A Model for Post-Saddam Iraq

Makiya, Kanan.
Journal of Democracy, Volume 14, Number 3, July 2003, pp. 5-12 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/jod.2003.0056

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centered on the threats to the West and its friends on the one hand and on the moral issues arising from American hegemony on the other. Hassenfeld Chair in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. This article is based on a speech that he gave at the American Enterprise Institute on 3 October 2002. was a selfish one. Cruelty and Silence: War. Uprising and the Arab World (1993). Unfortunately. parts of it were subsequently integrated into the Report of the Democratic Principles Working Group. and The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem (2001). and even in the United States. published under the pseudonym Samir alKhalil). I should say here that it has been even more selfish among non-Iraqi Arabs. is the author of Republic of Fear (1989. much of the prewar debate over Iraq that took place in Europe. if there can be said to have been any kind of debate at all on the possibility that the recent war may actually end up being a force for good in the Middle East as opposed to the unmitigated disaster that almost all non-Iraqi Arabs seem to have thought it would be. He served as coordinator-at-large for the Democratic Principles Working Group of the Iraqi opposition (see the excerpts from its Report beginning on p. who holds the Sylvia K. developed enough. Number 3 July 2003 . and has the human resources to become as great a force for democracy and economic reconstruction in the Arab and Muslim worlds as it has been a force for autocracy and destruction. The spectrum of what it is politically possible to talk about Journal of Democracy Volume 14.A MODEL FOR POST-SADDAM IRAQ Kanan Makiya Kanan Makiya. and not about those who have had to live inside the grip of one of the most brutal dictatorships of modern times. Tyranny. 13 below). The removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein has presented the United States with a historic opportunity as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the entry of British troops into Iraq in 1917. Iraq is rich enough. in the Arab world. It was all about “us” in the West.

I came down strongly in favor of the idea as a solution to the problems of the Iraqi state. an event which I was privileged to attend and where I was asked to deliver a keynote speech on the subject. A few months later. whether they are in the INC or not. And yet today most Iraqi organizations that opposed the Ba’ath regime in Baghdad. 2001. Two features unite all definitions in play in the Iraqi political arena at the moment: 1) the idea that federalism. policy toward Iraq is driven of course by strategic American considerations since September 11. The INC later reaffirmed federalism at its 1998 conference in New York. This change has been heartily welcomed in Iraqi opposition circles even as it is feared and criticized in the rest of the Arab world. when the Kurdish parliament voted in favor of it. The origins of this idea began in 1992. And that is the idea that the new Iraqi state that will emerge out of the ashes of the Ba’ath regime should in some way or other be federal in structure.S. It is not the time to pay attention to these fears. They have and will come to nothing in the end. The change that has occurred in U. whatever else it might mean. one which should not be frittered away by the disagreements that have broken out over what this word means. northern Iraq. These votes were the first of their kind in the modern history of Iraq. There is no literature in Arabic on this word. But what might become of it in the months and years to come depends above all on the quality of the United States’ commitment to securing a transition to and consolidation of democracy in Iraq. is a form of . as they came to nothing during the Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan. just as there is no Arab experience of federalism. Taken together they broke the mold of Iraqi and Arab politics. the Iraqi National Congress (INC) adopted this policy in its conference in Salahuddin. for understandable reasons. especially not one that calls itself democratic. No Iraqi political organization can afford not to. This is an immense gain for the people of Iraq. advocate one interpretation or another of federalism. Federalism Let me begin first with an issue that for historical reasons has assumed an inordinately large role inside the Iraqi opposition. the overwhelming majority of whom believed that military action was the price that had to be paid for the removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein.6 Journal of Democracy in Arab politics these days has run from Palestine at one end to Palestine at the other with no room for the plight of the people of Iraq. The post–1991 divide inside Arab politics is still alive.

