Iraq Predicment; The State And National Identity

Dr. Tariq Al-Khudaryi*




It should be maintained that the US enjoyed very little support for the invasion of Iraq from national, regional and international public opinion, and its military campaign whose real aim had never been declared, was not assisted by indigenous rebel forces.

These factors and the national apprehension of foreign domination invoked by memories of the British occupation under the guise of being liberator during the First World War, had distinctive implications for postwar political reconstruction of that country. Furthermore, with the old state mechanism, including its army and security forces ousted from power, the vacuum of political authority as well as law and order was left to the whim of feuding factions whose primary aim was grabbing the power.

The first weeks of America's postwar engagement in Iraq were chaotic and ineffectual with most of the treasures and infrastructure of the country, including the Museums, Libraries and Cultural Archives, were systematically looted, sabotaged and destroyed while American troops stood by, except for the Ministry of Oil which was well guarded by the American military. When Paul Bremer III, the US Administrator, landed in Iraq on May 13th.,2003, he started his mission by dissolving the Iraqi army and security forces before introducing any plan for reshaping Iraq's politics and economy. At a later date, he and his Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that had extensive British participation, initiated the establishment of a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) made up mainly of US-British own chosen exiled and immigrant Iraqis, but granted them no real functions. When the UN Security Council set December 15th.2003, as a deadline for delivering a plan and timetable for the constitutional transition, Bremer pressed IGC which was plagued with internal divisions along philosophical, ethnic and sectarian/religious lines, to agree on a formula. The IGC ultimately agreed on a plan, termed the November 15 Agreement, setting June 30th.2004, as the date for ending occupation while adopting a Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) which is, in essence, an interim constitution that would structure a power for roughly 18 months, ending by 31 December 2005.

The formal recognition of the occupation of Iraq by UN Resolution 1483 adopted on May 22nd.2003 along with the process of dissolving the army, stimulated a sense of nationalism as the Iraqis in general realized that it was an American conquest and domination of their country, a situation that augmented indigenous resistance and led to questioning every move made by the US Administrator and the CPA. As such, when the CPA, under the influence of the US Administrator, stipulated that by 31 May, 2004, a 15-member organizing committee in each of Iraq's 18 provinces would be established to select members of a provincial caucus for electing representatives to a Transitional National Assembly (TNA), the proposal was over-ruled under the pressure of the top religious Shia' theocratic leader, Sistani, who insisted on having a directly elected national Assembly. The efforts made by the UN envoy to convince Sistani that a reasonably credible election could not be organized in such a short period and in the prevailing atmosphere, failed.

As some Iraqi politicians observed, it was not possible administratively to organize an ideally conceived election within a short period of the occupation because there was no reliable voter rolls, no electoral laws, and no institutions for independent and credible management of the electoral process. It should have been predicted that premature national elections would favor radical religious forces that had already been organized and supported by strong militias some of which were constituted in neighboring countries such as Iran long before the invasion, while secular and moderate independent political forces needed more time to organize themselves and campaign effectively. Probably, holding local elections as a first step would have paved the way for new political parties to spread their message and allow new leadership to emerge

Direct election in most provinces took place at ease and an elected assembly was summoned to draft a constitution by August, 2005, for approval via a referendum to be held in October, 2005. That process served the purpose for the large religious and well organized ethnic groups' leaderships to be in charge because of their ultimate influence and hold, emotionally and otherwise on their constituents and mainly uneducated followers, since the concepts of political culture have long since ceased in the country due to the former totalitarian regime's negative attitude toward human rights even when the US was its close ally. In the meantime, continuing terrorist and insurgent violence escalated and obstructed not only the election process in many parts of the country but also the economic build up and re-construction process.

The Current Situation

The optimism of the US Administration regarding the democratic changes in Iraq has no basis. A house of representatives (the Assembly), designed in the TAL as a democratic institution to draft the Constitution was in reality an artificially constructed assembly of ethnic and sectarian voting blocks, hence reflected in a way the tyranny of the majority operating under the sponsorship of an elected legislature.

