No Arab people have been so traumatized by dictatorial rule, foreign adventurism, and war as the Iraqis under Saddam Husayn. To a considerable extent, the cause has been the Iraqi regime's failure to build a national identity that includes all Iraqis. It was this absence of integration that contributed directly to the rise of Saddam Husayn, who emerged from Iraq's need for a power stronger than its divisions.
Saving the Iraqis from totalitarian rule and Iraq's neighbors from further depredations will therefore be no easier, but also no harder, than bringing to Iraq a policy of domestic inclusiveness. But is that possible or is Iraq doomed to repeat its wars? And if it is possible, to what extent does such inclusiveness depend on a new restructuring of the relationship between state and society?
Background: Needing a Tyrant
Iraq's politics are shaped by various factors, including its naval and strategic confinement and its geographic remoteness from involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But by far the most central factor has been the government's failure to build a national identity that meaningfully incorporates all Iraqis. This helps explain Baghdad's inflexible position toward internal political reform and its aggressiveness abroad.
Iraq has a diverse population. It is 80 percent Arab, with its non-Arabic-speaking groups comprising Kurds (a significant 15 percent of the population), Turkomans, and Assyrians. Iraq's population is 97 percent Muslim, 65 percent of which is Shi'a. (Chibli Mallat breaks down the population somewhat differently: 55-60 percent Arab Shi'a, 15-20 percent Arab Sunni, and 20 percent Sunni Kurds.) Prior to 1920, these three groups had no shared experience of living together within a modern state system. While all shared Ottoman rulers, the Basra province was distinct from the Baghdad province, and the province of Mosul in the north remained a disputed territory claimed for some years by Turkey. Iraq was so fractured that when the Ottoman empire collapsed, neighborhoods in the southern city of Najaf separately declared their independence and wrote separate constitutions. In Mosul, civil strife erupted between neighborhoods.1
After the creation of Iraq as an independent kingdom in 1932, the monarchy adopted varied policies toward Iraq's ethnic and religious communities. On the one hand, it sought to maintain the status quo of Sunni dominance, prompting conflict between the Arab Sunni establishment and several minorities (such as the Assyrians and the Kurds). But the monarchy also sought solutions, compromises, and certain forms of elections and democratic expression. This resulted in part from the fact that it had roots in the Hashemite dynasty, whose link with Great Britain began in World War I and whose administration and leadership went back into the history of Arabia. The latter links were instrumental in conferring legitimacy and thus an ability to lead with less repression and coercion.
In contrast, the 1958 coup that overthrew the monarchy brought a military regime to power that consisted of rural groups that lacked the cosmopolitan thinking found among Iraqi elites. At the local level, the new leaders' exclusivist mentality produced tribal conflict and rivalry,2 which in turn called forth internal oppression and external adventurism—both of which buttressed the regime's power. Applied at the national level, this exclusivist political culture created fissures among Iraq's three major communities: Sunnis, Shi'is, and Kurds. Those fissures, in turn, encouraged Baghdad's foreign adventurism, including its 1980 and 1990 invasions of Iran and Kuwait, respectively.
After the 1958 revolution, Iraq's ruling establishment created a state devoid of political compromise.3 Its leaders liquidated those holding opposing views, confiscated property without notice, trumped up charges against its enemies, and fought battles with imaginary domestic foes. This state of affairs reinforced an absolute leader and a militarized Iraqi society totally different from the one that existed during the monarchy.4 One indicator of this new power structure was that Iraq's elite families, which previously had married only among themselves, permitted their daughters to marry junior officers of modest backgrounds.5 The military became the new symbol of status, power, and respect, while property and urban-family backgrounds became more closely linked with the old regime. Within four years of the 1958 revolution, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, though citizens of a rich oil producing nation, had fled their country, constituting the largest outflow in the nation's modern history. Those numbers have increased over time, to the point that, today, Iraqi emigrants number more than 3 million (leaving a population of 23 million inside the country).6
As a result of the disharmony, fragility, and constraint in Iraqi politics, which has been followed by severe mismanagement and alienation of both Shi'is and Kurds, the authorities suffered several coups. Finally, in 1968, the Ba'th took over. The regime subsequently sought to suppress chaos by elevating a dictator who would impose himself on every aspect of the people's affairs. The Ba'th party and many Iraqis more broadly had the mistaken idea that a "benevolent" dictator could solve all their problems and rise above their divisions.
