The speed with which the US is forfeiting the goodwill it had in Iraq is breathtaking. With the exception of the Kurds, most Iraqis opposed the invasion of their country, and once US troops had succeeded in toppling former president Saddam Hussein without massive casualties or tides of refugees the dominant emotion was relief. Public displays of gratitude were few, but there was widespread satisfaction that the dictator and his regime were gone.
A month later, the mood has changed. Iraqis are staggered that the efficiency of the US fighting machine was not matched by post-conflict competence worthy of a superpower.
Overriding everything is the issue of governance. Who is going to run Iraq, and will it be done for the benefit of Iraqis or of outside powers? Some reports suggest that Iraqis do not care who governs them, as long as someone competent ends the chaos soon. That is a false perception. American mismanagement in the first month of occupation has led an increasing number of Iraqis to distrust the whole US enterprise.
Even America's Iraqi friends are having second thoughts. Many Iraqi exiles who were recruited months ago by Washington's Future of Iraq project, to work in Baghdad ministries alongside American "advisers" after regime change, are hesitating to take up their posts.
The draft resolution on Iraq which the US put forward at the UN last Friday adds to the suspicions. It makes no mention of letting UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq. It threatens within four months to abolish the system of subsidized food rations on which 60 percent of Iraqis depended before the war, and which even more need now that the economy has collapsed. It awards the US almost total control over Iraq's oil revenues.
The US is trying to steamroller the resolution through the Security Council with the argument that sanctions must be lifted urgently to help the Iraqi people. Never mind that it was the US that insisted on maintaining sanctions long after the first Gulf war in spite of opposition from ordinary Iraqis. They pleaded in vain that they were the ones who suffered, while the regime's elite was untouched.
Lifting sanctions is important, but it is far more necessary to lift the occupation. Iraq is very different from the last three places where outside intervention led to regime change. In Kosovo and East Timor in 1999, foreign forces removed ethnically based colonial- style administrations. The UN then came in to help previously repressed people to form a new state virtually from scratch.
Afghanistan was a failed state that lost its central government and most of its professional class in 1992. It, too, needed UN help to rebuild when the Taliban were ousted.
Iraq, by contrast, has not ceased to be a powerful state with a highly developed intelligentsia and tens of thousands of trained technocrats. The fact that it was a political dictatorship for 30 years does not detract from the skill and educational level of its people. Nor does it mean that the large number of professionals who chose not to go into exile are necessarily criminals.
The notion that US advisers should sit in every Iraqi ministry is an insult. So, too, is the idea that Iraq needs any kind of foreign occupying power or "authority," as the US draft resolution euphemistically calls it. Once Iraq has an interim government, perhaps within the next month, the concept of supervision becomes unnecessary.