K. Makiya on Iraq

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Al Dhahir

Apr 1, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/1/96
Kanan Makiya has recently gave a talk on Iraq. He kindly offered to put
the text of his lecture on internet and I promised to do this. My
apologies for losing the HTML formatting commands which I took so much
pain to add to Makiya's text file. They disppeared during the "copy and
paste operations." The text of Makiya's talk is given below.

Alaaddin al-Dhahir

Does Iraq Have A Future?

Public Talk at Brandeis University

By Kanan Makiya

Date: March 26, 1996

Before saying anything about Iraq I would like to thank a number of
people who have been to thank Avigdor
Levy in particular, the Department of NEJS and its Director Antony
Polanski along with the University faculty
and administration for inviting me to join the Brandeis community this
semester and for making my stay here
such a pleasant one. I feel greatly honored by the invitation and to top
it all off am actually enjoying myself in
the new role of Professor, one of the few roles I have not occupied in
the past.

The title of my talk is suggestive of a situation which is bleak and
full of dark portent for the future, not only
Iraq's future I might add but that of the whole Middle East. The plight
that Iraqis find themselves in today
shares something very important with the Middle East Peace Process. Both
are intimately bound up with the
outcome of the 1991 Gulf war. The Peace Process, as we have all come to
know the process began in Oslow, has its
beginnings in the scale and magnitude of the military defeat of Iraq in
that war. Iraq's plight today on the other
hand has its roots not in that defeat but in the politically unfinished
nature of the war--the fact that five years
after its end George Bush, Margaret Thatcher and all kinds of leaders of
the Allied coalition forces that waged
that war have come and gone while Saddam is still in power. But this
parting of the ways of Iraq and the rest of
the Arab world, which began with Iraq's occupation, annexation and
looting of Kuwait in August 1990, cannot
go on forever. At some point the affairs of a country which has been in
effect been left to rot, are going to
boomerang back with great consequence to everyone in the region. Iraq is
simply too big, too rich and too
advanced a country for that not to be the case. If I were giving this
talk one or two years ago, I might not have
given it such a bleak title in spite of the fact that what I have just
said would still apply. However, it is a fact of
life that too many factors all working in the same negative direction
have been conspiring to undermine even my
usual optimism. There are two kinds of catastrophic outcomes to consider
in relation to the future of Iraq. One is
that a transition from the regime of Saddam Husain does not come about.
The other is that when it does it will
do so with the force of a giant, unpredictable and powerful whirlpool
which sucks everything into its raging
vortex beginning with the people of Iraq. Consider this little story,
which took place in Salahaldin, northern
Iraq, in the so-called "safe-haven" area of northern Iraq at a time when
it was supposedly being protected by
the Allied forces. Think of the story as a kind of dress rehearsal for
what could happen in Iraq in the not-too
distant future. In the summer of 1995 a bomb went off in what was
thought to be the safest city in the Kurdish
enclave killing 26 members of the Iraqi Arab and Kurdish opposition
coalition against Saddam Husain
known as the INC. I knew three of those who died. They had escorted,
guided and generally helped me gather
information for the book, Cruelty and Silence. Moreover they were
critical members of the INC's operations in
northern Iraq, acting as links to various well-placed individuals
working inside the Ba'thist state apparatus.
In one fell swoop, measured by the seconds and minutes it took for them
to die, a crippling blow was dealt to the
project to topple the regime of Saddam Husain by opponents interested in
democracy and in working with the
West from the safe-haven area created by the Allied coalition after the
Gulf war.

