The anti-war group Justice not Vengeance, led by activist Milan Rai, has come out for a "United Nations Transitional Authority" in Iraq. Colin Foster argues that anti-war activists should rather focus on developing support for and links with the re-emerging workers', unemployed and women's movements in Iraq.
According to Justice not Vengeance (www.j-n-v.org), "most people in the UK and in Iraq seem to believe that an immediate withdrawal of US and UK forces without an alternative externally-supported political and security framework would run an unacceptable risk of social chaos. We in Justice Not Vengeance agree. We believe that there should be a UN Transitional Authority to assist Iraqi political groupings as they transform Iraq".
They summarise evidence. "In a poll conducted in August by Zogby International, only 31 per cent of people polled in four Iraqi cities wanted US/UK troop withdrawal within the next six months. (FT, 11 Sept., p. 11) A total of 65.5 per cent of Iraqis demanded withdrawal within a year "
"These results are consistent with an earlier poll for the Spectator/Channel 4 News, published in the Spectator on 19 July. This poll, conducted in Baghdad, found that if forced to choose between living under Saddam or under the US occupation, 7 per cent chose Saddam, 29 per cent chose the US, and 46 per cent expressed no preference. 75 per cent of people said Iraq was more dangerous than before the war.
"US and UK military are not a benign force", Justice not Vengeance emphasises. They are concerned about what they call US "re-nazification" of Iraq by way of re-recruiting Ba'thist police, troops and officials for their new state structure.
They respond to objections about the UN.
"'Isn't the UN just a tool of Washington?' It will be if the French plan for Iraq proposed on 12 September is adopted-this calls for US/UK forces to remain in Iraq, under US command, alongside a UN Transitional Authority with no military role. But the UN isn't always slavishly obedient. That's why the US had to undermine and finally collapse the UN weapons inspectors in March. That's why the US and UK failed to get a second Resolution.
"'Can't the Iraqi people do it by themselves?' But the Iraqi people seem to want outside security assistance. Also, an unbiased external facilitator is going to be needed to negotiate agreements over oil revenues and federalism between the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities. The UN did manage to hold the closest thing to free elections Cambodia has ever seen. The UN did assist the East Timorese (also in pretty violent circumstances) in drawing up a constitution, holding free elections, and establishing independence".
JNV is more thoughtful than those on the left who think that "left" is defined by adding the rhetorical flourish "now!" to the common demand, "End the occupation", or who would want us to "support the resistance" (the remnant-Ba'thist and Islamic-fundamentalist guerrilla groups) on the grounds that any defeat for the USA by anyone must be good.
However, that the USA can't absolutely always get everything it wants through the UN does not prove that the UN is capable of acting as an effective counter to the USA. The US government has a veto in the UN. If there is any UN Transitional Authority in Iraq, it will be under something like the French plan-as an adjunct to and cover for the US role, not as an alternative.
Or if by some miracle the UN should become able to overrule the USA, could we expect the major UN powers antagonistic to the US on Iraq-France and Russia-to run a more benign occupation? No. Look at France in Africa and Russia in Chechnya.
Besides, the anti-war movement and the left have, and can have, no grip on how the UN acts. If an authentic Iraqi national liberation movement should develop, and request aid from the UN in running elections, as in East Timor, then it would hardly be our business to object. But that speculative future has no grip on the present-day realities (and anyway the UN observers did nothing to stop the massacres launched by the Indonesia military straight after the East Timor referendum).
We should focus our efforts on helping the workers' movement in Iraq to re-emerge and organise.
That is not a quick-fix answer. But then neither is the UN. And whereas, longer-term, a campaign to get the UN to act can produce no result other than illusions in the UN, a campaign to help the Iraqi workers organise builds the one force that can create a solidly better future.