Getting It Right in Iraq
by Professor Daniel M. Zucker
Global Politician, August 14, 2006
Last year U.S. Ambassador (ret.) Peter W. Galbraith wrote a brilliant essay analyzing the current political situation in Iraq, entitled "Iraq: Bush's Islamic Republic". The ironic truth of his title encapsulates the sad fact that American foreign policy makers ventured into an area of which they had little if any comprehension, and now some 40 months later still show little evidence of having learned "on the job" as it were. Having failed to understand that Iraq has never had a unified national identity, the foreign policy "experts" continued to be under the delusion that Iraqis were united in their desire to forge a national union. In truth, nothing could be further from reality. Because of an arrogant attitude that everyone must want to live lives that mimic America's western values, we traded one brutal secular tyrant for the danger of a theocratic state that flirts with aligning itself with our arch enemy, the state that gives rise to the phrase "Islamofascism"-the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As long as we fail to understand that "Iraq" is made up of an artificial construct of three major groups (Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds) and many additional minorities, none of which has any love for the others, we will fail in creating any degree of stability. The bloody events of the month of July have demonstrated all too graphically that a peaceful union is a chimera-a pipe dream-a fantasy. Having given Iraqis the chance to vote without having laid the proper framework for establishing a western style democracy, we have given the Shiite majority a chance to install an Islamic state similar to that of Iran. Far from creating a new democracy, we have allowed religious obscurantism to triumph and thereby hurl Iraqi women back to the seventh century C. E. The Iranian mullah theocrats must absolutely love our "brilliant" policy makers; Iran "conquered" Iraq without having to fire a single shot!
If we are to salvage anything from our much faulted attempt at democratizing an oriental culture, we quickly must come to comprehend that not all unions were made in heaven; some should be allowed to fade away, or at least metamorphose for the time-being into a federal union with local autonomy but a shared national economy, defense, and foreign policy.
Iraq would seem to be a country ripe for such a process. The Kurds want to maintain their autonomy, and both Sunnis and Shiites want to keep themselves independent of the other. Those Shiites who have called for the establishment of an Islamic republic akin to that in neighboring Iran possibly may be the majority within that faith community. However, not all Iraqi Shiites back the Islamic policies of the Islamic Dawa Party or the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered cleric, while favoring a shari'a-based legal system, appears to oppose a clerical state. Similarly, Sunni Iraqis are united in opposing the imposition of a Shiite religious state, but bitterly divide among themselves over the direction of their insurgency. Some want a Sunni Islamic state--these are the supporters of al-Qaeda in Iraq; but most oppose an Islamic state and thus oppose al-Qaeda. Even the Kurds, who are united in their own ethnic identity and desire to remain independent of both the Sunni and the Shiite Arabs, are themselves divided between various political factions (PUK, KDP, PKK, etc.) as well as interpretations of Islam.
The above is only a broad-stroke portrait; it does not account for the many minorities that exist in Iraq. What we Westerners seem to fail to comprehend is that the Iraqis operate at tribal identity levels and not at national identity levels. Even the faith and ethnic identity groups are not united. The elections were won by a Shiite religious coalition, not by a single group.
If we really want to bring a democratic revolution to Iraq, which is something that will become increasingly difficult - given Teheran's rising influence in Baghdad-we will have to work with all those different groups that oppose a Shiite religious state. Some of our potential allies are those Sunni insurgents that we are fighting now. Another potential ally are the Sunni Kurds of Massoud Barzani, leader of the Pesh Merga, that are united in their opposition to Teheran and an Islamic religious state, as opposed to Iraq's new president, Jalal Talebani, who is close to the mullahs' regime and receives its support. One should note that support for Kurdish autonomy could ruffle the feathers of our Turkish allies as Ankara opposes anything that gives her Kurdish citizens hope for unification with an independent Kurdistan. Iran and Syria will also be displeased by the same phenomena in their Kurdish populations. However, speaking frankly, the latter should cause us no insomnia.
There is one other thing that we should be doing, given the overwhelming evidence of Iranian interference and influence in Iraqi politics. It is time to empower the Iranian resistance to aid the longsuffering Iranian people to rise up in revolt to overthrow the tyrannical Teheran theocracy. Specifically, this means removing the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) from the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, a status they acquired at the behest of the Teheran mullahs because of political deals in 1997, 1999 and 2003 made by State with the Iranian regime, and not because of any actual involvement in terrorism. If the egalitarian NCRI and MeK can once again become active in the field, Iran could soon become a secular democracy, exactly of the type that we've been trying to establish in Iraq. Now wouldn't that be novelallowing a Middle-East nation to set new regional standards in the development and establishment of secular democracy. Imagine that, we could correct all (or most) of our problems in Iraq and end our problems with Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weaponry - a goal the NCRI and MeK have already renounced - all with one simple policy change. Do you think Washington can get it right this time? I do hope so, because my Arabic and Farsi are still in the infancy stage, and I sure hate to glow in the dark!
Dr. Daniel M. Zucker is a Chairman of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, an organization dedicated to teaching the public about the dangers posed by radical Islamic fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws.