The other Iraq news

Posted: Jul 21, 2003 12:00 AM

In the past week, a new leadership council was named in Iraq, and its 25 members have already moved quickly, abolishing all holidays honoring Saddam Hussein and laying the groundwork for a war crimes tribunal.  But only a handful of Americans are likely to know that—such stuff of burgeoning freedom is not as “sexy” as trashing the leader of the free world.

  Free from decades of Saddam’s tyranny, the Iraqi people are getting their first taste of representative government.  Promises are being made, criticism is being dished out, and soon-to-be-voters are making up their minds about the politicians appointed by the United States to the transitional authority.  Put into historical context—think of the years it took to rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II—the establishment of a council fresh out of the war is an impressive accomplishment.  Add in the context of an ongoing, low-intensity war waged by, among others, Saddam loyalists, and the feat is nearly miraculous.

  That’s not to say the political news coming out of Iraq is all positive.  It’s not.  Although largely comprised of respectable characters, the council has some members with rather unsavory ties.  There is someone who belongs to a group that has never renounced its terrorist past and two people with loyalties to neighboring—and despotic—governments:

· Ibrahim Jafari belongs to the Dawa party, which is responsible for the 1983 bombing of the embassy in Kuwait that killed six and injured dozens.  As with most terrorist organizations that develop a political arm—Jafari is Dawa’s equivalent of the Irish Republican Army’s Gerry Adams—Dawa has not renounced its terrorist past.

· Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim is the brother of the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim.  SCIRI makes no secret of its close alliance with the Iranian government, whose mullah-run regime is openly pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and whose state newspapers are calling for the murder of American soldiers in Iraq.

· Adnan Pachachi is the octogenarian former foreign minister—and he is openly backed by the House of Saud.  When he was the foreign minister of Iraq in the 1960’s, Pachachi was very close to the first generation of Palestinian terrorists.  And after the Baath party had come to power, Pachachi refused to condemn the hanging of Jews in Baghdad in 1969.  A man with little following inside Iraq, Pachachi’s primary support comes from the Saudi royal family, whose petrodollars help fuel terrorism around the world.

  The council is generating at least modest support inside Iraq—and even in neighboring Arab nations—though the U.S. team working with them is not as popular.  Given the disastrous start for U.S. administrators, it is not difficult to see why. 

  Shortly after the war ended, State Department officials decided to go against the wishes of President Bush to eradicate the remnants of Saddam’s iron fist.  By appointing a number of high-ranking Baath party members to prominent posts—the most egregious being the reinstatement of Saddam’s personal physician as president of Baghdad University—ordinary Iraqis were outraged at the United States.  It took the new civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, to smooth things over.

  In his first major move upon arriving in May, Bremer issued a sweeping de-Baathification order, banning anywhere from 15,000 – 30,000 former Saddam loyalists from holding any public office, including at schools or hospitals.  Since then, Bremer has avoided much of the dissension that plagued his predecessor, Jay Garner.  Wanting to assess the situation for himself, Bremer pushed back the timetable for various projects, including the creation of a new political leadership.

  The council is off to a good start—even if some of its members should not have been named in the first place.  But just as Bremer fixed the initial mess, maybe he can do the same with this one of his own making.  Whether he does or not, though, it would be nice for the media to fill in Americans on his progress.