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A Plea from the People of Iraq

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No one wants a war in Iraq less than the Iraqi people. But we don't have the luxury of being anti-war.
  • by Barham Salih (March 10, 2003)

For the past 35 years, the Baathist regime has been waging war against Iraqis. We know there can be no peace without the military liberation of Iraq. The brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime leaves Iraqis and the civilised world with no other option.

And so, not for the first time, a persecuted people is asking for help in dislodging a dictatorship. But we also ask that the United States protect and nurture a postwar Iraqi democracy. The US-led campaign must be about more than simply eliminating weapons of mass destruction and forcing a regime change. Rather, the use of force must yield a clear political gain: the foundation of a democratic state that will be at peace with its own people and with the Middle East.

It is too often forgotten that Iraq is the ultimate failed state, the twisted product of British colonialism. From its beginning, the Iraqi state brutalised its Kurdish minority and excluded the Shiite majority. Although uniquely brutal, the present Baath dictatorship is also a symptom of the closely interwoven political and military structures that evolved from the colonial era. With little base of support, Baghdad regularly used force to impose its will.

The transition from the status quo to a democratic state is a process in which the US and the international community will have to play a pivotal role. The US-led coalition will be instrumental in getting rid of dictatorship. And the US military will undoubtedly be central to stabilising the security environment and offering the Iraqis the space within which they can develop a democratic system. But peace in postwar Iraq, much less democracy, cannot be established without the full participation of the nation's secular democratic movements and other indigenous political groups.

Iraq has a long history of political and social opposition to the Baath regime, and the regime's diverse opponents will all want to play a role in shaping a postwar Iraq.

A national transitional authority, drawing from these domestic political movements and aided by the US-led coalition and the United Nations, must be quickly put into place. A delay in handing over power to a national authority will play into the hands of undemocratic anti-Western forces, not only in Iraq, but in the wider Islamic world.

During the transition period, de-Baathification (like de-Nazification in the period after World War II) will be a vitally important, if complicated, undertaking. As a first step, the regime's much feared security services must be dismantled. The military must be demobilised to facilitate the purging of Baathists and human rights violators, and then restructured to serve the peace and security of the people. The highly centralised Baath structures control the political, economic and social spheres of Iraq and must be dismantled. New decentralised and accountable institutions must be set in place. De-Baathification also means reforming the economy. State control and centralisation foster corruption while millions live in poverty. The oil industry needs to be de-monopolised and its revenues devoted to the wellbeing of the population and the economic revival of the country.

Within the structures that maintain the Baath dictatorship lies a deeper problem. What Iraqis call a Baath mentality permeates the educational system, warps social services and dominates a greatly weakened civil society. A 35-year process of Baathification has inculcated the norms and values that bolster the dictatorship into every nook and cranny of society.

The Baath mentality values obedience over initiative, deference to authority over critical thinking, loyalty over ability and violence over conflict resolution. This Baath mentality will take a while to eradicate, but the process must begin immediately. This will require reforming the educational systems and establishing methods of identifying and rewarding talent, merit, ability, independent thinking and service to the community in new institutions.

A vigorous truth and reconciliation process must be instituted to begin to heal the wounds and instil a sense of justice among the people. The leadership of the Baath party must be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The 40-year "ethnic-cleansing" campaign that has displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrian Christians from Kirkuk, Khanaqin and Sinjar must be reversed. The transitional authority must organise and hold elections for a constituent assembly, preferably within a year. This will give the people of Iraq a personal stake in the success of a new government.

This transition process will be greatly complicated if neighbouring countries attempt to intervene militarily. The presence of regional troops in Iraq may open a Pandora's box of historical sensitivities.

Turkey helped Iraqi Kurdish refugees in 1991, and it has been facilitating the US-British air patrols protecting Iraqi Kurdistan from aggression. Turkish secular democracy offers positive examples that can be invaluable as we contemplate the building of a democratic Iraq. However, recent news of a US deal that would allow Turkish military to be deployed inside northern Iraq is disconcerting. The tactical military imperatives of a northern front must not compromise the stated political mission of the US-led coalition, namely freedom for all Iraqis.

The anticipated difficulties with regime change and peaceful transition would be exacerbated by the involvement of neighbouring countries. Iran and Turkey, and for that matter other neighbours, have much to gain from a stable, peaceful Iraq. Their military involvement is not needed and would be counterproductive. If the US wants to avoid a quagmire in Iraq, it will keep the focus on Iraq and will keep the neighbours at bay. Eleven years ago, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan embarked on pioneering experiments in democratic self-government in the heart of the Islamic Middle East. The success of the Kurdistan Regional Government stands to prove that Iraq need not be ruled by tyranny and illustrates that despite all the impediments, democracy in Iraq is possible.

With international assistance, Iraq can become a country its citizens will want to live in because it will offer individual rights, political freedom and economic opportunity. It can become a country that stands for peace over aggression and terrorism, democracy over dictatorship, secularism over theocracy and economic prosperity. None of this will be easy, but doing nothing will ultimately prove more costly. With the US by our side, Iraq can become peaceful, secular and democratic - a beacon of hope in the Middle East.

Barham Salih is Prime Minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-01-04 05:23 AM

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