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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 15:34 GMT
Analysis: Iraq's future undecided

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

A year after the invasion and the end-game in Iraq has not yet begun. The war, so divisive in its effect on international opinion, has not so far been decisive in shaping the future of Iraq itself.

The outcome will help determine whether the United States and Britain will be able to argue before history that, whatever the arguments over weapons of mass destruction, they did destroy a dictatorship and, as with Germany and Japan, re-ordered a society with beneficial implications for the region and the world.

Iraqi opinion poll:
Key results of the survey

For others, the end will never justify the means. They will continue to argue that the United Nations was flouted and that the war was fought on the basis of, at best, exaggeration and, at worst, lies, with ominous implications for the region and the world.

There is equally no agreed opinion about the effect of the war in Iraq on the war on terror declared by President Bush after the 11 September attacks against the US.

Aftermath planning

It was not supposed to be this way, of course. The idea was that the triumphant allied troops would be greeted as liberators and that the Iraqis, shorn of their Baathist leadership, would rally round and rapidly agree to new and democratic structures of government.

That was probably why so little planning was put into the aftermath of war. A retired American general, Jay Garner, a man with a solid enough record for work among the Kurds after the first Gulf War, was sent in as the chief of "Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance". That, in itself, indicated where the priorities lay: with rebuilding the infrastructure. It was as if the politics would take care of themselves. They did not.

IRAQI OPINION POLL

Quite rapidly, General Garner was replaced by Paul "Gerry" Bremer, a veteran diplomat from the anti-terrorism school. Mr Bremer's first plan for constitutional development turned out to be too leisurely and Iraq is now probably on Plan C or even D.

It was always going to be difficult. It took the British empire a hundred years or so before it developed democratic rule in some of its colonies. In Iraq, this is being tried in just over one year.

Democracy

The idea now is that there will be a handover to an interim Iraqi government on 30 June, that Mr Bremer will then depart and that elections will be held for a transitional assembly by January next year. This will, in turn, draw up a permanent constitution and set elections by the end of 2005 for a fully-fledged Iraqi government.

Pessimists voice doubts as to whether it will all work out.

Patrick Basham, senior fellow with the Center for Representative Government of the Cato Institute in Washington, asked recently: "Is Iraq capable of moving smoothly from dictatorship to democracy?"

Basra oil refinery in southern Iraq
Boosting oil production should allow the national budget to expand rapidly
He concluded: "The White House will be gravely disappointed with the result of its effort to establish a stable liberal democracy in Iraq, or any other nation home to a large population of Muslims or Arabs, at least in the short-to-medium term... Paradoxically, a more democratic Iraq may also be a repressive one. It is one thing to adopt formal democracy but quite another to attain stable democracy."

On the other hand, optimists, of whom there are not that many and who qualify everything they say, look to the longer term. Jonathan Paris of the Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, believes in the J curve effect. "Things will get worse before they get better," he told BBC News Online.

"I think the chances of the transitional period going smoothly are below 50-50. But the graph should go up once the Iraqi people have got a government they can support. Then they will start to ostracize the people causing the trouble.

Scars

"It will also be important when the money kicks in. The big US reconstruction contracts (worth $8-9 billion) are only now being handed out but once they have an effect and provided there is no civil war mood, the J curve effect should be seen."

Some of the economic figures favour the optimists. E Anthony Wayne, the US Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, told Congress in February that Iraqi oil production, which provides 95% of government revenues, was being sustained at 2.2 to 2.3 millions of barrels per day, despite sabotage of the northern pipeline.

The aim, he said, was to get production up to 3 million barrels by the end of 2004. This would allow the national budget to expand rapidly and be in surplus for 2005 and 2006.

But there is too much instability to be sure of the future. Economic figures do not always reflect political reality. In the late 1970s, the small Central American country of El Salvador had high growth, low inflation, low unemployment and a strong currency. It also had a developing civil war.

If Iraq produces positive results, then there might be a truce between the US and its critics in Europe, though the scars will remain.

If not, suspicion and accusations will linger.

Who said that history had ended?



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