Sovereignty? Yes, dear

As we mark the first week of Iraqi sovereignty, the world is only just beginning to appreciate the full significance of the historic handover ceremony, which was rushed through in secret two days before it was due and without any of the top people present.

It is now clear that this may well be a blueprint for all future state occasions and festivities in this age of terrorism. United States President George W Bush is expected to order that, from now on, July 4 should be celebrated at least two days earlier, although the White House will reserve the right to declare July 4 in June or even May if need be.

The president will also have full powers to announce that Thanks- giving has been and gone before any terrorist has had a chance to mark the occasion with violence.

Furthermore, all public ceremonies will be held in private and will last no more than 20 minutes.
Any American official involved should be given the chance to get safely away before an announcement is made, when events may be restaged for the television cameras.

But perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt from the handover of sovereignty ceremony in Iraq is that on no account should any ceremony actually mean anything.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote to Bush that “Iraq is sovereign”, which, according to my dictionary, means “independent of outside authority”.

The reality of course is that Iraq has 140 000 American troops stationed on its soil, whom the Iraqi government cannot get rid of and over whom it has no control, other than to authorise more bombings in Falluja. Nor can the new sovereign government prosecute any Americans or other foreigners who have killed, maimed or tortured Iraqi civilians over the past year.

Before he hurried off, Paul Bremer thoughtfully wrote most of the new government’s laws for it, including capping all income and corporate taxes at 15% and banning Iraqis from driving with only one hand on the steering wheel.

And he’s framed his laws in a way that the new sovereign government of Iraq can do nothing whatsoever about. It goes without saying that it can’t rescind Order 39, which throws Iraq open for foreign investment far beyond World Bank guidelines or what is practised by Britain and the US. Foreign companies are now free to plunder the Iraqi economy to their hearts’ content, without having to reinvest locally or guarantee that at least some revenues go back to the Iraqis. And the sovereign government of Iraq can whistle if it doesn’t like it.

The handover of “sovereignty” was just as meaningless as the handover of Saddam Hussein from US to Iraqi control. He’s still held by the Americans in a secret location, but “legally” he’s now in “Iraqi control”. It’s just something you say, not something you actually mean.

Secrecy and control must become our watchwords if democracy is to survive in the age of terrorism and continue to confront the enemies of freedom — tyrants, such as Saddam Hussein, who operate by secrecy and control that are the very opposite of our own traditions. — Â

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