Who set off the bomb that killed these crucial 26 members of the INC?
How did they know that they would all
be gathered in one place on that day at that hour? How was a bomb
smuggled into such carefully guarded

The answer to all these questions is like the truth behind the story of
Rashomon--and this is why the incident
is so depressing to anyone familiar with the deadly logic of civil wars.
In the affairs of northern Iraq, which once
held so much promise following the Kurdish elections of 1992, it is
impossible today to know anything for
certain. The INC had failed to stop the internecine fighting that broke
out among the Kurds in May 1994 and
which I accidentally got caught up in being in northern Iraq at the
time. I ended up spending a whole month
shuttling around acting as a mediator between the warring Kurdish
parties. But those talks failed, and they
were followed by other talks with INC mediation, and other breakdown and
so on until finally with US and
Turkish government representation, a last ditch INC effort broke down
last October. The Iranians were in the
meantime positioning themselves to take over. Large numbers of their
security personnel, recruited from among
the 3/4 of a million or so in Iran, have been infiltrated inside
northern Iraq. To complicate matters even more the
Turkish government is waging its own private war against the PKK inside
Iraqi territory. I will spare you the
agaonizing details but at this point in time almost anyone could have
planted the bomb with the most likely
candidates being the regimes in Baghdad and Tehran both of whom think of
the INC as the eyes and ears opf
the West inside their own backyard. The bottom line situation today is
that Turks, Kurds, Iranians, Saddam's
agents and God-knows who else--other than the West itself--battle and
conspire and negotiate and make
claims over a country whose future is crucial to the peace and stability
of the whole region, and they are doing all
of this in a safe-haven area protected by the Allied coalition as a
legacy of the 1991 Gulf war.So what affect does
this have on "The Problem of Justice in the Transition to a Post-Saddam
Iraq?" The underlying assumption
of the title after all is that there will remain such a thing as "Iraq"
which will therefore face a transition problem
sometime in the future. How reasonable is such an assumption in the
light of such developments? "Does Iraq
even have a Future," given the way things are going. This is the real
existential question facing Iraqis today and
it is the only reasonable context within which to look at the whole
thorny problem of justice in a post-Saddam
Iraq. The point I am trying to make is that there is no way of
separating the question of politics from that of
justice in the case of Iraq without having a completely academic
discussion that is not going to be of very great
value to anyone. It is certainly not why we are here.

Do 'politics' and 'justice' belong together? Or, put differently, is it
not the case in Iraq as it may very well be in
Bosnia, that the one can only take place at the expense of the other?

I am reminded in this context of a discussion that took place over NPR
with General Trainor who was told by
one listener that since the brief of the NATO mission to Bosnia did not
include the apprehension of war
criminals it was bound to fail in the long run. The General answered by
observing that the mission was not
about justice; it was about peace. I understand the sense in which the
General is right, but I guess there is
something in me that refuses to want to let these two things go their
separate ways. And certainly the case I want
to put before you today is that whatever may be the case elsewhere in
the world, in Iraq the central problem of
politics--which is a problem of the nature of the Iraqi state--this
problem is the prerequisite to any experience
or hope of justice in the country as a whole in the forseeable future.

Let me illustrate the issues involved by way of a familiar metaphor. You
all know the story of the Tower of
Babel, the foundations of which still exist, less than seventy miles
from where I grew up. In Genesis, we are told
that, Noah's progeny who built the city after the flood, forgot their
side of the covenant made with the Lord and
abandoned his worship. The symbol of this presumptuousness and arrogance
on their part took the form of the
building of a tower, a house for false gods.

The shape that justice took in their case--their punishment in other
words-- was the breakup of the power
that derived from agglomeration, from being one people, from having one
polity. The Lord paid a visit to the
city to see the tower that the people had built. "So they are all a
single people with a single language" he said!
"This is only the start of their undertakings! Now nothing they plan to
do will be beyond them." Babylon's
Tower symbolized everything that that had gone wrong with the city. Yet
it held the people together. And that is
why the form of the punishment that was brought to bear on this people
which had so grievously sinned, was to
bring down this arrogant edifice, scattering the people who had built it
all over the face of the earth, and
confusing their language, so that they would never again understand one
another.(1) That, you might say, is a
very apt image illustrating the complete inextricability of the question
of justice from that of politics. Many
Iraqis fear that when the Ba'thist tower that Saddam Husain has built
comes tumbling down, as it surely will in
our lifetime, "Things [will] fall apart; and the center [will not] hold;
unloosing, to continue paraphrasing Yeats,
a "blood-dimmed tide" upon everything that they hold familiar. Such
fears for the future keep Saddam
Husain in power. Ironically the UN-imposed sanctions on Iraq, as
manipulated by Saddam Husain's
propaganda machine, helps to stoke them up thus undoing the effect of
the sanctions in weakening the Ba'thist
state in the first place. It is a vicious circle in which Iraqis have
been caught for the last four years since the Gulf
war. The experience of Iraq shows. it seems to me, that we still have a
lot to learn about sanctions as a means of
bringing about change in an incalcitrant or outlaw regime. They do not
work in the way one expects, and they
can have completely unpredictable and undesirable social and even moral
consequences even when they are
imposed on the most odious of regimes.

