Whose democracy is it?

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2006

On a 104-acre site along the Tigris River in Baghdad, a Kuwaiti construction company remains on schedule to complete the new $592 million U.S. Embassy in Iraq. The completely self-sustaining compound of 21 buildings will be the largest and most secure embassy in the entire world. What's behind the need for such a complex, and why is it not being discussed much in the American news media? As it literally and symbolically towers over the halls of the Iraqi parliament, the question is: Who will be governing Iraq, their president or ours?

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During President Bush's visit to Iraq in June, President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi requested a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces. A few days later Iraq's national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece, "The removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of its people."

Then a draft of a 28-point reconciliation plan developed by the Iraqi government was published. It also included a U.N.-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. But in the final proposal released on June 26, this and three other measures were excluded: a halt to U.S. operations against insurgent strongholds, general amnesty for all armed Iraqi resistance groups and compensation for victims of multi-national forces.

The 28-point plan had its origins last November in a conference in Cairo where Iraqi delegates representing its three main religious factions met for three days. The conference was supported by the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Our government was conspicuously absent.

Given the constant drum beating by our government in opposition to setting a timetable, it seems that the Iraqi government is only as democratic as the U.S. government permits it to be. But how valid is the argument that defining a departure date will empower the insurgency to wait and take over after we leave? Wouldn't the Iraqis ask us to return if conditions there didn't stabilize?

Isn't it reasonable to believe the Iraqis understand the nature of the insurgency in their country better than we do? Consider how badly President Bush's stay-the-course message has lost its power when he admits that American troops will not leave Iraq during his presidency.

The influence, or lack of interest, by the U.S. government on Iraqi proposals shouldn't be viewed with the arrogance that America knows what's best. Instead, we should be looking to understand what other actions support or contradict the administration's stated objectives.

As early as April 2004 it was reported in the New York Times that U.S. engineers were focusing on the design of six to 14 "enduring" military bases for American troops.

Language in the 2005 supplemental budget request by the president and approved by Congress stated some of the hundreds of millions of dollars of base construction funds were for "in some very limited cases, permanent facilities."

In June, measures approved by both houses of Congress to ensure that our troops do not permanently occupy military bases in Iraq were removed from the legislation by the Senate-House conference committee without serious debate.

These facts suggest a long-term military presence was planned a long time ago. In any other place in the world, America would condemn a military occupancy in a nation where the elected leaders asked for an end to offensive military operations and a firm commitment to withdraw those troops. We would use other terms to describe the influence of a foreign government and their forces, and democracy would not be among them.

So as the massive U.S. Embassy takes shape and U.S. troops remain there in "enduring bases" we built, it's time all American citizens become thoroughly informed about the details of this occupation. We need to ask our government why we are still in Iraq, because if it's not Iraq's democracy, then it is not democracy at all. And if we aren't involved, how do we claim our democracy is one "of the people"?

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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