The only positive result of the US 2003 war on Iraq was definitely ridding the country of the tyranny of Saddam's regime, bringing about an irreversible transformation of politics but without consolidating the power for a State. To elaborate on this point, one has to recognize that the Constitutional Commission selected by the Assembly had been mainly symbolic, and hence did not encourage a broad national dialogue that is crucial to enhancing stability and protecting the country's unity. Transparency and adequate public participation has also been missing in writing the Constitution, since debate and consultation on a wide range was not practiced. Furthermore, marginalizing other political groups including pan-Arab nationalist movements and the old ruling party followers may have blocked the emerging of a powerful secular gathering that could translate the definition of democracy into more appropriate procedural manner for the Constitution.

In reviewing the draft Constitution, one may detect that the power was not distributed on an agreed and equitable basis for a strong central state while promoting adequate provincial autonomy that avoids any major imbalance or demographic changes within the country. Such changes, if taking place, may encourage Iraq's neighbors, such as Iran and Turkey to fill the vacuum by proxy, hence turning the dream of a democratic reborn Iraq into a dystrophy of warring militias. As a matter of fact, Iran has already been implicated as an effective supporter of certain sectarian militias involved in retaliatory paramilitary measures while revealing its concerned favoritism for the southern region of Iraq, and Turkey made its views very clear for protecting the rights of the Turkoman population in northern Iraq.

The text of the Constitution includes contradicting statements and even ambiguous remarks as far as the principles and implementation of democracy and the federalism are concerned. As such, different interpretations elaborating on the responsibilities and procedural approach for applying those principles have already created tension and may threaten the very existence of the state. All signs suggest that this constitution, if it is not radically amended will further weaken the already shaken central Iraqi state. The following paragraphs explain this notion briefly:

1. The Constitution gave religion (Islam) a significant role in the state affairs, granting its clergy a formal guidance responsibility with jurists supervising the Federal Court system. Hence the basic characteristic of secular democracy including human rights, in particular woman's liberation is being contested.
2. The Constitution sets the stage for a loose federal system with weak or constrained central government and strongly pronounced autonomy to the federated regions already agreed upon, than TAL sought. Furthermore, it allows the formation of more federated states out of existing provinces at any time in the future. This situation will provide significant areas of conflict within the country. The TAL echoed the logical approach of Iraqi intelligentsia for designating the major Kurdish speaking northern areas to be a federated region but with unchallenging autonomy.
3. To implement decentralization as suggested by the Constitution, the Kurds are adamant on transforming considerable executive, legislative and judicial power to their region's autonomy. Of course their region has already been a de-facto separate state for all practical purposes with its own army/militia and budget under the Anglo-US military protection since 1992. But they are pushing to extend its boundaries at the expense of others. Still their real challenge to the central state may be noted in their own recently approved regional constitution whose provisions call for an autonomy befitting a confederate state and stipulate for a vote on full Kurdish independence to be carried out within eight years.
4. The constitution is not very clear about the prerogatives of the regional administrations of the federated states vis-à-vis that of the central government in respect to crucially important matters such as security, foreign trade and cultural relationship, and natural resources. The management of oil and gas resources, for example, whose revenue had been representing about 90% of the whole country's total revenue, is not clearly defined, and definitely may create serious friction if it is dealt with by the regional administrations, as this may lead to impoverishing areas that have no such resource, and may even complicate the work of international oil corporations seeking oil exploration investments in the country.

The Interim governments have failed so far to provide security and services to the population in general. It has been perceived by the masses as an incompetent and corrupt US puppet entity operating with minimal transparency. Recently, senior figures in the US Administration (including Mr. Ramsfeld) admitted that corruption is wide spread not only among members of the Interim Government, but also among the US personnel. Investigation regarding embezzlement or irregularities of US staff and contracting companies is being pursued by the US Congress.