I am not, with these observations, arguing for or against sanctions. I I
do think, however, that both opponents
and supporters of the sanctions often seem to lose sight of why they
were imposed in the first place. In this talk I
want to return and stick with these fundamentals of the dilemma of Iraq.

Let us review the current conjuncture. Four years after the Gulf war and
Saddam Husain is not only still in
power, but he even seems to be increasingly successful in driving apart
the allies who so successfully drove him
out of Kuwait. Most governments, including most members of the Security
Council, believe that the time is
coming when the ban on Iraqi oil sales should be lifted, at least in
part. This, whether we like it or not, has got to
mean the international rehabilitation of the regime of Saddam Husain,
its re-entry from the cold into the
community of world states. America, with an ever decreasing number of
allies, wants to keep the pressure of the
sanctions on. The rationale for doing this is increasingly a purely
formal one, namely that Iraq is still not in
compliance with UN Resolutions on a whole range of issues. The unspoken
and increasingly tenuous subtext of
the American argument is that sanctions will eventually do away with the
odious regime in Iraq. With what
should it be replaced? On this no one is willing to make a statement
because the policy is not officially about the
outlaw nature of a fellow member of the United Nations. To think even in
this way is tantamount to extending
the application of the idea of human rights in politics to societies not
identified with the Western tradition. That
would set up too complicated a precedent, and it amounts to a reversal
of trends that have been working
themselves out at least since decolonization and the end of World War
Two. We live in a world of multiple
cultures, and born out of the struggle for the emancipation of peoples
has come the idea of the relativism of all
values, and the right of all peoples of different traditions to live by
the laws of their own cultures. Therefore the
West, the International community, the United States, whatever
apellation you choose, cannot tell other peoples
how they ought to be ruled. It can only pretend to be talking about what
Saddam needs to do next to be in
compliance with this and that UN Resolution. And thus the sanctions
policy has drifted into aimlessness,
turning into an end in itself, justified by external and increasingly
not very honorable considerations. The
unsaid theoretical premise behind the policy is that sanctions will do
indirectly what the Untited States is no
longer able or willing to say directly: turn Iraqis against their
dictator. And that the whole problem will in this
way resolve itself. The great irony of course is that the Gulf war did
that. And at the time, the world balked, and
turned its back on those Iraqis who rose up against their regime in the
single most unusual and promising
reversals of the traditional pattern of Middle East politics. Instead of
rallying around their regime when the
nation came under attack in January 1991, and in spite of enduring one
of the most ferocious and
comprehensive bombing campaigns since the fire-bombing of Dresden, the
population which had had all those
bombs rained on its head rose up against the local dictator and reached
out for help to the very so-called
imperialist armies that had been bombing them. Nothing like this has
ever happened before in the politics of the
modern Middle East. Far more Iraqis have ended up dying from the
subsequent crushing of that rebellion, and
from the effect of the sanctions, than ever died during the Gulf war
itself. Is it any wonder then that most Iraqis
today are going back to that old bogey-horse of Arab politics: blaming
the West or someone else for one's
agony. Iraqis think that the Untied States has a policy, and that that
policy is to keep Saddam Husain in power
and punish them. Whether or not one agrees that that is in fact US
policy--and I for one do not agree--can you
blame them?

