However, it was groups with holy war as ideology that were responsible for the first and most spectacular actions (the attack on the Jordanian embassy and on the UN headquarters in August 2003). A fundamental problem was the lack of control over Iraq’s borders, and foreign, young men were responsible for or contributed to these actions.
To give the occupation a local face , the Iraqi Steering Council was established. It looked both representative and inclusive. 25 people from all Iraqi ethnic and religious groups were included. The problem was that these had most often been in exile and thus had little legitimacy among the average Iraqi, especially the Sunni Arab representatives. The establishment opened up for an ethnic-religious state where all groups were represented according to size (much like in Lebanon). It was the first time such an attempt was made in Iraq, which may well have helped to increase tensions between the groups in the fragile state.
Perhaps the most important reason why the occupiers did not achieve the popular support they believed in was that they failed to improve people’s living conditions . Crime increased, unemployment rose sharply and the power supply failed dramatically. A common recurrence in the streets of Iraq was the rhetorical question “If the United States manages to send tanks around the globe, should they also be able to send generators and turbines?” Towards the end of the Bremer regime – he left Iraq on June 28, 2004 – there was still no more power than in Saddam Hussein’s last days. The power plants were bombed, the network was sabotaged and the occupation authorities were unable to repair the already very damaged and old-fashioned electricity production.
According to Deputy Energy Minister Raad al-Haris, the Americans did not initially trust the Iraqis and wanted to do everything themselves (interview with the author). “When the Americans arrived in April 2003, we thought they would be efficient and easy to work with. But it turned out that they had a heavy and bureaucratic system. It took six to eight months to make a decision. “If we had started right after the invasion, we could have met the needs of the Iraqi people.”
4: Sunni Arab fall in power
According to insidewatch, the space of power that came with the invasion and the subsequent occupation was gradually filled with parties with clearly religious or ethnic orientations. For the two groups that had previously been shut out of power, the Shiites and the Kurds, the moment had come.
The Iraqis went to the polls three times during 2005. First to elect a temporary assembly to write Iraq’s new constitution. The election was boycotted by the Sunni Arabs. They thought it was impossible to make a proper choice as the security situation was. Their core area, Anbar province west and north of Baghdad, was then at full war with the US occupation forces. The fighting had been particularly fierce in and around Fallujah . Nor did they have a proper party structure to lead. Since they had not stood for election, they stood outside when the constitution was written.
It was about two main issues , federalism , ie regional independence, and the place of religion . The Kurds wanted maximum regional autonomy. The Shiites wanted to give religion as central a place as possible. Article 2A states: “No law that goes against prevailing views on Islam can be passed.” Subordinate, it says in paragraph B that «no laws that go against democratic principles can be passed».
The constitution allows for strong regional self-government, among other things when it comes to the management of natural resources, ie oil and gas. These were frightening prospects for the Sunni Arabs, who sit on a small part of Iraq’s natural resources. They mobilized to vote against when the constitution was put to a referendum on 15 October. The Sunni Arabs mainly followed the call; the Kurds and Shia Muslims voted in favor. The constitution was adopted and another election was announced – for a permanent assembly in December 2005.
Again, all the groups mobilized to gain as much power as possible, and the result was an imprint of Iraq’s ethnic and religious divisions. Sunni Arabs voted for Sunni Arab parties, Kurdish parties for Kurdish and Shia Muslims voted for the joint list that had the ayatollah Sistani’s approval. The people showed real joy, pride and courage by massively going to the polls. The process in advance and the result, however, was anything but reassuring.
In a troubled Iraq, people had begun to define themselves unilaterally on the basis of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. The year before, 67 percent in an opinion poll had said that religion was their most important marker of identity, 12 percent had black ethnicity and only 1 percent thought it was one’s tribe.
When the assembly was finally elected, it took a very long time before a government could be established. The parties made the state their apparatus of power. They often prioritized their parties and militia groups over national institutions. Central power was very weak, and Iraq became more and more illegal . Kidnappings had been commonplace for a long time, but in the end people hardly dared to leave home at all, in addition, the car bombs became more numerous and the infrastructure decayed.