No ordinary Iraqi citizen can be expected to opt for federalism on grounds of expediency. the argument goes among some Arabs. Without a federal system of government. Admittedly this opposition has not always been easy to deal with: It encompasses diverse traditional and modern elements of Iraqi society. Nonetheless it is remarkable that virtually all of its constituent parts agree on the need for representative democracy. some Kurds say. After all that has been done to the Kurds in the name of Arabism. federalism has become a condition sine qua non for staying inside a new Iraq and not trying to secede from it. must derive from a position of principle. Baghdad. Federalism. The novelty of the idea of federalism in Iraq is a reflection of the novelty of the whole phenomenon of the post–1991 Iraqi opposition. I do not think. For Kurds. that a project as big as restructuring the state of Iraq on a federal basis should be undertaken on the grounds of this kind of utilitarian calculus. Federalism should therefore become a cornerstone of the new Iraqi body politic. toward the provinces. in which real power is devolved toward the regions.” and the struggle against “Zionism” and “imperialism”—the catchall phrases of Arab politics since 1967—but an opposition whose be-all and end-all has been hostility to its own home-grown dictatorship. however. And certainly no one who calls him.or herself a democrat. the predominantly Kurdish north—effectively autonomous since the 1991 war—will sooner or later opt for separation. because the Kurds are today in a position to force it upon us.Kanan Makiya 7 devolution of power away from the center. as I have indicated. 2) the conviction that no future Iraqi state can be democratic if it is not at the same time federal in structure. One must concede federalism. the rule of law. one derived from a pragmatic calculus of what the balance of power in the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow would look like. And we must accept federalism. an opposition grounded not in issues of “national liberation.” “armed struggle. a pluralist system of government. The driving force behind the injection of this new idea. if it is to become the founding principle of a new beginning in Iraq. nor have they developed its practical implications with regard to the mechanics of power sharing and resource distribution. As a result there has arisen a purely utilitarian argument for federalism. however. has been the Kurdish experience in Iraq. Unfortunately. What might that be? . but because the regional situation does not allow for us to secede and have a separate state in northern Iraq. and federalism. neither the Kurdish parliament nor the INC has yet clarified what they take federalism to entail. and it is fractious and prone to infighting. not because we really want it. And rightly so. no Iraqi should expect otherwise.

according to this point of view. intergovernmental divisions of power. the fundamental basis for federalism in Iraq. especially with regard to high-profit resources located in one region and not another. and Turkoman claims competing with one another over this oilrich city. The fight over Kirkuk is already proceeding in this direction. from this point of view. none of its past “concessions” to the Kurds could ever be taken seriously. the Kurds are the driving force behind this definition. integral to any Iraqi state system that will protect minority rights against the potentially overweening will of the majority. 2) When a federation is defined as being about two ethnic groups. Why should an Armenian or a Chaldean or a Turkoman citizen have any fewer rights than an Arab or a Kurd in post-Saddam Iraq? Such discrimination in favor of Iraq’s two largest ethnic groups is inherently undemocratic. then clearly all the other ethnic groups who do not have a share in the federation are being to one degree or another discriminated against. 3) Nor can a federation be geographically mapped-out that includes . Ethnicity is. Kurdish. Federalism divides power not only among distinct and counterbalancing institutions within a country’s central government but also between the central government and the governments of the subfederal regions. federalism is an extension of the principle of the separation of powers. the second Kurdish.8 Journal of Democracy To begin with. a truly federal system of government is one in which political authority is from the outset constitutionally divided between central and regional political units. Without these latter. who have different cultures. By contrast. with Arab. the first Arab. Whereas any future Iraqi state must respect the fundamental idea of human rights—that there are certain rights owing to individuals that are inviolable by the state—it must also respect the fundamental idea of federalism. Not illogically. and who together compose the mosaic that is Iraqi society. How should these different parts of the new Iraqi federation be defined? One important approach rests on ethnicity as the basis of the constituent parts of the federation. Because the regime of Saddam Hussein was never willing to relinquish power except under duress (for example in 1970 when it negotiated the March 11 Kurdish autonomy accords). Federalism is. which is about the rights of minority collectivities: those who speak different languages. An idea at play in the Iraqi arena at the moment is to have Iraq composed of two regions. there can be no federalism worthy of the name. Non-Kurdish Iraqis tend to have three problems with this formulation: 1) It will cause ethnicity to become the basis for making territorial claims and counterclaims. they were here one day and gone the next.

