By Najmaldin O. KARIM (*)
Beyond deposing the tyrant Saddam and changing his regime and even beyond the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction, all of which are noble and urgent goals, the larger and more vital US goal must be that of the “state” of a post-Saddam, Post-Ba’ath Iraq (in whatever form it ultimately might evolve), and to ascertain that it is going to be a model democracy that imparts peace and stability not only to the region, but also to the whole Arab and Islamic world – an area of increasing concern for US and the world interests.
Therefore, now is the time to draw strategies for a democratic pluralistic, Federal Iraq that promotes long-term peace in the region and that strives to integrate the country back into the fold of the civilized world from which it has been estranged since the country was created after the World War One.
Flexible policies and plans must be in place to guide the Iraqis in choosing the appropriate form of governance, and to help them rebuild not only the dilapidated or destroyed physical infrastructure but also to help put in place legal and institutional structure for the country such that the rule of law is paramount, promoting an environment that support the reinstatement of basic human rights and democracy. In short, we should actively engage in building a new Iraq.
Iraq has had little, if any, experience with western democracy and the ways and means of institutional governance – all of which have to be started from scratch.
The modern state-nation of Iraq is an artificial entity that has no clear identity or cohesive binding force. It was carved out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire and manufactured by Great Britain after WW I, during the Golden days of the empire, to secure its interests in the region with little regard to the lack of internal homogeneity or long-term viability.
Because of this, it has seen little internal stability or peace throughout its short history. Each of its eight decades of existence is full of ethnic and political unrest and is amply dotted with revolts and uprising by mostly the Kurds, but also the Assyrians, Shiites, and Arab clans, or with coups from various disgruntled army officers backed by opportunistic political groups.
Nevertheless, and thanks to its huge natural resources, it was able during the four decades of its existence prior to the Ba’athist regime to establish a some what prosperous civil society that was ruled by a parliamentary regime and pseudo-democratic institutions sculpted by consensus and that, given its vast human and cultural heritage(s), was slowly on its way toward integration in to the family of nations.
So, one might ask, was this pseudo-democracy or nucleus of civility destined to become a melting pot like that of the US and other civilized societies, particularly after oil riches started pouring in, or did it have the seeds of destruction within it from its first day of inception? Was this abortion due to the wickedness of Saddam only, or could any other thug have engineered it? Perhaps one can never have definitive answers for these and similar questions- not now, at least.
What is certain now is the complete disappearance of that façade of civility and democracy under Saddam, which all crumbled like a house of cards in short order, even though the country stayed together geographically held together by the iron fist of a ruthless dictator.
The entity lacked the unifying fabric or binding force that holds other civilized societies together. The semblance of democracy, rule of law, and even prosperity all fell apart with a few nudges from a bully and his thuggish clan or Ba’ath party operatives. The institutions were just not “Real” and the people lacked the cohesion needed to mount a counter attack and thus succumbed to tyranny, as we saw in the former Yugoslavia, yet another monstrous offspring of post WW I British policies? (And we had to go in there nation-building and rectifying past wrongs).
So, what is going to happen when Iraq is liberated and the ruling thugs are removed? Will people be at each other’s jugular soon as the reviled security apparatus of the tyrant is defanged, or will goodwill and harmony prevail? Will it fall apart or will it hold together? And to what end? Will there be an encore to Saddam.
The Kurds in general have suffered the most under different Iraqi rulers ,more so under the Ba’ath regimes tyrannical policies, particularly the Kurds of Kirkuk and other border areas where the regime has practiced Arabization and ethnic cleansing in its most vicious forms. But individual Kurds are not likely to take the law into their hands against individual Arab people, and the events of 1991 after liberation of Kirkuk is a testament to that fact.
The Kurds realize that the “re-resettlement” of offending Arab tribes and getting fair compensation for lost property and life is a Kurdish national issue that would have to be addressed in the frame of a just response to the Kurds demand for the right of self-determination and the new regime’s rectification of past wrongs. Similarly, other Iraqis expect that their grievances will be addressed by the new regime on an equitable national basis rather than by scoring individual gains and thus will not be anxious to take the law into their hands except perhaps in few minor individual cases where a person might take revenge against a particularly vicious security official or a notorious Ba’ath party functionary for some previous egregious act.
If Saddam is ousted in a well-coordinated organized operation, there will be no Armageddon following his demise. In other words, there will be no short term or instantaneous disasters to require a change of liberation plans – it is the long-term future that one has to strategize for.