In this sense, the phenomenon of Saddam is planted deep in Iraqi social and political soil, a thesis supported by much evidence. In poetry and in the culture of politics, leadership along the lines of Stalin or Mao, Ho Chi Minh or Castro, has long been admired. Social discussions in the 1950s or 1960s revealed the longing of people (not only in Iraq but also across the region) for such a political savior. A leader who commanded great power and had a sense of mission and justice was the dream. A Saladin (the eleventh century Islamic hero who defeated the Crusaders) or even an Atatürk (founder of modern Turkey) was desired by the masses. In Iraq, it was felt, a single-minded authoritarian leader was especially needed, owing to the country's divisions, challenges, and problems.
Iraqis interviewed for this study and two studies previously published by the author, in 1997 and 19987, agreed that socioeconomic conditions contributed to the emergence of Saddam Husayn. The soil, according to these Iraqis, was fertile, and Saddam was well prepared to take advantage of it, his personality better prepared to thrive in such a ground. In the end, of course, the leader that emerged was different from what people had expected: Saddam contributed to the divisions of Iraq and became part of its problems.
Mismanaging the Three Communities
Many of Iraq's post-1958 troubles can be attributed to Baghdad's mismanagement of the country's three main communities: Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds, and Shi'i Arabs.
Sunni Arabs. Sunni Arabs, though a minority, are in a position of superiority by virtue of their association with the dominant Arab Sunni population of the Middle East and their leading role in Iraq's history. The Ba'th party, with a power base in the Sunni tribes, has exaggerated its nationalist and Arabist credentials and zealously pursued the goal of bringing more Sunnis into Iraq. Thus, the drive for unity with other Arabs, from Kuwait to Syria, is at its base a drive to keep Sunni Arab demographic strength in Iraq. Likewise, the conflict with the other Ba'th in Syria reflects the conflict between the Sunni composition of Syria's population and the 'Alawi nature of the leadership.
One must stress, however, that this non-democratic, non-representative policy in Iraq has also ended up mistreating many of the country's Sunnis. The regime attempts to divide and rule, conquer and rule, and to carry out occasional purges against the most powerful Sunni tribes and factions. Specifically, the more the regime depends on Sunnis, the more it has to fear the power of Sunni sectors and tribes that are positioned to acquire influence; thus, Sunni tribes that help the regime also face the state's ferocity. Those Sunnis who do not fit in with regime policies and priorities or do not show loyalty to the leadership of Saddam Husayn face house arrest, family prosecution, and execution.
The rumors and reports of purges of Sunni groups and tribes in the Iraqi army reflect this fact. For example, in May 1995, the regime brutally repressed an uprising of the large Dulaymi (Sunni) clan, outraged because the decapitated corpse of one of its leaders, an air force general, had been unceremoniously delivered from Baghdad to his relatives.8 Furthermore, the high-profile defections of Saddam's sons-in-law, Husayn and his brother, Saddam Kamil, in August of 1995, were followed by their killing in 1996 after they returned to Iraq in the expectation that they had received amnesty. Their house was attacked by security forces and the operation was led by 'Udayy Saddam Husayn. Several other relatives, including their father, who had not defected, a third brother, and their sister and her children, also were killed during these attacks. This incident revealed much of the regime's nature like no other incident in the past. In fact, later in 2000, their mother was stabbed to death in Baghdad.