Politics And The Social Structure Of The Population Of Iraq

Different ethnicities and religious sects who managed to assimilate within one state before, seem now not in a position to emphasize the equality of citizenship. Their anxiety for a federal system is stimulated mainly by their past hostility toward the central government, and the new Constitution became their vehicle to reflect that. In this respect, it is important to underline briefly some facts regarding the structure of the population of Iraq,in the following paragraphs:

(a) The main ethnic groups in Iraq are: Arabs who represent about 80% of the population; Kurds who represent about 15-18%; Turkomans and other ethnicities who probably represent 3-5%. However, it should be recalled that there has been no actual census covering the whole country since 1957 to verify these figures.
(b) The Arabs in general are Semitic but not the Kurds or the Turkomans. The overwhelming majority of these three ethnicities are Muslims. The majority of the Arab Muslims belong to the Shi'a sect while the rest belong to different Sunni sects. The overwhelming majority of the Kurds and the Turkomans are Sunni Muslims while the rest are Shi'a Muslims. Intermarriage among these three ethnic groups of different sects is not uncommon. Christians and followers of other religious cults are either Arabs, Kurds or of other ethnicities.
(c) Since the establishment of the modern state of Iraq in the 1920s, a sense of belonging to the country started to develop, strengthened by officially established national institutions including schools and the army, both of which helped in driving allegiance away from the tribal and religious leaderships of the past to the nation, thus setting the stage for initiating secular political parties with different ideologies and modes for democratic culture. In the meantime the education level and civil society institutions as well as women's liberation movements grew at a high pace, and public services as well as the economy and local security reached the highest level among the countries within the region. But since 1968,with Saddam's group taking over, such progress started to wane slowly.
(d) During the short history of modern Iraq, aside from personal and tribal feuds, no record of armed conflict was ever reported between ethnic or religious groups, and most uprisings and armed revolts were directed toward the central government. It should be emphasized here that the theological doctrine of the Shi'a and the Sunni denounces the principle of separating the state and religion. The difference between the two lies in the degree of influence exercised by the religious clergy over the state, which is more pronounced and insisted upon by the Ja'fari Shi'a theology whose followers are dominant in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon.

The initial US approach to the political process led to the current problem by reinforcing the sectarian based model in Iraq as it imposed religion and ethnic quotas for the formation of the interim government where politicians identify themselves in ethnic or sectarian terms rather than with issues related to the principles of democracy and the mechanism of election, women rights, the essence of the federation system, national identity, etc…

The Muslim Shi'a religious parties have formed an alliance among themselves seeking a Shi'a-run Islamic state which they believe is a natural resultant of their majority in the country. Their sectarian loyalties underline democratic transition as a way to over-rule the embittered Muslim Sunni minority while besieging the secular society. To achieve that at ease, they needed the support of other tangible factions. Hence they negotiated with the Kurds, who are in the main for a secular regional state of their own in the north. The two sides formed a tactical front or coalition to control the interim government and support the Constitution as it was written, with obvious reluctance to any major alteration to its text that might limit or affect either side's aspiration. Compromising on critical issues is yet to emerge as a sign of their continued cooperation. Without synchronizing their long term plans, involuntary unannounced concessions are being made in certain areas. Already the Iraqi army and security units are made up mainly of Shi'a and Kurdish militias who may play a role in any emerging civil conflict. Other non positive aspects of this cooperation may be noted in the fact that critically needed civil servants have been replaced with less qualified members of the ruling coalition who are mainly representing the Shi'a and Kurdish parties. The US Administration has refrained from condemning such activities openly, thus casting doubt on its claim to build a democratic state in Iraq, especially in view of its stance to sanction the Palestinian territories for having elected a legislative assembly that rejects Israeli's occupation.

Already the UN and human rights groups have implicated the government forces and associated parliamentary units and their militias in human rights violations including judicial killings and unlawful detention as well as bad treatment of prisoners. The Jadiria detainment camp of the Government became a symbol of such unlawful behavior as was the US detainment prison of Abu Ghraib in Baghdad and the brutality inflicted on the civilians by the British troops in Basra.

What a Price Iraq:

The US led war on Iraq, starting with the invasion, continued to inflict horror upon Iraqi civilians, especially in later periods when the drive against the insurgency elements annihilated severely the innocent city population. According to some US officers (like James Alles, commander of the Marine Air Group III), upgraded version of napalm was used against the Iraqi army. Firing white phosphorous and depleted uranium, cluster bombs and even bombs with poisonous gas were part of the offensive weaponry utilized by the US army, not only during the invasion battles, but also on populated cities such as Felluja and Ramadi where scores of civilians were killed or permanently disabled, while pursuing the insurgents.

