Promises, promises: the true cost of freedom for the people

What kind of country is the 'coalition' handing over to the government of Iyad Allawi? Glen Rangwala analyses the post-war legacy

27 June 2004



What we promised: "Coalition forces will make the country safe, and will work with the United Nations to help Iraq get back on its feet."

Tony Blair's message to the Iraqi people, 8 April 2003

What happened: Coalition military leaders now recognise that a substantial sector of the Iraqi population has been engaged in fighting an insurgency against them from the start of the occupation. At first, it was thought that stability could be achieved simply by taking out the leaders of anti-coalition paramilitary groups in "mopping-up operations".

From September 2003, however, the occupation authorities began to think of the violence as a broadly based insurgency. A new, more vigorous attempt to defeat it was put in place in November, at Washington's insistence, aiming to bring the uprising to a halt in time for the US presidential election a year later. But the security situation has deteriorated: it is commonly accepted that the November plan was too optimistic. There are a number of paramilitary challengers, from the Sadr brigades in the Shia-dominated south and east of the country to the people the coalition refers to as the "restorationists" - those who want to see the return of a government led by the Sunni Arab elite.

Success in defeating them remains elusive. One survey of Iraqi morgues in just four of Iraq's 18 provinces found that 5,500 Iraqis died violent deaths in the first 12 months of the occupation. The provinces surveyed did not include western Iraq, which has had much of the fighting. Bombing areas within restive Iraqi towns has become a standard feature of the US military, in a seemingly futile attempt to quell the resistance.

What comes next: Security remains the key problem for the coalition, as the bombings on Thursday - which killed 100 people - showed. Some of the insurgents remain popular: Muqtada al-Sadr, who declared war on the occupation authorities in April, was found to be the most popular Iraqi politician in a recent poll, with 68 per cent of the population voicing some or full support for him. As Mr Sadr is refusing to participate in the coalition-sponsored process after 30 June, the potential for heightened disorder remains real.


What we promised: "For the first time in decades, Iraqis will soon choose their own representative government."

Joint statement by Tony Blair and George Bush, 8 April 2003

What happened: Plans for national elections in Iraq were sidelined very soon after the occupation began. Since then, plans for a first democratic step have vacillated between drawing up a constitution, holding local caucuses, and creating an Iraqi loya jirga. None of these proposals has yet been put into practice. The result is that few Iraqis understand the plans, and fewer still believe that the coalition will hold to them.

The current plan, in the interim constitution, is to hold a grand conference of selected Iraqis soon, but to give it no decision-making role; and to follow this through with interim elections next January. A senior UK diplomat recently referred to these elections as "being stuck together with string and Sellotape", due to the lack of adequate preparations. The first full elections are scheduled for December 2005 - almost three years after the occupation began. There have been some local democracy initiatives, but these have been launched in largely ad hoc ways, on the initiative of coalition officials in hospitable towns. The Research Triangle Institute, which the US contracted to manage the democratisation programme, has not been able to undertake any activities in four of Iraq's crucial governorates, owing to the strength of local opposition.

What comes next: International officials involved with the political process within Iraq acknowledge that plans for installing democratic government have fallen off their agendas. It will be left to the interim government to decide how strictly to hold to the election timetable: the interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, writes in The Independent on Sunday today that Iraq's version of democracy "should not be a replica of an imported model from the US, Britain, or indeed any other country".


What we promised: "We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave."

George Bush's message to the Iraqi people, 10 April 2003

What happened: The only official organised military force in Iraq is that of the coalition. The Iraqi army was disbanded in May 2003. This put 400,000 young men out of work, and meant that there was no Iraqi force that could be used against insurgents. There are also around 30 significant Iraqi militias inside the country, such as the Kurdish peshmerga in the north and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in the south and east.

The coalition set about creating a new Iraqi army. However, at the insistence of Walter Slocombe, the US official who undertook the disbandment of the old army, the new one is barred by law from acting to preserve internal security. This left anti-insurgency work to the coalition, resulting in politically unacceptable levels of US casualties.