Sunni Kurds. Modern Iraqi authorities have feared their Kurdish population and fought many wars against it.9 As a result, the Kurds have been left on the margins of national life and have been in a state of perpetual revolt.10
The history of Iraq's mistreatment of its Kurdish population is both poignant and complex. In 1946, during the first movement for a free Kurdistan, the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party emerged and played a major role in the Kurdish resistance movement in Iraq. Though Iraq formally recognized the Kurds' rights to their national language and to self-rule, it broke the agreement and the Kurds rebelled.11 Until 1970, the Kurds formally had no rights to self-identity, suffering from continuous oppression. In the 1970s, a U.S. tilt toward Iran led to an Iraqi massacre of Kurds who were rising up against the regime, assisted by Iran. A decade later, during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), Iraq conducted military campaigns against the Kurds in both countries. In 1983, Iraqi soldiers abducted about 5,000-8,000 Kurds from the Barzani clan12. Later in 1987-88, Iraq initiated the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, in which about 50,000-100,000 Kurds were killed.13 At the height of this campaign, Iraq used chemical weapons against the Kurds, particularly in the Kurdish town of Halabja. In 1991, the Shi'i revolt and U.S. calls to overthrow Saddam Husayn encouraged the Kurds to rebel again. As a result, 450,000 Kurds were forced to flee Iraq for Turkey and over a million went to Iran; thousands were killed by Iraqi troops.14
The Iraqi government has regularly used deportation and Arabization policies to oppress the Kurds. For example, it deported the Kurds to other parts of Iraq, confiscating their land and property, then replacing them with Arabs less likely to resist the regime's methods. Thousands of the deported Kurds live in tents or have no shelter at all.15 In 1997, a report by the United Nations secretary general stated that more than 500,000 Kurds were "internally displaced in the three northern Kurdish provinces."16
Shi'i Arabs. Although Sunni Arabs control the decision-making apparatus, the Shi'i Arabs, who live primarily in the south and in Baghdad, form a majority of the country's population. The roots of the Sunni power structure go back to the Ottoman Empire. Similarly, the roots of Sunni-Shi'i confrontation in Iraq lie in the many conflicts between the (Sunni) Ottoman Empire and the (Shi'i) Qajar dynasty of Iran. The city of Basra, for example, went back and forth between the two countries. This history adds to the minority troubles of Iraq, where Sunnis fear a Shi'a dominated Iraq that excludes them and persecutes them.
This apprehension about Shi'is is not unique to Iraq; it is a common characteristic of the Gulf states, with some governments fearing the establishment of an Islamist state along the Iranian lines. But reactions in Iraq to Shi'i expressions of identity are far more extreme than anywhere else. As Gulf political culture has developed over the past decade, showing a more sophisticated approach to the Shi'i issue, Iraq remains mired in old power struggles and conflicts over identity and destiny.
One source of Sunni-Shi'i animosity goes back to the Shu'ubiya movement of the early Islamic centuries, when non-Arabic-speaking Muslims refused to recognize the privileged position of Arabs in the world of Islam. In a modern version of this concept, regime-linked circles and Iraqis with Arab ultra-nationalist leanings have accused the Shi'is of harboring loyalty to Iran rather than to Iraq—though any honest inquiry would find that Iraqi Shi'is belong to Arab tribes loyal to Baghdad. Those of non-Arab backgrounds (mainly from Persian origins in Iran) are a minority, but they too have become effectively Arabized, with a culture and language in Arabic. (In this, they resemble the Sunni Circassians who settled in Arab territories.)17
Despite these facts, charges of Shu'ubiya are hurled at any Iraqi who speaks of Shi'i shrines in Iran or Iraq or who expresses an appreciation of anything Iranian; merely translating a poem of Iranian origin is readily condemned as evidence of Shu'ubiya. To be on the safe side, an Iraqi must praise Arab nationalism and Iraq's nationalist credentials; the moment he shows any sympathy for Shi'ism, he has crossed the threshold and will be seen as supporting irredentist sentiment, encouraging non-Ba'th thought, and questioning the Arab and Sunni identity of Iraq. This phenomenon antedated Saddam Husayn; thus, already in 1962, the eminent historian 'Abd al-'Aziz ad-Duri discussed the invasion of Iraq by eastern peoples "who leave behind groups of people to remain there, and whose cultural roots are foreign."18 This was a subtle but direct way of referring to the Shi'is living in Iraq.
Arguably, Iraq's worst mistake since the republican regime assumed power in 1958 has been to ignore the Shi'i majority and its rights, alienating them despite their commitment to Iraq.19 This mistake can be seen in the regime's power base and its Sunni-oriented power structure. This mistake partially accounts for the rise in Shi'i expression in Iraq (resulting from their alienation) and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war (due to regime fear of Shi'i expression after the Iranian revolution of 1979). In many ways, Iraq found itself on the defensive, and while not able to go the democratic route for fear of losing power, it ended up going into another war over Kuwait in 1990.