What many Iraqis don't understand--or rather find very hard to
understand--is that in fact the situation is
even worse than they think. The United States which, for whatever
reason, right or wrong, sent 450,000 men to
fight the Iraqi dictator in 1991, today has no coherent policy towards
Iraq. It is unwilling to plan beyond the
need to contain him. The West, whose armies created and still safeguard
the safe-haven area in the north of
Iraq, today sits by and watches while that whole situation blows up in
its faces. But the United States has not
conspired to bring about this unbelievable mess as virtually all Iraqis
think; it does not manipulate things
from the sidelines. At best you might say it is watching over the
unfolding of things, unable to decide what if
anything it wants to happen, and whether or not it even has the right to
want it in the first place. The West is
conspicuous by its reluctance or absence with regards to any question
that has to do with the future of Iraq.
Why that is the case, given the enormous fact of the Gulf war, is, I
suspect a very complicated question, one that
has more to do with post World War Two multicultural politics and the
abandonment of international
humanism, and the whole idea of a universal value system which came with
the Enlightenment. That is a whole
big, other subject which I certainly don't want to get into now. The
main point I would, however like to reiterate,
is that contrary to what most Iraqis and virtually the whole of the
so-called Third World thinks, the United
States is conspicuous by its unwillingness and possibly even I have come
to think in recent months, structural
inability to formulate what it wants to happen in the post-Saddam era in

By way of furthering the discussion, let me ask the following question:
"Why not let the whole house of cards
come tumbling down?" Why shouldn't the state that the Ba'th have built
get broken up into smaller, or as its
proponents would put it, 'more organic and natural' units. Don't the
Kurds deserve a state after all the horrors
that have been inflicted upon them by this and previous Arab nationalist
regimes in Iraq? Is that not what they
really want anyway? And what about the Shi'ites and the Sunnites of
Iraq? Doesn't history teach us that these
two branches of Islam can never live in peace with one another? If so,
if this is how the people of Iraq are--riven
by ancient prejudices, fears and hatreds--then let a hundred flowers
bloom, as Mao used to put it. Iraq was
always too artificial a framework for a proper state; it never made
sense as a project. So let the baby go the way of
the bath water. Let the whole deck come tumbling down and then we shall
then see what the cards really have in
store for the people of Iraq.

It is almost impossible to speculate about this scenario for the future
in Iraq without passing it through the
prism of post-1989 events in Europe, namely through the experience of
the collapse of the Soviet Union and
Yugoslavia. Was it not the toppling of the Soviet Tower of Babel that
was behind the release of all kinds of
ethnic and sectarian tensions in that unfortunate country? The wounded
and humiliated little nationalisms of
the Serbs and the Croats and the Bosnians, and the Armenians and the
Turkomans, lashed back like
twigs--as Isaiah Berlin put it I believe just before he died--bent down
by the oppressive weight which had
been crushing them. They lashed back with the fury of one who is
reacting to a hurt, to an insult. They emerged
from under the oppressive weight of the Tower enraged and wounded. Is
there not an inevitability about such a
reaction? Especially in a country like Iraq where the legacy of blood is
all still so close to the surface. After all the
Anfal campaign which resulted in the extermination of possibly as many
as 100,000 Kurds was a mere six years
ago. The repression of the intifada, the attack on Shi'i holy cities,
the draining of the marshes, all of this has
happened since the Gulf war.