A new Iraqi outfit, the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps, was eventually created, which could be used against insurgents. Owing to the shortage of recruits, it drew heavily on the militias of supportive political parties. Coalition leaders accept that the old chains of command from the militias have been imported into the ICDC. When the coalition tried to use the force against insurgents in Fallujah in April, the political parties from which its members came were able to order their followers not to participate.

What comes next: Even those Iraqi political parties allied with the US have jealously guarded their ability to maintain unofficial armed militias and prevent them from being incorporated fully into a national army. As part of the new government, they will be even better placed to maintain these forces. Attempts to disband the irregular militias are unlikely to be successful.


What we promised: "Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is a rather wealthy country. Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction."

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, 18 February 2003

What happened: Huge US budgetary allocations have been necessary to finance the occupation: US expenditure in Iraq, for troops and development, has been estimated over $100bn (£54.8bn). This is partly because revenue from Iraq's oil has been smaller than expected. Attacks on pipelines have periodically shut Iraq's capacity to export its crude oil, with the 16,000 troops protecting Iraq's oil infrastructure proving relatively ineffective.

Iraq, with the second largest oil reserves in the world, has become an oil importer so that its own population can run their cars. The management of oil revenues has been criticised by UN-mandated auditors KPMG for lack of transparency: it has become unclear what they are being used for, and if corruption exists on any substantial scale.

What comes next: As long as the insurgents continue to target oil facilities, Iraq will not be able to pay for its development without international aid. And the lack of transparency will harm prospects for much-needed foreign investment in Iraq's oil sector.


What we promised: "We expect to produce enough electricity for all Iraqis to have electrical service 24 hours daily - something essential to their hopes for the future."

Paul Bremer, US administrator in Iraq, 9 October 2003

What happened: The electricity supply in central Iraq has got steadily worse since the start of the year. According to the Pentagon, in early June the population of seven of Iraq's 18 governorates received less than eight hours electricity a day. Baghdad, with a quarter of Iraq's population, receives 11 hours of electricity a day. The situation has been better in the south, where Basra has had round-the-clock electricity for parts of the year. The coalition plan was to renovate power stations in southern Iraq and use the spare capacity to feed electricity northwards along the eastern network. Not only have transmission lines been attacked, but electricity generation in the central region is around half what it was before the war.

What comes next: The electricity system remains vulnerable to attack from insurgents looking to cause maximum impact and thieves stealing the copper. The increased dependence of the Baghdad region on the south for power could cause inter-regional conflict in future.


What we promised: "Today [Iraq] is impoverished, 60 per cent of its population dependent on food aid. Thousands of children die needlessly every year from lack of food and medicine."

Tony Blair, to the House of Commons, 18 March 2003

What happened: Mr Blair's implied promise was that things would improve if Saddam were ousted, but after 15 months of occupation the level of dependence on food rations is unchanged. The coalition wanted to give families money rather than a food basket, but policymakers dropped the idea when they realised the rationing structure was almost the only way of distributing food. Every month, food worth $7m (£3.85m) is still being lost through theft.

What comes next: The coalition has ducked the problem of ration dependency, leaving it for the new government. Social unrest could result.


What we promised: "We have got teams of people ... tasked with interviewing the scientists and experts who worked on the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programme ... I have no doubt whatever that the evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction will be there."

Tony Blair, 31 May 2003

What happened: Neither WMD - the stated reason for the war - nor programmes for their production has been found by the inspectors introduced by the US. As a result, the coalition has found it harder to justify its presence in Iraq to the world and to the Iraqi people.

What comes next: The future of US-led inspection teams is uncertain. The new UN Security Council mandate for the country does not authorise their continued presence. Any future Iraqi government may curtail or stop their activities, which means there might never be a final verdict on Iraq's WMD.