The Iraqi Shi'is' demonstrated their loyalty to Iraq during the awful eight-year Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, when they tenaciously and consistently fought their fellow Shi'is of Iran. This was not overlooked in Iran; when many Iraqi Shi'is fled to Iran in 1991, following the Shi'i uprising after the Kuwait war, they were mistreated there by Iranians who remembered how the Iraqi Shi'is had fought them.20 Despite this, the regime in Tehran has questioned Shi'i loyalty to Iraq as a means to foment problems in Iraq, and with success; the government in Baghdad continues to view its Shi'i majority as less patriotic than the rest of its citizens.
This has at times taken brutal form. At the outset of the eruption of tensions with Iran in 1980, the regime expelled no fewer than 200,000 Iraqi Shi'is, based on their having familial ties to Iran, sometimes as distant as five generations back.21 Iraqi Shi'is have their own (Iraqi) religious authorities and have differed from the start with Ayatollah Khomeini's signature idea about the institution of the wilayat al-faqih (reign of the jurisprudent; i.e., rule by the mullahs). To many Iraqi Shi'i religious leaders, wilayat al-faqih is an innovation that is not a legitimate part of Shi'ism.22
Iraq's failure to achieve internal harmony has contributed directly to its failure to establish peaceable relations with the outside world. This is no accident: just as the regime's internal strength is based on asserting Sunni supremacy based on tribes, so, too, is its primary face to neighboring countries a bellicose one. Because Iraq's leaders fear the Shi'i majority, they have sought any means of increasing the proportion of the Sunni element. Toward this end, they have created a culture of annexation that seeks to absorb neighboring Sunni Arabs, in whatever way possible.
This idea has become ever more imperative over time. The platforms of Iraqi parties before 1925 sought to extract Mosul from the Turks (with success: Great Britain did award Mosul to Iraq in 1925). King Ghazi of Iraq expressed annexationist positions towards Kuwait as early as the 1930s. Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani, who led a coup against the king and the British in 1941 also expressed annexationist positions toward Kuwait. 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, who led the 1958 coup, made a feint in 1961 to annex Kuwait. But none of these rulers went so far as to wage war.23 Each of them had a somewhat different justification, with King Ghazi seeking oil and territorial expansion in Kuwait, Kaylani promoting Arab nationalism and rebelling against the British, and Qasim attempting to compete with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt over the uniting of Arab countries.
In sum, the culture of annexation has deep political roots in modern Iraq.
Saddam Husayn then came along and took this tendency to an extreme. His ambitions were limited by factors both internal (such as regime legitimacy, Shi'i and Kurdish opposition) and external (opposition from the United States, Great Britain, Arab states, and Iran). He responded by occasionally generating crises to vent the pressures produced by these constraints. Prime examples are his invasion of Iran and attempt to annex the predominantly Arabic-speaking, Sunni province of Khuzistan in 1980; and his invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990.
From the regime's perspective, crises with neighbors—such as conflict with Iran or Kuwait or a foreign power—sensitize the Iraqi people to a common danger, which then justifies the imposition of even more control over the Iraqi people and bolsters the role of the military and security forces. Eventually, Saddam fell victim to the violence and fear that emanated precisely from this aspiration to rid himself of constraints. He found adventurous means to deal with these problems, but they always generated other, even bigger challenges. The net result is that Saddam finds himself today backed into a corner. And since he still harbors the same annexationist tendencies, he could easily make a drastic adventurous move on the Kurds, Kuwait, or Jordan.
The Kuwaiti Example
There was no consistent Iraqi claim to Kuwait before 1990. A look at the platforms of Iraqi movements and parties over many decades finds them devoid of references to Kuwait. None of the Iraqi parties during the British mandate ever mentioned a claim to Kuwait in their platforms. Rather, their general goal was to "preserve Iraq's complete independence within its natural borders," with no reference to Kuwait's being within those borders.24 There was no reference to Kuwait in the 1970 Iraqi constitution, or the provisional constitution of the 1980s, or in the 1990 draft for the permanent constitution of Iraq. Neither is there a mention of Kuwait's being part of Iraq in the Ba'th Party's constitution or statutes. Not one Iraqi party conference from 1963 to 1990 alludes to Kuwait as a part of Iraq.25 Iraq's need to annex Kuwait went unmentioned through all this time because problems between the two countries from the 1930s on were always a matter of relations between neighboring states, touching on questions of power, rights of passage, borders, and influence. The Iraq-Kuwait question has never been an ideological-national one, on the order of avowedly split countries such as Korea, China, Yemen, or Germany. Their relations are better understood in the context of a dominant revisionist state in relation to a small weaker state; this explains such incidents as the Iraqi government's moving onto Kuwaiti territory in 1973, and the military maneuvers on Kuwait's borders whenever Iraq demands Kuwaiti financial assistance.