The US or any other outside force can only do that much for Iraq. It can help rebuild the infrastructure and can try building a pluralistic, federated democracy, hoping that this time around it will take hold. However, we believe that it is unlikely to do so unless some on-the-ground realities are acknowledged and plans are made to address them. since the basic ingredients for a pluralistic democracy are just not there. There are no traditions of free thought, freedom of expression, sanctity of life and basic human rights, rule of law, democratic institutions, etc. This country was inherently flawed when it was created.
Iraq is made up of many nationalities, ethnic, and religious groups – a mix that does not always bode well for harmony. To add to this unhappy mix, Saddam has consistently encouraged and rewarded tribalism and clannish behavior in his efforts to bolster his personal rule. His multi-layer security apparatus and his squandering of the country’s wealth on favorite clans, and playing one against the other, are all testimony to that. As a result, the already tattered fabric of a unified civil society was shredded beyond repair during his rein.
Lack of harmony among the diverse groups in Iraq is nothing new: even the so called “sick man” of early 20th century politics, the Ottoman Empire, knew better than to administer the whole territory of Mesopotamia in one single unit: what is Iraq of today was made up of three Ottoman Wilayets (administrative region): the Kurds in the north, the Shiites in the south and the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad and the middle.
These are on-the-ground facts and realities that must be reckoned with and that should be taken into consideration when strategies for the Iraq of tomorrow are drawn.
Taking these realities into account, we believe that there are three scenarios for the Iraq of tomorrow that would have to be considered and discussed in detail before final plans are drawn:
- One Single Central Administration – Democratic and pluralistic that will endeavor to mold Iraq into a melting pot where the rule of law and democratic institutions will provide and guarantee equal status and opportunities for all and where a culture of harmony is cultivated and where peace within and abroad is actively promoted.
- Partition of Iraq into three new democratic nation-states.
- One Central Federal Administration with at least one federated state that is Kurdish, and perhaps others as deemed appropriate
Scenario # 1
Considering the history of Iraq and the impact of recent tragic events, the first scenario does not stand much of a chance, in our judgment. It is not likely that the new central regime will be any different from the past or will mold into a melting pot ala western democracies. The lack of willingness on the part of the self-perceived elite Arab Sunnies of the middle to share power equitably with other nationalities or ethnic groups in the country is bound to mar any new regime and relegate it to the same bitter experiences and destiny as that of the ill-conceived British creation of last century.
We do not think that this scenario is a viable option. It will not be in the long-term interests of the peoples of Iraq and will not bring closure to the many real grievances of the Kurds or other ethnic groups. The sources of friction will remain unresolved and conflict might flare up anytime, and eventually it will.
Scenario # 2
Actually, this may not be such a bad idea or taboo, after all, even though it will first meet with vehement, albeit short lived, opposition from all the regional powers, particularly Turkey.
But the fact remains that there is nothing sacrosanct about the nation-state of Iraq, and breaking it up will not be a great moral sin, nor will it go against the grain of history – consider the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, or the Ottoman Empire from which it was carved.
In fact, this scenario is in the best long-term interests of the US. There is no doubt that the Kurdish state so created will become the staunchest ally of the US and the western democracies in the region, and given its vast human, oil, water, and other natural resources it will soon become a model of prosperity and free market economics. Indeed, it already has accomplished wonders with whatever little freedom it has in the northern enclave protected by US and British planes – something that promises very well for its future. The Kurds need a friend and a protector, the US and the European countries should welcome a trustworthy ally, strategically located, and with huge untapped human and natural resources and potential.
Some people may argue that a Shiite state in the south might become overly influenced by Iran and may be engulfed in its sphere of influence. We do not believe this will happen and the behavior of Iraqi Shiites during the Iraq-Iran war of the eighties is the best proof of that. Furthermore, neither Kuwait nor Bahrain, both of which have very sizeable Shiite constituencies (over 50% in Bahrain), has become satellites of Iran as yet, and they are not likely to ever.
This scenario may look problematic at first, but it is the one that can ensure everlasting peace and stability to the region.
Thus, despite minor problems and resistance from regional powers, we believe that the US should take the leadership and opt for this scenario.
Scenario # 3
This scenario might look as the most pragmatic to some policy makers, and it seems to be the one that the Kurdish leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan have come to accept, bowing to pressure from regional powers and hoping that it will provide an interim solution that will ultimately bring about the full right of self-determination.
We believe that this scenario might actually present a good and acceptable interim alternative provided it has a “sunset” close that guarantees the right of self-determination for the Kurds much like the accord worked out for southern Sudan recently.
Whether we choose this scenario or that of the partition of Iraq, The US and the International community must acknowledge and commit itself to the Kurd’s right of self-determination if it wants peace, stability and the proliferation of democratic principles interests in the region.
(*) President of the Washington Kurdishe Institute