More fundamental, I would argue, than even all of this loss of
life--speaking politically of course, and not
merely in human terms--is the fact that the underlying premise of the
polity that the Ba'th have built in Iraq
since 1968 has been complicity, the involvement of larger and larger
numbers of people--in large part
unwillingly--in the criminal behavior of the state. The Ba'th, over a
period of 25 years, have woven together a
state built upon circles upon circles of complicity and it is upon these
that they have legitimized themselves.
Almost any scenario of a post-Ba'thist future in a wounded country like
this is going to be a balancing act, like
walking a tightrope balancing the legitimate grievances of all those who
have suffered on one side and the
knowledge that if everyone is held accountable who is in fact guilty for
this legacy, then that too will tear the
country asunder. It is going to be a country in which justice is both
the first thing that everybody wants, and the
last or most difficult thing that anyone can deliver.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis were either willing or unwilling
participants in what was done to other Iraqis
during the 1980s and 1990s. Very large numbers of people informed on one
another or stood by while their
neighbours were humiliated, imprisoned, abused, deported, tortured, made
to "disappear" and killed in
countless horrible ways. Virtually every adult male has had to serve
long terms in an army that has consistently
brutalized both its own soldiery and ordinary Iraqi citizens. The
multi-layered, highly secretive security
organizations regularly employed hundreds of thousands of people to
watch over, police, and abuse
individuals in a variety of ways. You could only do this in an oil-rich
country where the level of the state's
disposable income bore no relation at all to the size of the country, or
the level of its real wealth-producing
economic activity. According to a calculation I made in Republic of Fear
for 1980, one-fifth of the economically
active urban labour force (677,000 people) were institutionally charged
with one form or another of violence
(whether "policing", "defending" or "controlling" the society at large).
If this was the picture on the eve of the
Iraq-Iran war (before the decision to go to war had been made) one can
imagine the extraordinary state of
affairs that has developed after twelve more years of this kind of
dictatorship and two gruelling wars. Defenders
of the 'let it all come tumbling down' scenario therefore have a
Biblical notion of where justice lies. They
conclude that there is no way out but to let Saddam's Tower fall. That
this should be American policy, for
instance. The ensuing turmoil will certainly be very painful and
destructive. That is just the way things are and
have to be for something better to emerge in the end. But the city I was
born and brought up in is not a Biblical
metaphor; it is a real place, with people made of flesh and blood and
filled with the same kinds of phobias and
hopes as any of you in this room. And when I think of the collapse of
the existing edifice of the state system in
Iraq--deformed and horrible as it certainly is--I am to be perfectly
frank with you filled with dread and
horror at what is likely to follow. Which brings me to a second scenario
for the future of Iraq linked to a
completely different and most un-Biblical notion of justice which I
would like to now sketch out. In fact there is
no need for me to reformulate it since a recent issue of The Economist
has already done the job.

"The world still has a strong interest in Mr. Hussein's good behaviour"
opens an important editorial
published on the eve of the last debate in the Security Council on
renewal of sanctions. "On the face of it, the
decision to lift or maintain the oil ban should turn on a judgement
about whether Mr Hussein has complied
with the post-war conditions placed by the UN upon Iraq." Realizing,
however, that this was going to get
endlessly bogged down in the minutaie of the weapons inspection reports
versus French and Russian
commercial interests in Iraq, The Economist proposed a compromise that
everyone might accept--not a lifting
of the ban but its suspension. This provides what The Economist calls a
way "to relax some of the pressure on
Iraq without losing the ability to restore it in full." [The Economist,
April 8, 1995].

In other words the future that is envisaged here is one of soldiering on
with the same nasty state suitably
weakened and therefore no longer a regional threat. This is what
virtually every state in the region thinks is best,
including Israel incidentally. It is what Saddam Husain himself wants,
and the underlying rationale for it is
summed up in phrases like regional stability in the case of Iran,
preservation of the existing state system in the
case of the Arab countries, commercial interests in the case of Turkey,
containing the Islamic threat from Iran in
the case of Israel and so on. The kindest thing that one can say about
this scenario is that it is cynical. More
importantly, however, it is very short-sighted and foolish in that it
fails to understand what has happened
inside Iraq since and because of the Gulf war. I liken the country to a
rotting fruit on a tree which remains still
firmly attached to its branch because the degree to which the fruit has
rotted does not correspond to the
weakness or strength of the stem attaching it to the branch. Consider,
by way of illustration,how forms of
punishment have been changing over the last year or so in Iraq. Law
number 109, was promulgated six weeks
before President Saddam Husain began redeploying his troops to make the
world think that he was about to do
the unthinkable--invade Kuwait a second time. It reads as follows:
"According to Section 1, Article 42 of the
Iraqi Constitution, the Revolutionary Command Council has decreed that
... the foreheads of those individuals
who repeat the crime for which their hand was cut off will be branded
with a mark in the shape of an "X." Each
intersecting line will be one centimeter in length and one millimeter in