Why then, the sudden and overwhelming claim to Kuwait? Because Saddam, feeling the weight of the internal crisis after the Iraq-Iran war, and not least the fears of Iraqi Sunnis after a war that brought only misery and loss, found in Kuwait a solution to his problems. Kuwait appeared to be the ultimate solution to his constraints, a vehicle to carry him to a new regional and even global role. Saddam Husayn is obsessed with such matters as building his power, gaining total control of Iraq, winning a larger access to the sea, dominating the oil market, deploying weapons of mass destruction, and becoming a popular hero among the Arabic-speaking peoples. Kuwait offered all these.
Having such needs, Saddam then ransacked the historical record and found what suited his intended policy. In 1990, days after invading Kuwait, he had many articles published in Iraq's government-controlled press on Kuwait and its annexation. He also published a statement made by Iraq's President 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, in 1961, days after Kuwait's independence, in which Qasim, after threatening to invade Kuwait, claimed its territory and considered its emir as governor of "Kuwait Province."26 But this was no long-standing grievance; indeed, the publication of Qasim's statement in 1990 was the first time since 1968 that the Iraqi press had run a positive item about him; it was also the first time (decades after his death) that his titles of prime minister and president had been invoked.27 This tells us how suddenly Iraqi politics can shift and how controlled the state media and its positions are. It also shows how these changes and sudden announcements need not conform to a logical order. They rise and disappear with limited notice.
Today's political and social situation in Iraq was shaped largely by the war against the international coalition in winter of 1991 and the Kurdish and Shi'i uprisings that followed. Those events made two points clear and not much has since happened to change them. First, Saddam had taken measures to immunize himself against the kind of coup d'état that had preceded his rule. He is programmed and equipped to persist, to renew himself, and to reproduce his power.28 Second, the center's power is so supreme that it would be difficult and perhaps even unrealistic to attempt to partition Iraq.
In addition, after the Kurdish and Shi'i uprisings were repressed, the regime took a series of steps to prevent their recurrence. To appease the Shi'a, it pardoned deserters and appointed Sa'dun Hammadi, a Shi'i, as prime minister. To split the Kurds' ranks, sandwiched as they are between Turkey and the Iraqi regime, it opened negotiations with Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, and was about to sign an agreement with him when another Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), came into conflict with Barzani. While nothing happened immediately, this paved the road for Saddam to invade the Kurdish autonomous region in August 1996, with the help of Barzani, and to destroy the Irbil base of Talabani's opposition and of the Iraqi National Congress, the leading Iraqi opposition group. The invasion also ended the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's involvement in the Kurdish regions as well.
In these ways, the regime showed it possessed the means to maneuver even under severe constraints; in fact, it even turned those constraints into a source of strength, temporarily at least, in controlling Iraqi society. The regime blamed outsiders for all the country's economic problems and focused on security priorities. Each attack and counterattack may have deepened the regime's crisis, but they also prolonged its life, as it waited to be rescued by the same political and geographic circumstances that had served it in the past, namely new crises and confrontations and wars.
Yet the ability of Saddam to continue to rule Iraq is in question. His style appears to have a limited future in the Middle East, despite what appear to be temporary surges of popularity but are really expressions of Arab sympathies towards the Iraqi people under sanctions and Saddam Husayn. Many Iraqis are aware of the price they are paying for the dictatorship, cult of personality, and ideologically guided leadership of Saddam Husayn. More than ever, they realize that as long as Saddam is in power they will live under repression and at war with the outside world. This realization means that although Saddam's regime appears to be strong, it is, in reality, weak and fractured; it appears stable, but its stability could be shattered overnight.
