GET IT TOGETHER, BAGHDAD
by Amir Taheri
October 23, 2005
Thirty months after the fall of Saddam Hussein there are signs that
the intense interest Iraq had aroused at the time may be waning. Opinion
polls in the United States, Britain and Italy, the three members of
the US-led coalition that account for 90 per cent of the troops present
in Iraq, show that more than half of the population desire disengagement
from an enterprise that seems to them to be going nowhere.
It is no use telling the Americans and their allies that history is
not made at the rhythm set by evening television news bulletins and
that transforming a despotic system into a democracy takes time. We
live in an age of quick results, of instant coffee and speedy gratification.
The average attention span of international opinion on almost any
issue does not exceed six months. Even the most pressing issues, including
some supposed to threaten the very existence of the human species,
do not succeed in holding the headlines for long.
As Iraqis voted in Saturday's constitutional referendum it is important
to note that they have lost some of the goodwill, and with it most
of the interest, aroused by their liberation in April 2003. Unless
the new Iraqi leadership elite manages to put some order in its own
house there is no guarantee that the rest of the world will remain
interested in helping the country build a new future.
The sad truth is that the world can live with a failed Iraq. And the
Iraqis should not delude themselves into believing that they are cut
from a special cloth. The world is full of messy situations in more
than 30 countries in almost all continents. Adding another one would
not tip the balance one way or another.
As things stand today there are several certainties in Iraq.
First, Iraq has a unique chance to bury its despotic past because
the machinery of oppression built over half a century has been shattered.
The only way it can be rebuilt is if the country is plunged into anarchy,
forcing a majority of Iraqis to accept another tyrant in the hope
of buying security.
The second certainty is that the terrorists and their insurgent allies
have no chance of imposing their will on the Iraqi people. It is now
clear that the insurgency lacks a popular base, even in the so-called
Sunni Triangle. The danger is that the insurgency in Iraq could become
a seeding ground for terrorism across the region. There is no better
school for this type of warfare than actual fighting on the ground.
Thus the thousands of jihadists who have spent some time in Iraq could
well act as viruses that contaminate other Arab states of the region
in the years to come.
This is what happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in Algeria in
the 1990s when both countries served as breeding grounds for jihadist
THE THIRD and final certainty is that, given good leadership,
Iraq has the human and natural resources to build a new model in the
region. If the region is ever to enter the age of globalization and
find a place in the international cultural and political mainstream,
it can hope for no better pathfinder than Iraq.
Alongside those certainties there are also two doubts.
The first is that the new Iraqi leadership may well prove to be unfit
for bearing the burden that history and chance have transferred to
Some of the leaders who spent years in exile have brought with them
some of the worst aspects of exile politics. Most have not succeeded
in connecting with the population while some, as recent revelations
indicate, have not resisted the temptation of filling their pockets
and running away. The so-called de-Ba'athification program, meanwhile,
has deprived the country of the middle bureaucratic and administrative
cadres needed to speed up the rebuilding of the state apparatus.
The second doubt that casts a shadow over the future of Iraq concerns
the resolve of the international community, led by the US in this
case, to stay the course.
Iraq needs two or three more free and fair elections before its new
democracy is fully institutionalized. That means that some level of
international commitment, including a military contribution may be
needed for another 10 to 12 years. There is little doubt that as long
as President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are in power,
the US and the UK will remain committed to Iraq. But the US and the
UK are democracies in which, like all other democracies, the electorate
can prove more fickle than any autocrat.
In the final analysis; however, it is the people of Iraq that hold
the key to their own problem. Saturday's large turnout just might
revive international interest in helping them rebuild their nation.
The proposed constitution is not ideal. But it is the most democratic
text offered to anyone in the region. Rejecting it in the hope of
getting something better would be self-defeating at this point. As
is often the case in history the best could prove the enemy of the
Contrary to a widespread belief opposition to the proposed constitution
does not come solely from the Arab Sunnis. Many Kurds do not like
the draft because it will lock them into a unified Iraq for the foreseeable
future. The truth, however, is that the Kurds of Iraq cannot have
a better future outside a unified federal state.
There are also some Shi'ites who oppose the proposed draft because
they favor a highly centralized state.
But such a model would not be acceptable to either the Kurds or the
Arab Sunnis because a highly centralized state dominated by the Shi'ites,
would leave little scope for the pluralism and diversity that some
degree of devolution offers. As for the more radical Arab Sunnis it
is time they understood one simple fact: the old days of monopoly
over political power are gone for good and any attempt at forcing
a new minority rule on Iraq could only lead to its break-up.
The only way for the Arab Sunnis to regain a respectable share of
power in the new Iraq is an alliance with the Kurds and the secular
Shi'ite parties in the new parliament to be elected in December. This
is why I think the Arab Sunnis will largely vote for the proposed
Now that the Iraqis have voted - once again ignoring the threat of
death issued by the jihadists - they might also want to ponder one
fact: their best bet is to build a system in which power is shared
so widely as to make it impossible for any individual or group to
impose his or its will on millions of powerless captives.
The writer, an Iranian author and journalist, is editor
of the Paris-based Politique Internationale.