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Is Iraq another Chechnya? PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Thursday, 13 May 2004 10:01
With attention fixed o­n the Iraqi prison debacle, it would be easy to ignore the terrorist assassination last Sunday of the leader of war-torn Chechnya. But there are lessons in what happened in that mountainous corner of the Russian Caucasus for America's attempt to find a way out of the deserts of Iraq.
 
THE LESSONS OF CHECHNYA:
U.S. APPEARS TO BE MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES AS RUSSIA

By Daniel Sneider
San Jose Mercury News
May 13, 2004

With attention fixed o­n the Iraqi prison debacle, it would be easy to ignore the terrorist assassination last Sunday of the leader of war-torn Chechnya. But there are lessons in what happened in that mountainous corner of the Russian Caucasus for America's attempt to find a way out of the deserts of Iraq.

In a spectacular act of defiance, Chechen rebels set a huge bomb in a stadium where dignitaries gathered to commemorate Russia's victory in the Second World War. The explosion left the bloody corpse of the Russian-backed President of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, slumped in his chair, along with at least 23 other dead and dozens wounded, including the Russian military commander.

Only two days earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin crowed that he had ''stopped the aggression of international terrorism,'' referring to a Chechen revolt that has become a front for Islamist terrorists around the globe.

The attack shattered the Russian policy of ''Chechenization'' of the decade-long war to suppress the Chechen bid for independence from Russian rule. The Russians tried to create an indigenous regime that could allow them to finally withdraw the estimated 80,000 troops still based there. The Kremlin was seeking an exit route from an unending cycle: insurgent attacks followed by punitive retaliatory strikes by the Russian military.

''The Kremlin opted for this new policy because, as in any occupation, the government realized that winning the hearts and minds of the occupied people was an urgent task,'' veteran Russian journalist Masha Lipman wrote this week in the Washington Post. ''But it also seems likely that the Kremlin officials in charge of the crisis were driven by a desire just to put somebody else in charge and get the responsibility off their own backs.''

That same impulse is now driving the American occupation authority to pursue a policy of ''Iraqization.'' They know the o­nly exit from an expanding cycle of violence and counter-strike is to create an Iraqi regime and Iraqi forces that can supplant the direct American military role.

But the Americans also seem ready to repeat Moscow's mistakes. While Putin opted for Chechenization, he refused to negotiate with rebel leaders who actually had legitimacy in the eyes of the population. Moscow even ignored Chechens who accept autonomy within Russia. Instead they installed a favored Chechen, former religious and rebel leader Kadyrov.

Kadyrov and his son, who now may succeed him, set up a ruthless regime that tried to eliminate Chechen rivals. They created a brutal private militia. Last fall, the Russians rigged a presidential election to give Kadyrov a thin veneer of legitimacy.

In Iraq, the United States attempt to simply crush its foes with military force has also given way to a strategy of empowering Iraqis, now with an even greater sense of urgency. The retreat from confrontation in the Sunni stronghold of Al-Fallujah is part of that. o­n a larger level, Iraqization means handing over authority to an interim Iraqi government after June 30.

But it is evident that the American occupation is still trying to orchestrate that process, pressing United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to put American-backed Iraqi exiles and others into key positions, while retaining freedom for the United States military to act as it wishes.

At the same time, deals are being struck with those Iraqis who can police the streets, even if some of them are no more savory than the Chechen leader Kadyrov. These are the former Baathists and Iraqi army officers who have been given power in Al-Fallujah, the Shiite tribal militias throughout central and southern Iraq, and the Iranian-backed Shiite Islamic militias. The latter two are being empowered to counter what the United States sees as a more dangerous and immediate foe in the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his ragtag Mahdi Army.

''He has got to be taken down and o­nly other Iraqis can do it,'' says an American who has been advising the occupation authority in Iraq. ''What they want is power, and we have to make a deal with the devil -- we have to surrender to their views of what they want.''

This may be the o­nly realistic road out of this mess. But the United States needs to heed the lessons of Chechnya. Iraqization won't succeed if it's just a cover for maintaining control.

DANIEL SNEIDER is foreign affairs columnist for the Mercury News.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 May 2004 10:01
 

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