There is reason to hope that the terrible experience of the Iraqis over the past two decades may contribute to the rise of a pragmatic school of thought and leadership in Baghdad. The Iraqi intifada of 1991 showed the extent of anger in Iraq when the regime is weak; people rebel immediately. When it is strong, they do their best to survive its iron fist. Yet resistance by people in the north and the south has not stopped.
Iraqis in exile who have recently fled their home country tell of a lessening ideological climate, as well as an alienation from the Ba'thist ideology that has caused the country so much grief. Even members of the party are now eager to change course and begin the rebuilding of Iraq.
This fits into a larger context, as the Arab world is becoming increasingly inhospitable toward leaders who single-handedly make decisions that put the entire country at risk of poverty, sanctions, and isolation. Such leaders today have fewer followers than in the past, and their style is being discredited and undermined. The situations resulting from Libya's conflicts with the major powers, Sudan's internal and external conflicts, and the civil war in Algeria make strong cases for those in the Arab world who argue for democratization, openness, and a change in the way Arab states are run.
In their public discourse, many Middle Easterners still blame the West for many things that have gone wrong, including the suffering of the Iraqi people. But when Arabs discuss politics behind closed doors, they are fully aware of the crisis in leadership in the region. A historical experience with conflict, mistakes, and lost opportunities makes them more pragmatic and realistic than ever before. Behind the surface rhetoric and slogans, there is a deeper discourse that is at least beginning to come to terms with reality.
Models for the Post-Saddam Era
The ultimate causes of Iraq's woes are communal and have to do with the relation between the country's three main religio-ethnic groups. Therefore, before the country can become healthy, this fundamental issue will need to be addressed. It is the prime challenge of the post-Saddam era. Unless this is faced, Iraq will not resolve the decades-long tensions between minorities and majorities, between Sunni, Shi'is, and Kurds, between rulers and ruled, and between Iraq's national needs and the adventurism that undermines those needs.
How can a post-Saddam government address this issue? How can it be inclusive and alleviate longstanding grievances among the country's communities? This is not an unusual task. One finds many examples of inclusive states all over the world, from Latin America to eastern Europe, and some of them have dealt successfully with inclusion. South Africa, for example, provides an example of power-sharing and the ending of racism. Most of eastern Europe avoided Yugoslavia's route of conflict. Iraq's experience can similarly escape civil strife and war, for the past need not haunt the future. In fact, a negative past can in itself be a motivating force to bring about positive changes; note the German and Japanese examples. Iraqis are fed up with being victims of their government's actions. They are fed up with poverty, isolation, and repression. They want to visit other countries; they want not to be treated like outlaws.
The far-reaching changes that Iraq requires can be done only from within – not by exiles or an external power. Yes, the agents of change need international support and Iraq's outside opposition is an important factor, but domestic forces are the key. An Iraq that goes through a truly meaningful change must find the sources at home, not abroad.
If tyranny is a way to manage a diverse population fractured by longstanding animosities, what are the alternatives? History is not exactly replete with examples, but it does offer possibilities that spark hope for the emergence of a tolerant and inclusive Iraq.
Post-Civil War United States. The civil war of 1861-65 was healed because each side accepted the claim of the other that the war was essentially a noble endeavor. Northern and Southern veterans who began meeting in the 1890s acknowledged that both sides had been motivated by lofty ideals. The veterans might not have agreed with the ideals of the other side, but they recognized that the ideals were there, and this let the healing begin. These shared beliefs were the seeds of what might be called the mythic solution to intercommunal hatred.
Welsh and Scottish acceptance of the English. Along similar lines, the Welsh came to terms with English rule in part because of mutual respect (and the myth of King Arthur); the accession of Welsh-born King Henry VII to the throne in 1485 also helped. Likewise, the 1603 crowning of James I helped English relations with Scotland by unifying Britain under one crown; here the mythic solution was blended with a legal one, and this pairing of laws and narrative creating accommodation appears to take place more often than not.
Switzerland. The synergy of legal and mythic solutions also worked in the Swiss state which, paradoxically, was fused by the emergence of autonomous localities. These permitted coexistence between the German- and French-speaking peoples that previously had hated each other. The role of local autonomy in the Swiss state suggests that the key to a tolerant democratic Iraq resides in the development of some kind of federated system that permits the Shi'i and Kurdish minorities a form of local control.
