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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Tue Jan 14 11:00:16 2003
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 12:04:02 -0600 (CST)
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: [SPAM] Le Monde Dip. first of 2 posts: APPOINTMENT WITH WAR
Article: 149943
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Message-ID: <bulk.2019977.20030114091549@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Iraq: after regime change

By Isam al-Khafaji, Le Monde diplomatique, Janaury 2003

THE meeting of 32 members of the Iraqi opposition at Wilton Park, in Sussex, in southern England, in September was called the mother of all workshops. The delegates were given a booklet on arrival with a brief history of the country mansion in which they were to approve a document laying down the basic principles to guide a post-Saddam administration. The choice of venue was symbolic: it was the place where the British and the Germans came together to discuss the transition to democracy in post-Nazi Germany. (A cynic might add that the first Germans to take part in those discussions were prisoners of war.)

The mother of all workshops was more formally called the democratic principles workshop, and was only one of the 18 groups of Iraqi politicians and experts meeting under the auspices of the United States State Department to formulate visions for a post-Saddam Iraq in different spheres: the structure of the transitional regime, economic and oil issues, the roles of the media and civic groups.

There have been reassuring press conferences about the democratic exchange of views among Iraqis of disparate backgrounds and ideological convictions. But, in organising these meetings, the US administration has revealed its dilemmas about dealing with Iraq. There are bitter disputes among both the Department of State and the CIA, and the vice president and neo-conservatives in the Pentagon and Congress. In the back row at Wilton Park sat a special assistant to Paul Wolfowitz, the US Undersecretary of Defence, and a senior official from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, both in silence. Was it their job to monitor the performance of their Iraqi proxies, or their rivals in the State Department? It was hard to tell. For the opposing camps are focused on the kind of leadership and political system to be encouraged in a post-Saddam Iraq, and their preferred means of imposing authority. But the divisions also have immense bearing on future US strategy in the Middle East.

The dispute is not new, but it has been institutionalised under the present administration. The State Department and CIA take a relatively dove-like stance that views a change of regime in Iraq as a final step towards restoring regional stability, disturbed by Saddam Hussein. While the Pentagon, supported by influential circles in Congress, the vice president and the National Security Council, embraces an ideological and hawkish stance that views the change as a beginning of a process that would make Iraq a spearhead for democratising the region and turning it into a pro-American liberal oasis.

The dispute goes back to the mid-1980s when an influential group in the Reagan and Bush senior administrations, supported by scholars, propagandists, businessmen and politicians, invested great effort and resources in cultivating the idea of close US alliances with nationalist dictatorships, especially that of Saddam Hussein, to deal with Islamic fundamentalism and ensure a stable supply of oil to the West.

This idea continued after the end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988, even when Saddam had turned into a direct threat to US interests. It even survived Iraqi defeat in the Gulf war and the popular revolt that swept Iraq after George Bush senior's call for the Iraqi people to take matters into their hands. The former advocates of alliance with Saddam Hussein played a crucial role in convincing the US administration not to support the 1991 uprising, but passively to watch Saddam's troops crush it, causing at least 60,000 deaths, even though the allies were occupying a sixth of Iraqi territory.

The advisers argued that a popular revolt could bring unwanted consequences; and that US interests would best be served by limited change, removing Saddam and his close associates from power but leaving the basic tenets of his regime intact. Over the past decade each of the two policy approaches have found Iraqi counterparts. The realists betted on the Iraqi National Accord (INA), an organisation of ex-Ba'athists calling for a limited coup. The neoconservative ideologues backed the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a self-styled liberal and pro-Western organisation. These organisations, like other less important factions and individuals, are not just agents for a US agenda. The composition of each reflects the deep changes introduced to Iraqi society by the Ba'athist regime.

Those who belong to the INC are mainly people who owe their social, economic or political rise to the pre-republican regimes (before the fall of the monarchy in 1958), while the INA's leadership comes from the classes that rose with the republican regimes, especially the Ba'ath. The leaders of the INC have nothing in common with the Baghdad elite; whereas the INA leaders, though they broke away from the Ba'ath, still share much of its old party spirit and methods, to which they owe their social, economic and political standing.

The future of Iraq will depend on the way in which the present regime ends. Will devastating US attacks on infrastructure and civilians allow the Ba'athists to propagandise that the war targets Iraqi people, thus allowing Saddam Hussein to pose as defender of the national interest? Or will Saddam be seen to cling to power at any price? Or will an army general finally dispose of the unkillable leader, or a popular uprising force the regime to surrender? The answer will dictate how ordinary Iraqis will behave, despondently or euphorically, whether they will trust a new regime or take to the streets.

