To a new dawn

The Coalition Provisional Authority on Monday transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi people, two days ahead of the scheduled date, to pre-empt possible sabotage by the insurgents fighting the US-led occupation forces. L Paul Bremer, the American governor of Iraq, has left for home. It is indeed a good piece of news but it does not tell the whole story. The change of date, the secret ceremony, the tightest possible security around the 20-minute simple ceremony — all this gives a glimpse of the fragile security situation in Iraq. Bremer’s departure does not connote America leaving. He has left behind 160,000 US-led troops, who enjoy special privileges. He has also left behind fear and chaos created by the invasion of Iraq, a tattered economy and a people in dire need of basic supplies. No doubt, it is a limited form of sovereignty and Iraqis hope it is the beginning of their independence.

Given the magnitude of the tasks facing the unelected interim government, with Ayad Allawi as the new prime minister and Sheikh Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar as the new president, it is doubtful whether it would be able to bring the situation under control and steer Iraq out of the chaos to a new dawn, to be represented by the new elected establishment on the basis of a constitution approved by the Iraqis themselves. Now, the new government will have to learn the complex art of politics and governance under the heavy shadow of the Americans. Fears have also arisen over what some have dubbed as authoritarian tendencies of the new rulers. The new Iraqi provisional government is hardly a big achievement against the background of the looting that followed US occupation, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and police that have led to a dangerous spiral of crime, the failure to rebuild the country, the continued vast American military presence and the uncertainty surrounding the elections.

Restoring law and order is the top immediate task facing the government, but it is truly a tall order. Money is a problem too. Oil exports which account for 97 per cent of the Iraqi government’s daily operating revenue stands well below what Iraq exported under Saddam, and production is subject to sabotage. Reconstruction needs are dire, but only 10 per cent of foreign aid committed has arrived. Now that Iraq has an indigenous government it may find it easier to call for help. An overwhelming task for the new government is to forge a national consensus on the future of Iraq. However, the provisional government will find it hard to make big reforms as it lacks the popular mandate. In the final analysis, Iraq deserves all the support and help, including that of the UN, in its efforts to make a transition to peace, stability and a representative government free of alien control.