Yugoslavia. Tito's creation, in contrast, provides a case study of how hatred can be both healed and obscured by a mythic and legal solution. Tito's method involved a concentration of power in the hands of the central government and party, and he ruled Yugoslavia through a combination of anti-Stalinist and anti-Russian nationalism, plus the universalizing ideology of communism. This system was held together by Tito's will and dominance and its dissolution began (not surprisingly) soon after his death. One can easily see how Iraq might similarly be pulled apart by centrifugal forces subsequent to the end of Saddam Husayn.
Unless Iraq succeeds in redefining group relations so that they are based on coexistence and sharing, tensions will continue to be a permanent part of Iraq's political life.
Unfortunately, the regime has a vested interest in the present formula of exclusion and repression, meaning that only a change of leadership can lead to an improvement in the present sad reality that prevails in Iraq. Of course, the path to that improvement may well involve new tribulations, such as civil war and another reign of terror.
Iraqi hopes in the past have been shattered by difficult realities such as the murderous end of the monarchy, the terrible life under the revolutionary regimes, the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war, and the devastating results of invading Kuwait. One round of suffering (for example, the Iraqi intifada of 1991) always seems to lead to another one, such as the ongoing sanctions and repressive regime in power. To escape this unhappy fate requires Iraqis to close their present chapter of external conflict and internal repression. This involves a change in leadership, to be sure, but also much more. (Amnesty for most of those complicit in the present regime - except those who have committed the worst crimes - is an unfortunate but necessary prelude to starting a new chapter.) To a large extent, Iraq's future rests upon the ability of its people to address their country's structural problems and to address problems in a democratic and federal context.
A federal approach does not imply a change in borders; Iraq is likely to retain something like its current shape: a north dominated by Kurds, a middle dominated by Sunnis, and the Shi'i in the south. But the Kurds will have to have a special status—an autonomous region in the north. This will be a normal development given that the Kurds have been autonomous for the last ten years. As for the prospect of the country's being divided into Shi'i and Sunni states: this is hard to imagine given how much the two populations are intermixed. But respect for regional autonomy on a federal basis will help the Iraqis in different areas—experience, respect, and equality. To have local elections for local councils, a regional house of representatives in each part of Iraq that reflects regional needs and aspirations, will help Iraq move from the present failed experiment.
The region also has a responsibility to participate actively in helping Iraq recover. The Gulf states in particular must re-embrace Iraq and help it rebuild after Saddam. To take one example: Iraq's huge debts could be paid into a fund for development that would be jointly owned by Iraq and the states of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The Arab summit in March 2001 revealed two key aspects of Iraq's policy. First, Iraq's undermining of the Arab position during the summit to ask the U.N. Security Council to lift the sanctions shows that Baghdad does not in fact want the sanctions lifted. Sanctions benefit the regime in several ways, winning it sympathy in Arab circles and allowing it to control the Iraqi people. Lifting the sanctions that hurt the people of Iraq while keeping the military sanctions and the U.N.-controlled escrow account would open a dynamic the regime could not control. Second, Iraq continues to harbor negative intentions towards Kuwait. This became clear when Iraq's representatives in the summit refused a clause that obliges Iraq to guarantee Kuwait's security and sovereignty.
This is the backdrop against which Washington needs to attend to the Iraqi dilemma, something it must do; for not to challenge the status quo in Iraq permits Saddam Husayn again to challenge the status quo in the region around him.
Shafeeq N. Ghabra, a professor of political science at Kuwait University, is currently director of the Kuwait Information Office in Washington D.C. His most recent book is Isra'il wa'l-'Arab: Min Sira' al-Qadaya ila Salam al-Masalih (Beirut: Mu'asassat ad-Dirasat li'n-Nashr, 1997.)
1 Muhammad Jabir al-Ansari, Takwin al-'Arab as-Siyasi wa-Maghaza ad-Dawla al-Qutriya (Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies, 1994), pp. 105-108.
2 Sa'd al-Bazzaz, Ramad al-Hurub: Asrar ma Ba'd Hurub al-Khalij, 2d ed. (Beirut: al-Mu'assasa al-Ahliya li'n-Nashr wa't-Tawzi', 1995), p. 22.
