EAST AND WESTDysfunction from the startWill Iraq ever be stable? [Archives:2004/730/Opinion]

April 19 2004

By Jamil Abdul Karim
[email protected]

They say that in democracies, people get the leaders they deserve. So, what about the rest of us? What about, for instance, Iraq?
What a mess. Where it's all going, nobody knows. Where it's been, on the other hand, we do know. Don't we?
Well, yes and no. We know Iraq has been through a terribly troubling period in its history. Between Saddam's brutally, iron-fisted leadership of the past three decades, the war with Iran (which cost a few hundred thousands lives), and a decade of living under harsh UN sanctions, many Iraqis have suffered terribly.
Add the fact that the Yanks have recently shown up with their muddy boots. But to get a wider picture of Iraq's story, we're going to have to flip back a few more pages of history.
There, we see that modern Iraq, created in 1921 after the Brits began serious meddling in this region, was in serious trouble from the start. Why? Because modern Iraq isn't really an Arab creation. No, it was Western powers who tried to merge religiously and ethnically different groups in the region without fully understanding the nuances that give each these people distinct identity.
No surprise Iraq's first monarchs and parliament couldn't hold things together. With newly-discovered oil fueling them, seven military coups unfolded from 1936 to 1941. To dissuade such things in the future, seditious generals were hung publicly.
But things worsened, and all political parties were eventually dissolved. In 1958, (while dressed as a woman) leader Nura al-Said was caught escaping the country and killed. Then, for good measure, Abdul Karim Qasim slaughtered Iraq's Western-installed royal family.
Qasim, with a few thugs in the new Iraqi Baath Party, punished rivals brutally. When a coup against the pro-Soviet Qasim failed, he retaliated with things including plenty of rape and pillaging of his anti-communist opponents.
Qasim hung on until 1963, before his former Baathist friends killed him. Some 1,500 Iraqis died in street-fighting during that coup. Then Abdul Salem Arif got on top, only to oust the Baathists that had put him in power. President Arif somehow died in a chopper crash.
Soon young Baathist upstart Saddam Hussein arrived on the scene. Known to shoot his enemies point-blank in the back of the head, he helped lead a 1968 coup. Later, as Iraq's boss, Saddam would see to that two of his sons-in-law were killed: punishment for fleeing the country earlier, and telling some of Iraq's secrets to the West. The rest of Saddam's dark legacy, I don't need to mention.
Somewhere along the way the guys who are supposed to wearing the white hats, in this case the Yanks, saddled up to Saddam. Apparently they feared his enemy, Shiite Iran, more than they feared Sunni-dominated Iraq. Remember the above-mentioned Iran-Iraq War? Nearly one million people died. Guess who armed Iraq? Is anyone surprised that type of turn-coat politics boils Arab blood? Wouldn't it boil anyone's?
Yes, in politics, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Which brings us to the present. Now that they're well-inside the minefield of Iraq's unresolved family issues, and the Yanks have managed to get both Sunni and Shiite camps to hate them equally, President George Bush's taunt to “Bring 'em on” doesn't sound so hot right now.
Of course, we know alliances can change easily. I personally wonder if civil war is still not the biggest long-term threat to a rebuilding-Iraq, especially when the Yanks pull out completely, which they will sooner or later.
But in the meantime, about this rocky road to so-called regime change. It obviously seemed like a good idea to enough important people at the time. But considering Iraq's long stream of political blood, do you not wonder if, from the beginning, nobody in Washington realistically asked: a regime change to what?
Good for Yemen that it has welcomed thousands of Iraqis in the last decade, offering a bit of a shelter from some of their political storms. But, as many had looked forward to returning to a secure, if not democratic home soon, it is unfortunate that real hope for any long-term peace and stability doesn't look very realistic at the moment, regardless of who's running its show.
I hope I'm wrong. But really. Look at the history.

Jamil Abdul Karim ([email protected]) is a Yemen Times editor.