All Writings
November 16, 2003

U.N. Trusteeship for Iraq

The decision by President Bush to speed up the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government and formally end the American occupation by June 2004 will not put a stop to the insurgency. But it will certainly place at risk the chances for creating a free and democratic Iraq whose government was expected to be emulated throughout the Middle East. Regardless of the configuration of any new interim government, Iraq's historical religious and ethnic factionalism will prevent the creation of a stable government in such a short period. Before the Iraqi people can fully assume political control of their own destiny, they need to develop democratic institutions and their own political maturity. Both will take far more time than Mr. Bush seems willing to concede. Only a UN trusteeship can provide the necessary framework for an orderly transfer of power while giving us not only with an honorable exit but a reasonable chance of achieving one of our main objectives–a free and a democratic Iraq.

Obviously, Mr. Bush's speeded-up exit plan is motivated by his concern over his prospects for reelection. He would like nothing more than to offer a way out of the Iraqi morass before most of the electorate decides how to vote. But in his haste to get out of Iraq, Mr. Bush should not negate all that we have sacrificed in lives and resources during this terribly misguided venture. The only way to salvage something is for him to turn to the United Nations as it is the only body with experience in nation building. Quite sensibly, the United Nations is, however, unwilling to return to Iraq under the present circumstances without a clear mandate and while violence continues to rage. Although administration officials indicated that American forces will remain in Iraq by invitation after the transfer of power, it would be a grave mistake if we substantially reduce our forces in Iraq before the restoration of some order and stability.

Many Iraqi leaders are clamoring for power; impatient to grasp and exercise it. Under a U.N. trusteeship, they would still be able to achieve their objectives while fully participating in governing. But these should occur under conditions and terms established by the United Nations that enhance rather than undermine the prospects for future stability. Iraq has never had a democratic form of government and from every indication those who support the democratic process, like the Shiite majority, do so because they believe that the concept of one man one vote, if practiced, will give them an overwhelming majority. As for the Sunni and the Kurdish communities, they support democracy in principle. They insist on sharing power and oppose any interference of their right to control their own internal affairs under any circumstances. The Sunnis and Kurds can be counted on to resort to arms should any democratic political system deprive them of power. This is precisely why a trusteeship is needed to allow for the time necessary to to write a constitution that gives a voice to these minority groups, a document perhaps based on a federal system, if political stability is to endure once the American forces leave.

A U.N. trusteeship will work well in Iraq as it has in East Timor and Kosovo. In Iraq, though, the situation is considerably more complicated not only because of deep-seeded Iraqi factionalism but because Iraq has become a center of terrorism, a situation unlikely to change without some form of long-term American commitment. The trusteeship should also have an equally unequivocal mandate to write a constitution. For the trusteeship to be legitimate and acceptable to the three main Iraqi demographic blocks-the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds–it would be necessary to pass a Security Council resolution granting to the trusteeship the authority it needs. In this connection, our forces, although slightly reduced, would have the ultimate responsibility for security. Together with the forces of our coalition partners, all under our command, we would provide the security for the trusteeship by peace keeping, monitoring and suppressing terrorism, training Iraqi security forces, and restructuring institutions while maintaining order. A study of the specific needs and concerns of the three main groups in Iraq along with gradual deliberations by the trusteeship will be critical to the development of a national consensus concerning political power sharing, which will in the process considerably ease the inherent frictions between the factions. Finally, U.N. trusteeship will allow the surrounding Arab states especially, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, to play an important role by publically supporting the creation of a democratic state which should do much to help legitimize it. If such a scenario unfolds, we too will be the beneficiaries, probably in the form of greater support from our friends and allies. We will be then in a much stronger position internationally to demand from Syria and Iran, the two other major regional players, to stop insurgents from using their countries as jumping off places to enter Iraq or face the consequences if they refuse.

Sadly, Mr. Bush ventured into Iraq largely because of many erroneous assumptions. As a result, the administration has been forced along the way to switch gears and change polices and approaches. Still, the casualties mount daily. Meanwhile, administration officials, including the President, never admit to having made any mistakes, and every policy correction is presented as if it were carefully planned. Now it appears that the administration is about to commit another major blunder by trying to cut its losses and patch together a hasty transfer of power. It would be far wiser to turn to the United Nations and seek a trusteeship for Iraq for the sake of all concerned, especially the Iraqi people.