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A POLICY UNRAVELS

THE UNITED STATES administration's defence of its Iraq policy has been steadily rendered untenable by developments on the ground. Its justifications for the invasion have not withstood close scrutiny and it is unable to contain the consequences of its actions. David Kay, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency's team of weapons inspectors until recently, has confirmed that Iraq did not possess a non-conventional capability. In the team's assessment the weapons of mass destruction capability, which Iraq possessed up to 1990, was destroyed years before the invasion, either on the initiative of the former Ba'ath regime or under the pressure of international inspections. While Dr. Kay tried to provide the administration with two avenues of escape, it might not be able to avail of them. It cannot explore the possibility that remnants of the Iraqi programme could have been smuggled out to Syria, since it lacks the domestic and international credibility to pressure the Damascus regime in the way it did the former regime in Baghdad. The administration also cannot take shelter behind the CIA official's statement that errors in judgment should be attributed to the intelligence services rather than to the political echelon. President Bush and his political appointees have so consistently followed a pattern of doctoring data and concocting cases to suit their political purposes that they cannot blame professionals in the intelligence services for the wide gap between reality and their projections of it.

In resisting a Shia leader's demand for the holding of direct elections at the earliest, the U.S. has invalidated its post-invasion justification that its objective was to establish a democratic order in Iraq that could serve as a beacon of liberalism for the rest of the region. An administration that is clearly desperate to lower its profile in Iraq, even as it continues to wield real power, has tried to push through a scheme for the indirect election of a new Iraqi national assembly by caucuses of unelected delegates. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's refrain that any government chosen by such a national assembly would be unrepresentative was echoed by large sections of Iraq's Shia majority who demonstrated in the streets. Unable to budge the Ayatollah, the Bush administration has turned desperately to the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, for a bail-out: it has pleaded with him to despatch a team to assess whether elections are feasible. While Mr. Annan has not taken a decision, the U.S. has, not very subtly, indicated that it expects the U.N. team to certify that nationwide balloting cannot be held under current security conditions. Washington hopes that the U.N.'s endorsement of the scheme for indirect elections, with modifications if necessary, will enable it to hold the Ayatollah in check. Will Mr. Annan endorse the idea with a view to ending the animosity the Bush administration has brought into dealings with the U.N. and with countries, especially France, that have refused to go along with the illegitimate project of invading and occupying Iraq?

It is not inconceivable that the Iraqi Ayatollah will be persuaded by the U.N. to accept the American plans, at least for the short term. However, it is unlikely that he will agree to a power distribution scheme that fails to reflect the numerical strength of the Shia community. An Iraqi Government dominated by people who base their political identity on religious belief would be a serious embarrassment to the Bush administration. In that case, Mr. Bush and his officials will have their work cut out to convince Americans that their security has been enhanced by the political fruits of their invasion of Iraq. With justifications for the war in tatters and further uncertainties and complications lying in wait, Mr. Bush's Iraqi misadventure will continue to haunt him, even if he manages to win the November presidential election.

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