is not an argument for second-class citizenship. That is in effect what has been going on in northern Iraq through the offices of the UN’s Oil-for-Food program. their majority status should not put them in a position to exclude anyone else from positions of power and influence as was the case in the old regime. led as it was by a party that called itself the Arab Ba’ath Socialist party. just as there are Turkomans and Armenians and Chaldeans mixed in with Arabs and Kurds in many locations. be they male or female. Israel is today a Jewish state in which a substantial number of Arab Palestinians—more than a million—have Israeli citizenship but are not and cannot in principle ever be full-fledged citizens of the state of Israel.Kanan Makiya 9 regional governments for all the different ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. We should not want such a formula for Iraq. A democratic Iraq will be one that by definition . it is to put a premium on the equality of citizenship for all. Iraqis deserve to live in an Iraq in which a Kurd or a Chaldean or an Assyrian or a Turkoman. the two principles upon which the state of Israel was created—ethnicity and democracy— are probably going to come into conflict with one another. The alternative to ethnicity is territoriality in which each separate region receives its share of all national resources (including oil revenues) according to the relative size of its population.1 The future all-Iraqi federation should not be one of different ethnicities but one of different geographically defined territories within which different ethnicities may form majorities. Therefore. because they are in a religiously or ethnically defined state. or those in refugee camps all over the Arab world. can in principle all be elected to the highest offices of the land. Ethnicity and Statehood The logical corollary of territoriality as a basis for federalism is that the new Iraqi state cannot be thought of in any politically meaningful sense of the term as an Arab entity. The fact that they live in better conditions than their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza. a federation of many ethnic groups would be no improvement on a federation made up of only two large groups. In principle. This is a novel idea for the region but it follows inexorably from a territorial definition of regions as opposed to an ethnic one. A good argument can be made for the extension of that UN formula to the whole of Iraq. That means that even though the Arabs form a majority in the country. These groupings are not all territorially concentrated. There are Kurds in Baghdad and Arabs in Sulaymaniyya. it seems to me. The point is not to diminish or dilute the “Kurdishness” of a Kurd or the “Arabness” of an Arab. they are secondclass citizens and one day in the future.

then. The quality of Islamic education. Nor has the resurgence of political Islam since the 1970s improved matters. The substitution of jihad for worship is the greatest travesty perpetrated upon Islam in modern times. scholarship. ethnicity. One hears criticism on the streets of Tehran these days coming from some of the enlightened ulama who played a leading role in the 1979 revolution. Nothing has so diminished Islam in recent times as its politicization. specifically the religion of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis: Islam? This is something that ultimately only the people of Iraq can decide upon in the course of their deliberations during the transitional period. Iran is a success story in comparison with the atrocities that have been perpetrated in the name of Islam and among Muslims in Algeria and. Iraqis must invent a concept of statehood that will give all religions in the country the opportunity to flourish once again. Culture and the life of the spirit have been degraded in Iraq. between the new Iraqi state and religion. and the many branches of the Eastern Church that flourished in Iraq predate Islam and are among the very earliest churches in the history of Christianity.10 Journal of Democracy exists for all its citizens equally. And when Saddam Hussein hailed the “martyrdom” of Palestinian suicide bombers and distributed large sums of money to their families. it will take much work by Muslims to undo its pernicious effect. The youth of Iran today are turning against the very clergy whom their parents helped bring to power a generation ago. and spiritual guidance declined dramatically once the nationalist secular regimes of the postcolonial period came into existence and took over these functions. And that means an Iraq that will not imagine itself as an Arab nation. The Babylonian Talmud was written just south of Baghdad. regardless of race. the immense and still unexamined terrain of their own great contribution to human civilization. or when he used the resources of the Iraqi people to build mosques as propaganda during the Iraq-Iran war. Religion and Statehood Which of course brings me to the third precondition of a genuinely democratic state in Iraq: its relationship to religion. The cumulative effect of these decades of abuse has been ultimately to conceal from Muslims. What relationship ought to exist. . in Egypt and the Sudan—or in comparison with what September 11 and the name of Osama bin Laden have done to the image of Muslims throughout the world. Nonetheless. until recently. or religion. To guard against the recurrence of such abuse. he too was desecrating Islam by using it to further his political agenda. and Arabs in particular. Christianity and Judaism have very deep roots in Iraqi history.

