The relief and elation felt by the US-led coalition forces over the relatively easy ‘conquest’ of Baghdad must have been diminished by the eruption of what the UN has described as ‘anarchy’.
The lawlessness of the kind seen in Baghdad and Basra cannot but cause deep embarrassment to the Americans and the British, the putative ‘liberators’ who had come to the aid and succour of the tyrannised Iraqi people. The evident solution is the establishment of civic authority, but that points to the heart of the problem. Whatever authority there was in Iraq all these years is associated with the despised ousted regime. There is no credible infrastructure, therefore, on which the coalition forces can fall back. Yet, they can neither allow the situation to deteriorate nor undertake policing duties — something which all armies in the world are traditionally unwilling to do.
In the vaguely comparable case of ‘liberation’ of Bangladesh in 1972, the descent into social chaos was prevented by the presence of the Mukti Bahini with strong popular support and the Awami League with a nationwide organisational network. Iraq has nothing similar. Its army and paramilitary forces are in disarray and can’t be trusted. And the ‘political’ Ba’ath party is even more untrustworthy.
Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, therefore, has to be built from scratch. But even this task will be complicated by the ambitions of the Iraqi exiles who will now be expected to flood the place. Besides, it is unclear how the local people will react to these new arrivals who might be regarded as American puppets. It may be to remove any such perception that Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress has said that Iraq must be run by Iraqis. Yet, a day earlier, he was wondering what Jay Garner, the retired US general expected to assume charge as the ‘viceroy’ of Baghdad, was doing in Kuwait City when all hell was breaking loose in Iraq. Among the countries which may feel a little relieved by the anarchic conditions in Iraq is Syria, which has already been identified by the US as the next on its ‘hit list’. But until Iraq ‘settles down’, Syria can breathe easy.