The crimes "for which their hand was cut off" are theft and army
desertion. Branding is restricted to repeat
offenders. The law specifies that the operation must take place at the
same hospital where the right hand was
amputated at the wrist. As of the end of last year up to two thousand
brandings may have been performed on
soldiers foreheads, according to two military personnel recently escaped
to Kuwait. The Kurdish opposition
radio in northern Iraq has declared that eight hundred branded soldiers
were captured by Kurdish forces near
villages along the border of the safe-have zone in northern Iraq.(3)

Car thieves are being singled out for prosecution on the basis of the
new laws. Iraqi newspapers reported that
36,000 cars were stolen last year. The law, however, is unambiguous and
formulated in general terms: stealing
anything worth more than 5,000 dinars--worth roughly twelve dollars--by
anyone who is not a minor, is
today punishable in Iraq first by amputation and second by branding.

Something went wrong in the case of thirty-seven year-old 'Ali Ubaid
Abed 'Ali because he had his hand
amputated and his forehead branded with an "X" for stealing a television
set and 250 Iraqi dinars (worth
roughly 50 cents). 'Ali was shown on Iraqi television on September 9,
1994, still under anaesthetic, with his
bandaged arm and closeups of his branded forehead.(4)

Amputation was introduced before branding. The earlier law (number 59,
dated June 4, 1994) stated that a
second offence of stealing was punishable by severance of the left foot
from the ankle. No mention of branding.
Rumours circulating in Baghdad have it that Saddam Husain discerned a
problem with this law when he
realized that disabled veterans of the two Gulf wars, who could very
well have lost a limb or two, were not
differentiable from common thieves. The honour of the country was at

Cruelty has shape and form to it; how it progresses can be very
revealing of what is going on in a country. In
Saddam Husain's Iraq, in the period from the show trials of 1969 to the
debacle of the 1991 Gulf war, the
politics of bodily disfigurement moved from the public stage to the
private confines of secret torturing centers.
The stronger the state got, the more secret became its torturing
practices. One always knew that one lived in a
torturing state, but its omniscience and omnipotence lay in the total
environement of secrecy which surrounded
the whole operation. Everything was secret including the arrest, the
charges, the interrogation, the extraction of
the evidence, the trial, the judgement, and the execution of the
sentence. If there was a corpse, bearing in its
markings that last record of the whole affair, even it was returned to
the family in a sealed box. This is what has
changed and probably irreversibly or for a whole historical period.

The fact is the absolutism of the system is disintegrating, more
soldiers than ever before are deserting, law and
order is breaking down in Baghdad, and even army Generals like the
former head of military intelligence,
Wafiq al-Samarraie, are defecting to the main opposition force operating
out of the north--the INC. So what is
one to do? After all, you can't shoot or torture everybody. You make
examples of some people, the relatively few
that you can catch, hoping to reinstill the environment of fear that
once controlled everyone but no longer does.

The number of ways in which the state can legally publicly disfigure the
bodies of its subjects has mushroomed,
and this is a sign of weakness not strength. Depending on the crime, the
foreheads of offenders get branded with
a mark in the shape of one horizontal three to five centimetre line, or
in the shape of two parallel horizontal lines
of the same dimensions, or in the shape of a circle or an "X" as spelled
out in law number 109. Army deserters,
draft dodgers, and those who shelter them, get special treatment: the
outer part of one ear is cut off for the first
offence; a repeat offence results in the second ear being cut off and so
on (unconfirmed reports from inside Iraq
claim that the word, jaban, coward, is also being branded on the
forehead, and two parallel horizontal lines
three to five centimetres in length for I know not what crime). Upon his
third attempt an army deserter is shot.
This seems to be an improvement on the situation before the passage of
these new laws when the penalty for
desertion was a firing squad, instantly. In fact it is a confirmation of
how deep is the rot today inside Iraq.
Consider also the reaction to these measures inside Iraq. For they too
are signs of how far the rot has proceeded
in a country with the highest literacy levels and what used to be the
most highly developed infrastructure and
services systems of anywhere in the Middle East barring Israel. Two men
whose ears had been cut off in
accordance with the laws I have just mentioned immolated themselves in
central Baghdad in the summer of
1994. Following the murder of a doctor in the southern city of
Nassirriyya by an amputee, and the storming of
the headquarters of the Ba'th party in the city of 'Amara by a crowd
which cut off the ears of the Ba'thi officials
it got its hands on, several hundred doctors protested at having to
carry out the new punishments.(5)