either by way of compelling or persuading you toward a particular belief? 2) Do you want your future state to define individual citizens as members of different religious groups (as is the case with the confessional system in Lebanon)? Do you think. that is how I think they would vote—then that would in effect mean that the people of Iraq had chosen to keep matters of politics and matters of religion separate from one another. not as private citizens). Perhaps that is because my views on this have not changed since 1991 when I joined up with more than 400 Iraqis of every ethnic and religious denomination and from all walks of life to put our names to a document called Charter 1991. direct. do you think Iraqi clerics. “Real strength is always internal—in the creative. The relevant passages from that document read as follows: “The notion that strength resides in large standing armies and up-todate weapons of destruction has proved bankrupt. Demilitarization The fourth precondition for a genuinely democratic experience in Iraq is demilitarization. It is found in civil society. or through its control over educational programs)?2 4) Do you trust your Iraqi politicians enough to give them any kind of influence or control over your religious affairs? 5) Finally. given the history of Iraq’s wars of aggression and buildup of weapons of mass destruction. This is what happened in Iraq. for instance. in other words. Armies often threaten democracy. the larger they grow the more they weaken civil society. or ulama (in their religious capacity. conditional upon international and regional guarantees which . I have left what is perhaps the most important question of all. regulate. Therefore. not in the army or in the state. to the end. cultural and wealthproducing capabilities of a people.Kanan Makiya 11 One way of thinking about the issues involved is to pose them in light of the way that Iraqis in particular have experienced the abuse of Islam by the regime of Saddam Hussein. or otherwise interfere in matters of religion (through a ministry of awqaf. that an individual’s religious beliefs are relevant to his or her rights and obligations as a citizen? 3) Do you want your future state to promote. And I would do that not by asking whether Iraqis want a secular state but by asking more concretely something like the following: 1) Do you want your future state to be involved in any way in your religious beliefs. have the knowledge and experience required to decide upon your political affairs? If the answer that Iraqis give to all of these questions is no—and if I were to hazard a guess.

See Michael Rubin. government and the Iraqi opposition. 2. need powerful internal institutions of law and order.” in Patrick Clawson. “Set an absolute upper limit on expenditure on this new force equal to 2 percent of Iraqi National Income. The question that I cannot answer. The term awqaf in Arabic refers to public. non-Arab and demilitarized Iraq. a new Iraqi constitution should: “Abolish conscription and reorganize the army into a professional. Regime change has provided a historic opportunity for the U. the Iraqi people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. preferably within the framework of an overall reduction in the levels of militarization of the whole Middle East. ministries of awqaf are used to administer public endowments and to regulate private (often religious) ones.12 Journal of Democracy secure the territorial integrity of Iraq. or charitable endowments. is: Will the new resolve that the United States has discovered in itself post–September 11 rise imaginatively to the level of the opportunity that it is has created in the Middle East? NOTES 1.. Those fears are legitimate and need to be properly addressed. an Iraqi leadership able to work in partnership with the United States toward bringing it about already exists. is achievable. Iraq’s future lies in unshackling itself in no uncertain way from the burden of its past and in focusing all the creative energies of the country on reconstruction and cultural renewal. But also like Germany and Japan both after WWII. religious. D. the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. How to Build a New Iraq After Saddam (Washington. . Moreover.S.” In most Muslim-majority states. or something approximating it. ed. will vote for such a far-reaching program. “Federalism and the Future of Iraq. 2002). This vision. A “ministry of awqaf” is literally a “ministry of endowments. “Have as its first article the following: ‘Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order. The country will after all. the Sunni population will worry about the implications for them of the loss of an institution that has been so important to their role in the country. however. Quite understandably. certainly the Kurdish and Shi’ite populations. like post–1945 Germany. small and purely defensive force which will never be used for internal repression.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.’” I am convinced that if the territorial integrity of the country were to be guaranteed by an outside power. an opportunity that is as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East in almost a century: a federal. The right of belligerency of the Iraqi state will not be recognized.C.

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