Inhuman treatment of prisoners including torturing and ruthless methods of interrogation, and offending the faith of those suspected of collaboration with the insurgents indicated that the US soldiers have not fought their battles with high morals. In this respect the UN Commission on Human Rights appealed to the international community to stop the massacres and mass killing of civilians in Iraq. But the US government did not even express regret. Rather it defended all methods with the notion that their troops are countering acts of terrorism. Albert Gonzales, the current US Attorney General made a point that the normal rules of warfare are suspended when fighting terrorism, and Donald Ramsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense asserted that the Geneva Convention rules on warfare does not apply when countering terrorism. Vice President, Dick Chaney, publicly insists that the CIA be exempted from the ban on "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of prisoners. Such declarations encouraged the US military to apply extreme forms of torture because they know they are going to evade direct legal responsibility as dictated by the International Court of Justice, especially since the US declined to be a signatory to it unless US citizens are exempted from its jurisdiction. Of course the US military arranged to court marshal some of its offending officers and troops whose action had been internationally publicized, but gave them relatively light sentences even when their crimes against humanity in Iraq were so monstrous, including murders.

Iraqi intelligentsia is widely disappointed with the behavior of the US personnel, some of whom had imposed humility and showed other disrespectful behavior to the people of the country. Imposing a political status by harsh treatment and causing loss of lives can not be justified if the invasion pursued presumably to rid the country of a totalitarian regime without preparing adequately for the post-war rehabilitation of the country. A surge of anti-Americanism is being developed not only as a result of US army behavior and unilateralism and selectiveness regarding the democratization process, or even its self interest in the Middle East oil. Rather it is associated with the fear that the ambiguity of the US geopolitical interest in the whole Middle East region might result in a break up of Iraq or having it descend into anarchy in the long run.

Dissolving the army is seen as a pre-planned event by the US, and the biggest mistake made as admitted by Bremer, not only because it created an atmosphere of ill feeling among those who lost their jobs or for creating a vacuum that denounces law and order, but also because the army as an institutional symbol set the norm of patriotism in the country. Furthermore, as an establishment, it was staffed not only with well trained troops, some of whom may have been loyal to the old regime, but also with highly qualified engineers, physicians, scientists, and administrators who represent great assets to the future of Iraq. The absence of genuine national security forces ever since the dismantling of the army, have added to the dilemma of the Interim Central government who in turn failed to provide the appropriate services that may bring about a good level of coherence and stability for the population in general. The uneven evolution of the new Iraqi army and police force which is plagued with factionalism and mistrust, have given a boost to the insurgency whose activities may escalate with more terror, brutality and destruction to the nation.

The US has been talking about democracy, but ignored justice and people's aspiration for freedom and dreams of perusing their destiny. Smashing away human rights in the region during the period of the cold war by trumpeting the danger of communism while supporting Israel's expansion and cleansing approach with harsh treatment of the Palestinians to drive them away from their land which they have inhibited for almost two thousand years, raise a lot of questions regarding the American principles on liberty and human rights. The same notion may be detected in the US policy when trumpeting the sectarian and brutal nature of Saddam Hussain's regime beside his weapons of mass destruction and threats to the civilized world since 1990, but not before when he was fighting Iran to the satisfaction of the US Administration. Of course, the US now collects the fruits of that strategy not only with escalated cost of life and wealth to maintain its position in Iraq, but also with a new but much wider sectarian struggle supported by Iran's covert activities which forced the US to confer with the Iranian government to dissolve its interference.