Upon being threatened with having their own ears cut off, the doctors
called off their strike. Law number 117
was then promptly issued clearly directed at the whole medical
profession. It threatened anyone who assisted in
the cosmetic improvement of the appearance of an officially disfigured
bodily part with immediate amputation.
The law's wording ends with this strange acknowledgement of the public
outrage: "The effects" of the
punishment of amputation of the hand or ear and branding, "will be
eliminated [by the state] if those so
punished go on to perform heroic and patriotic acts."(6)

If I have gone on for too long describing these grisly punishments, it
is in order to drive home the following
point. The Gulf war, the uprising against the regime, the savagery of
its suppression, and the continuation of a
regime of sanctions for nearly four years, and everything else that has
happened since, represent the crossing of a
kind of Rubicon as far as the Ba'thist experience in Iraq goes. I don't
see any turning back. Things may get
worse; in fact they are more likely to get worse than they are to get
better. The one thing they won't do is go back
to anything like what they were before the Gulf war. To count in such an
environment on the regimes "good
behavior" as The Economist put it, makes no sense at all. It is to live
in the past. Even if the sanctions were to be
removed tomorrow, I personally would not be willing to conclude that the
regime automatically becomes less
likely to be overthrown than it is today.

I would like to end by underlining something that the two previous
scenarios share in common: a disregard of
the central importance of the character of the state. In the case of the
first scenario, the state is simply not there
and that is not perceived to be a major catastrophe. In the name of
cultural incompatabilities or deeprooted
ethnic and religious hatreds, or the relativity of all values, the idea
of a fabricated artifice of institutions which
acts as an arbiter and guarrantees a monopoly of the means and
instruments of violence for some purpose or
another, this idea is losing ground as something that it is positively
desirable to fight for and argue over.
Identity politics is where everything is at.

In the case of the second scenario, the autocratic, absolutist character
of the state is simply taken for granted.
Tradition and continuity is what is good and it is all that ever works
anywhere, the argument goes. It is assumed
in other words that Iraqis cannot be ruled any other way than via the
likes of Mr. Saddam Husain. In both
cases the character or quality or nature of the state is not the issue.

What is lacking is a third scenario, one that is distinguished from the
other two in that on the contrary the
character of the state, that great big artificial dispenser of justice
and regulator of human relations, is the key to

But the fact is such a scenario, in the concrete circumstances of Iraq
today, can only be brought about with
outside help, preferably in the shape of a concerted international
effort spearheaded by a new and more
energetic UN armed with a new sense of its own mission in the world, and
the kind of institutions to back up
such a mission including in particular an army independent of the will
of individual member states. I know
that no one wants to hear such talk but, however unrealistic today, it
is the simple truth and I feel we have to
keep on saying it.

