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A united Iraq - an impossible dream

By Khatab Sabir - posted Tuesday, 19 June 2007


From the actual battles taking place mainly in the Sunni areas of Iraq, to the verbal battles in the US and worldwide press, the catalogue of misunderstandings concerning what is wrong in Iraq and who is responsibile continues with little clarity emerging.

When discussing Iraq the first question we must ask is whether there is such thing in reality as “Iraq” or is it a fantasy. The US occupation cannot be understood without knowing the history to Iraq’s creation and who engineered this failed project.

After World War I the British and French colony divided the Middle East between themselves on the basis of their strategic interests. The British Empire established Iraq by amalgamating three territories or Vilayat. These were Basra with a majority of Shiite, Baghdad with a majority of Sunnis, and Mosul with a majority of Kurds.

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This constructed national identity imposed on ordinary Iraqis - if we assume Iraqis as such exist - failed to inculcate a spirit of nationalism among the majority of the population. Since 1921 the respective Iraqi regimes (both Monarchy and republican), were ruled by Sunnis. The Kurds and Shiite were largely ignored. The few official positions occupied by Shiites and Kurds were merely cosmetic and lacked any real power.

Despite the criticisms levelled at Paul Bremer, his decisions to dissolve the Iraqi army and ban the Ba’ath political Party were both right. His biggest mistake, however, was to allow high ranking Ba’ath members, who were responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, to go free.

Prior to the toppling of the former Iraqi regime, Saddam ordered thousands of criminals to be released from prisons. Consequently many of the insurgents fighting against the wishes of the majority of Iraqi people and the Coalition forces are comprised of criminals or members of Saddam’s regime. In addition al-Qaida has grasped the opportunity to infiltrate the Sunnis.

While the toppling of Saddam’s regime may be regarded as courageous, to perpetuate the mistakes made by the British 80 years ago, will prove disastrous. Iraq has never possessed a national identity and no super power can bring one into being. Iraq is not a nation. It is a fake and under normal circumstances would disintegrate.

Thirty-five years of cruelty and coercion from the culture of Ba’athism has left a dreadful legacy. The Ba’ath regime may be gone, but its culture of murder and rituals of elimination are still present in Iraq, at least among those Sunnis factions who benefited from Saddam and previous Sunnis regimes.

Nir Rosen could not be more mistaken when he wrote in the Washington Post on May 15, 2007, “Iraqis were not primarily Sunnis or Shiites: they were Iraqis first”. Iraqis! He is certainly not speaking for those who have suffered, and continue to suffer in Iraq.

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Rosen claims that “most Ba’ath Party members were Shiites” and yes, in terms of numbers, this is correct: but this glosses over the truth of the situation, which is that the 60 per cent of the population who are Shiite had little choice. They either became members of the Ba’ath Party or they were deemed to be opposed to the National government and would have to face the consequences.

Most importantly, the total number of Shiite members of parliament wielded less real power than one ordinary ranking Sunni of the same party. All highly ranked professionals in both the military and the Ba’ath party were Sunni Arabs. There was not one Shiite or Kurd in the air force during Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Even though a “third of the famous deck of cards of Iraqi leaders”, wanted by America were Shiite, this was merely a veneer - a public face to show that the US was not operating solely against high ranking Sunnis.

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About the Author

Khatab Sabir is a Master of Philosophy student at Macquarie University, Department of Anthropology.

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