3 Ibid., p. 37.
4 Hani al-Fakiki, Awkar al-Hazima: Tajrubati fi Hizb al-Ba'th al-'Iraqi (The Den of Defeat: My Experience in the Iraqi Baath Party) (London: Riad Alrayyes, 1993), pp. 120-21, 126.
5 Fakiki, Awkar al-Hazima, p. 134.
6 Bazzaz, Ramad al-Hurub, p. 29.
7Shafeeq Ghabra, "Kuwait and the Political Future of Iraq Al-Kuwayt wa-Mustaqbal al-'Iraq al-Siyasi," Shu'un Ijtima'iya, 58 Summer 1998, pp. 9-35; idem, "Kuwait and Iraq: The Borders (al-Kuwayt wal Iraq: Qadiyyat al-Hudud," Shu'un Ijtima'iya, Winter 1997, pp. 59-81.
8 George Church, "The Borgias of Baghdad," Time (Canadian ed.), Aug. 28, 1995, pp. 22-23.
9 Edmund Ghareeb, The Kurdish Question in Iraq (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1981), p. 2.
10 Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version and other MiddleEastern Studies (New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc. 1970), pp. 236-282.
11 Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds of Iraq (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), pp. 9-10.
12 "The Middle East: The Kurds—A Regional Issue," Dec. 1995, at http://www.unhc~ch/refworld/country/writenet/wrikurd.htm.
13 Samir al-Khalil [pseud. of Kanan Makiya], Republic of Fear (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), p. xiii.
14 Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds of Iraq: Tragedy and Hope (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), pp. 53-54.
15 Iraq Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998, sect. 1.9 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, Feb. 26, 1996) at http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1998_hrp_report/iraq.html.
16 The Report of the U.N. Secretary General (New York: United Nations, 1997), S/1997/685.
17 'Abd al-Karim al-Arzi, Mushkilat al-Hukm fi'l-'Iraq (London: n.p., 1991), pp. 235-54.
18 Quoted in Arzi, Mushkilat al-Hukm fi'l-'Iraq, p. 259.
19 Ibid., p. 271; see also Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi'is of Iraq (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 278. The Nakash study, it bears noting, was translated into Arabic and published in Damascus in 1996, even though it is by a scholar of Israeli origins.
20 Interview with 'Abd al-Majid al-Khu'i, president of the Imam Abu al-Kassem Khoey Charitable Foundation, London, Sept. 1996. Abdul Majid is the son of the late Abul Qasim al-Khoey. Khoey¹s older brother was assassinated by Iraqi intelligence.
21 Elaine Sciolino, The Outlaw State: Saddam Husayn¹s Quest for Power and the Gulf Crisis (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1991), p. 95.
22 The absent messiah, who appears as a savior, is a central concept of Shi'ism. No one may usurp the duties of the messiah - but this is exactly what the wilayet al-faqih is supposed to do. Thus does Khomeini's wilayat al-faqih challenge the idea of the absent messiah by, in his absence, putting his powers in the hands of the faqih. This point was made by Imam Abu'l-Qasim al-Khu'i, the leading cleric in Iraq until 1992, and by his successor Muhammad as-Sadr, who was assassinated in 1998 by the Iraqi intelligence. On this theological basis, they both opposed the wilayet al-faqih.
23 Hasan al-A'lawi, Aswar at-Tin (Beirut: Dar al-Kanuz al-Adabiya, 1995), pp. 16-19. It is worth mentioning that Iraq did not stand against India's attempts to annex Kashmir or Morocco's attempts to annex western Sahara.
24 Ibid., pp. 23-24.
25 Interviews with 'Abd al-Husayn Sha'ban, president of the London-based Iraqi Human Rights Commission, London, Sept. 1997; and with Walid Khadduri, editor of the Middle East Economic Survey (Jordan), Jan. 1996.
26 At the time Iraq claimed that Kuwait was a province of Iraq and opposed its independence. But in 1965 it signed an agreement of recognition of Kuwait and its independence. This agreement was signed between the prime minister of Iraq, Ahmad Hasan al-Baki, and prime minister of Kuwait, Sheihk Sabah as-Salem as-Sabah and lasted until 1990.
27 Interviews with Sha'ban and Khadduri.
28 See Khalil, Republic of Fear