Different militias definitely present a most serious challenge to the legitimacy and stability of the emerging state. It goes without saying, that Al-Qaeda and their associates, including some of the old regime's followers, in particular those who provide the effective military and intelligence capacity, and some fanatic Sunni faction's conscious about loosing their prestigious status of the past, are responsible for the rising tension and the severe violations of human rights. But the same can be said about other militants, including those who are alien to Iraq or being supported by neighboring countries such as Israel, Iran and even some Arab countries such as Kuwait, for the sake of maintaining instability and augmenting the anarchy that instigated the slaughter of the education and scientific system when a great number of learned and well trained professionals and scientists were eliminated or had to leave the country. The uneven evolution of the new Iraqi army and police force which is plagued with factionalism and mistrust, have given a boost to the insurgency and the sectarian terrorizing conflict including vengeance stance.

Concluding Remarks

The US initiative to invade Iraq was definitely an outright violation of the latter's integrity as a nation and also of the UN Charter. Reasons cited by the US Administration for pursuing such action were numerous, with the emphasis shifting from one to the other as the case for support merited. As it had been revealed, no legitimate basis for the invasion could stand to reason except for changing the former regime who challenged the US hegemony, in order to install a political system, presumably democratic in nature, that will accommodate the US long term strategies within the region and ascertaining its position as the only international super power. Planning the invasion had been a long awaited task formulated in the 1990s by a group of influential Zionists within the US Administration who found an attentive ear in the neo-Conservative hierarchy after September 11, 2001. That invasion was finally implemented. But the US Administration did not pave the ground for the post invasion period with an in- depth assessment of the Iraqi social structure relying mainly on minute intelligence exercise and hearsay information provided by anxious Iraqi exiles. Thus no clear vision of an appropriate political system emerged except by name, confusing the issue and the meaning of democracy with elections' poll. Still, legitimate election's results should be respected as a first step in conce iving the principle of democracy.

The mainly US supported exile politicians and opportunists who had little in common with the citizenship of the country made use of the compromising stance of the US Administration on the democratic system being pursued. Misuse of power by US Administration's assigned Iraqi personnel who were involved in reviving autocracy and stimulating prejudice has been another problem to cope up with in correcting the notion of a democratic federal system to be pursued. The stalemate for almost four months since electing the legislative assembly, in forming a government that might be stable and strong enough to rehabilitate the national identity and pave the way for foreign troops withdrawal, illustrate the magnitude of the dilemma facing the new republic.

A true dialogue and consensus of all factions regarding federalism and the role of religion in public life ought to be a first step while reviewing and amending the Constitution. As a prerequisite to such an approach, security has to be attended to from the outset. Of course there is a compelling need for the creation of jobs, and this could have been attained rapidly, and probably better, if pursued effectively on a regional basis while executing properly repair and reconstruction contracts by involving a wide range of Iraqi contractors instead of through the big US corporations. Improving essential service infrastructure such as electricity and fuel supply, water and communication systems ought to have been a priority. But a major assignment of great importance to achieving national development would be to eliminate the burdens of reparation of the former regime's wars and accumulated debts.

The American claim of victory in installing democracy is refuted by the argument that democracy could not be imposed from outside, because democracy is a culture that needs to be developed slowly from within and requires tranquility and unity of purpose. Still, one has to admit that national reconciliation and unification may not be attended easily if the US army withdraws and lets the current ethnic and sectarian polarization continue.

* Professor of Chemical Engineering at the college of Engineering, the University of Baghdad (1960-1968), Regional Advisor on Industrial Development in the Arab Middle Eastern Countries (stationed in Beirut), then Head of the Arab Countries Technical Cooperation Program of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna (1973-1990).
**Selected excerpts from articles published by many Western writers were incorporated in the text. List of references includes books: (Against All Enemies by Richard Clarks; Secrets & Lies by Dilip Hiro; The Good Fight by Ralf Nadir), and reports published by renown institutes and writers including: (Iraq Focus-Mena Associates, March 2005; Iraq in Transition-Middle East Program, September 2004; Iraq's Southern Region--Horizon, December 2005; A Report on Mid-Euphrates Regional Conference, Najaf 2005; Syria/Iran & the Power Plays over Iraq-Political Intelligence Report, October 2005; Moving Targets by Seymour Hersh, the New Yorker December 2003; Building Democracy After Conflict-Lessons from Iraq by Larry Diamond, Journal of Democracy-January 2005; The Present at the Disintegration, by Kanan Makiya. ..)