The mandate of such an international effort would have to be the
establishment of a transitional government in
Iraq under UN auspices. The key legacy of the outgoing regime which will
have to be dealt with right away will
be the fact that during a quarter of a century or so of rule, all notion
of procedure in the country has been
effectively destroyed and needs to be rebuilt. Many years of
administrative decrees, of edicts by the
Revolutionary Command Council or Saddam Husain, have done away with
Justice as a tradition in Iraq. In
fact justice has lost its personnel, its lawyers and independent judges,
its reliance on custom, precedent and
procedure. To avoid a slide into anarchy during the transition, a top
priority of such an international effort
therefore has to be an all-encompasing reform of the Iraqi legal system.
A system of justice will have to be
introduced that is both forgiving and holds some people accountable for
the legacy of the Saddam Husain
regime. I headed a team of Iraqis which produced some detailed proposals
along these lines which was
published as a policy paper of the INC and submitted to the UN some two
years ago. The title of the report that
came out is Crimes Against Humanity and the Transition to Democracy in
Iraq. The central idea of the
document is that because of the extraordinary circumstances that
prevailed in a country like Iraq for so many
years, the collective interest of all Iraqis cannot possibly translate
into the prosecution of everyone who is in fact
guilty. Yet some people have to be held accountable for what happened.
The document is essentially an attempt
to work out the criteria and spell out the names even of those who
should be held accountable. How these two
considerations are to be combined has to become foundational in a new
Iraqi state if a new blood bath is to be
avoided. Legitimate fears of present and former civil servants of the
present regime have to be addressed, and a
system of justice introduced that walks a tightrope between punishment
and forgiveness.

I could go on but I think this is enough to make the drift of my
thinking clear. I should emphasize that I do not
make these suggestions under any illusion that they are likely to be
picked up. Quite the contrary. A whole
paradigmatic shift in Western thinking is required, one which clearly
has implications that go far beyond Iraq.

Moreover there are prerequisites for all of this to happen, interim
stages needed before we get to UN mandates to
reshape entire state systems. We could talk about these in the
discussion. But they are all theoretical. For none of
this is going to transpire as I said earlier, certainly not in the next
few months or years that a country like Iraq
still has left to it, years in which we all stand staring into an abyss
knowing we are about to fall in and yet being
unable to do much of anything about it. The 1990-91 Gulf war was a dress
rehearsal for all sorts of new
developments in the international arena. Sommetimes someone has to pay
the price in order for others to see the
way forward.

On that unhappy note I will end citing these lines written by the First
World War poet Siegfried Sassoon
(1886-1967), who looked into all the carnage of his own times, and

Babylon the merciless,
now a name of doom,
Built towers in Time,
as we today,
for whom Auguries of self-annihilation loom.(7)

Prerequisites For A Third Scenario

To suggest a contemporary Iraqi political program for change, one which
has at least the chance of working in a
less destructive and more honorable way than either of the two previous
scenarios, would mean the following:

(a) Elevating the outlaw character of the existing Iraqi state to
the top of the international agenda
whenever the issue of Iraq is brought up.
(b) Openly and publicly seek the ouster of Saddam Husain
personally and the inner clique around
him, utilizing whatever means might help including promises of
removal of sanctions and other
inducements that would convince Iraqis that the Un or the US had
no interest whatsoever in this
regime's continuation.
(c) In order to do this, work through the Iraqi opposition based
in northern Iraq.
(d) Don't leave the Kurds to the tender mercies of the Iranians
and the Turks. Enter actively in the
resolution of their internal disputes, and with a view to
convincing them that Kurdish self-interest in
the long run passes through the restructuring of power in
(e) Actively participate in efforts already underway among Iraqi
opposition groups and individuals to
draft a new inspiring constitutional framework for the
post-Saddam state. Seek to use the full weight
of Western authority to publicize the ideas of a newly
restructured state to the maximum.
(f) Insist upon the implementation of UN Resolutions 688 and 986.
These, among other things, involve
UN repsonsibility for the placing of human rights monitors
throughout the country.


1.Genesis, 11, p.29.
2.The law was published in the official daily newspaper, Al-Thawra,
August 26, 1994.
3.See report in Al-Hayat, September 8, 1994. [check]
4.See Amnesty International, Urgent Action notification dated
October 6, 1994. (AI index: MDE
5.Reported in The Times, 13 September, 1994.
6.Published in Al-'Iraq, 6 September, 1994.
7.Siegfried Sassoon, 'Babylon,' reprinted in Chapters Into Verse,
vol I: Genesis to Malachi, edited by
Robert Atwin & Laurence Wieder (Oxford University Press, 1993),

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