The worrying unknowns

How can a transitional administration enforce its will on the people? The armed forces will not necessarily switch their allegiance to the new regime. More than 30 years of indoctrination and isolation from the outside will make communication between the new administration and the army extremely hard. The sudden collapse of a regime of terror would be a perfect opportunity to break loose of all discipline without fear of reprisals. Even more worrying, the vast networks of tribes, families and interests will create many fears of coup attempts (1).

Members of opposition groups in exile who support what they call a light scenario, with the backing of the US State Department, start from what they see as Iraq's cultural norms and existing structures. Given Iraq's turbulent history and setting, as well as its onerous Ba'athist legacy, they realise that planning a democratic transformation is a luxury. The priority will be stability and the return to basic normality. This approach would seem to keep interference in Iraq's internal affairs to a minimum, as did British colonial policies during the 1920s (see article by Charles Tripp). Tribal chiefs will be given a big say in domestic policies, and the militias of the Shi'ite Islamist opposition, under the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), founded and led by Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Hakim, will be called to help maintain order in the south. On the pretext of preserving stability, the main structures of the Ba'athist regime, and many of its leaders, would be kept in place.

The INC starts from the assumption that the Ba'athist system is essentially Nazi. Therefore it intends de-Ba'athification and dismantling of the basic structures of the regime. This would mean heavy reliance on US assistance for a relatively long interim period to maintain order and restructure institutions. A militia of Iraqis in exile would form the nucleus of the future armed forces - on the lines of the occupation and transformation of post-1945 Japan into a democratic state.

But the hawks' scenario has a major contradiction between ends and means. It is intended to transform Iraq into a pacifist, democratic Japan of the Middle East , and also to triple its oil exports from 2.3m to around 10m barrels a day. This grand objective would hardly be compatible with democratising and pacifying Iraq: increasing oil income would nurture the structure that has supported tyranny. Tripling the oil export capacity would provoke the collapse of prices and jeopardise the interests of all other major oil exporters. Iraq is the only Opec country with no independent export outlets - even its outlets in the Persian Gulf are within reach of Iranian artillery. Iran and Saudi Arabia would hardly welcome a change that would put them on the brink of collapse. The only way to put this scenario into practice would be to militarise Iraq or rely on an extensive US military presence. In either case, anticipated gains from tripling the oil exports (hypothetical given the likely collapse in prices) would be spent on the military and imports.

History shows that societal structures follow their own patterns of transformation. A domestic or foreign power may try to impose its political agendas as modernisation or respect of indigenous cultures, but the internal logic of social structures eventually prevails vengefully against those who violate them. Armed militias, not expressions of the will of a significant segment of the population, or not perceived as acting in their interest, tend to usurp power, terrorise the population and boost the power base of their patrons, rather than act as the nucleus of a future army. In a country that has lost its legal structures and representative traditions, these militias will distort the long-awaited electoral process and prove hard to integrate into Iraq's political body.

Iraq will need to reconstitute its military and police forces to impose authority and enforce order, and this will be difficult immediately after the fall of the regime. The rehabilitation of a defeated, devastated army will pose problems, as will its transformation from a politicised, oppressive force into a national institution recognised by Iraqis as defender of order and sovereignty.

The regular army and police forces can invoke their marginalisation and humiliation under the Ba'athist regime to gain sympathy. By the end of the Iran-Iraq war the privileges generously given to regular officers had begun to disappear, and generals with impeccable records were demoted or punished. Now, to perform their duties, the regular armed forces will need to be seen as the institutions of a legitimate state.

Legitimacy in contemporary Iraq has rarely been established through a democratically adopted constitution. It has mostly been acquired through the state's role as patron and its ability to appear to render services or work on behalf of significant parts of the population.

A first step towards legitimising a post-Saddam regime will be international recognition and membership of international organisations. But this will not be enough to appeal to Iraqi society. A delicate balance will need to be struck between representatives of the people who can command respect and credibility on their moral and political merits, and leaders who can command the loyalty of the army and police. Striking that balance will be hard since, at times of revolutionary upheaval, expectations are high . The further an individual distances himself from the old regime, the higher his credibility. But it will also mean that he will not be familiar with the mechanisms of power.

Short of a full-scale revolution that would produce its own alternative leadership and institutions, there will be an unstable interregnum following the fall of Saddam. Though a spontaneous revolt is a distinct possibility after, or even before, an attack on Iraq, the atomisation and impoverishment of political culture would make it almost impossible for it to develop into a full-scale revolution. More than a decade of sanctions and three decades of tyranny have taken their toll on the educated and middle classes from which an enlightened alternative leadership could emerge. It should be no surprise if, after decades of suffering by millions of Iraqis, some of the old butchers turn into champions of liberalism, pro-Americanism and the free market.