay for something that most Israelis wanted to do in any case? I would argue they did.”

U.S. Fumbling Postwar Plan

http://articles.latimes.com/2003/apr/04/news/war-oeibish4

If concern is growing that ideological convictions at the Defense Department resulted in costly miscalculations regarding the war in Iraq, even greater alarm is warranted by glaring missteps in the preparation for what comes after the war.

Take, for instance, the political profile of the man tapped to lead the occupation, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.

Garner’s stated opinions on Middle Eastern politics make him singularly unsuitable for the indescribably sensitive task of being the first U.S. administrator of a large Arab country. In 2000, Garner signed a statement backing Israel’s hard-line tactics in enforcing the occupation of the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This statement, which was organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a think tank close to the Israeli far right, praised the Israel Defense Forces’ “remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority” and advised the strongest possible American support.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Arab politics knows that any association between an American occupation of Iraq and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands poses great danger. It is guaranteed to breed deep resentment and bitter opposition, especially as U.S. checkpoints in Iraq begin to look increasingly like those in the West Bank.

Persistent reports in the British and American press suggest that Garner will be in charge of 23 ministries, each headed by an American with Iraqi advisors. Not only will this look and feel like a colonial administration, the identity of some of the Iraqi advisors rings alarms.

Most disturbing is the role apparently planned for Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, a U.S.-created opposition group based in London with no visible presence or support in Iraq. He is extremely popular with the neoconservatives in and around the administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

In the Middle East, however, Chalabi is also known for swindling tens of millions of dollars from a bank he headed in Jordan. In April 1992, he was sentenced in absentia to 22 years’ hard labor on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and speculation with the Jordanian dinar. For many months this man has been demanding that Washington appoint him prime minister of Iraq. It is cold comfort indeed to learn that he will be Garner’s “advisor” at a ministry of finance.

Other early signs for how the administration of Iraq will function are equally not encouraging.

The management of the port of Umm al Qasr, one of the few places in Iraq under complete Western control, has produced a split between British and American authorities. The British view is that the Iraqi manager, who has been in his position for years, is capable of doing the job. Our government insisted, however, in providing a lucrative contract to run the port to Stevedoring Services of Seattle.

Australia has expressed concern that its existing wheat contracts with Iraq will be transferred to U.S. interests.

This appears to be the pattern set for most such arrangements in Iraq, with not only allies, the United Nations and major nongovernmental organizations frozen out of the process but with local Iraqis as well, in favor of American corporations.

Some NGOs, of course, will be present in Iraq, and one of the first to announce its intention to follow in the footsteps of the invasion force is the evangelical organization led by Franklin Graham. Graham, who has repeatedly insisted that Islam is a “very evil, wicked religion,” will hardly be a reassuring presence to ordinary Iraqis.

The behavior of some of our troops has also provided ominous signs of political problems to come. Gestures such as naming Army bases in Iraq after Exxon and captured airstrips “George W. Bush International Airport” do not convey a message of liberation.

Between Garner, Chalabi, Stevedoring, Graham and “Camp Exxon,” not to mention the checkpoints, the prospects for winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis seem dim indeed.