Friday, August 13, 2004

Will Iraq disintegrate ?

The New Statesman article about the ineptitude of the CPA under Bremmer (see APPOSITE for link) and consequence, makes me go back to Peter Galbraith's NY books assessment of how things would go.

I go for the latter interpretation in these respects:

The Kurds have
(1) a virtually autonomous state
(2) a strong, well-armed and organised militia
(3) strong ties with U.S.

If Shia parties won majorities and managed to form a government in January 2005, it would not make the Kurds feel any less secure because they are well-capable of defending "Kurdistan" from what is and will be for some time a weak and disorganised Iraqi military.

The U.S., could, if needs be, as PG suggests, retreat to the Kurdish areas, maintaining bases there - in effect from which to control Iraq and maintain stability in the region.

Turkey does not want a strong separate Kurdistan. Turkey is linked to the U.S. through NATO. The U.S. has two airbases in Turkey.

Whether Iraq will disintegrate is difficult to assess. I guess it will not, without being able to give a a complete list reasons. It amounts to a misperception in the West about the strength of the Iraqi identity. Report after report and academic paper suggest Iraq might split. This forgets the source of Iraq's wealth. The Kurds would have oil and so would the Shia, but Baghdad would not. The Iraqis know this well and would always end up - after violent disagreements and perhaps a period as separate States which will prove unviable - in the end preferring a federal state to any alternative. A three state solution with a weak, economically unviable central state centred on Baghdad would just not work. However, a federal state without proper representation wouldn't work either. In the past the Sunni ruled. This will have to go. However, if Iran meddles in Iraq the non-Shia will take over to prevent this. Therefore the likes of Sadr are , can only be, playing the Iranian game. This strategy is short-termist in one sense, and long-termist in another.

Baghdad was and is the "brains" of Iraq: it is cosmopolitan and the centre of the middle-class elites. Comment s in Chris Allbriton's latest submission suggest they will leave rendering Iraq worse off. Of course. Baghdad has always been a state within a state as well as the capital. So is Washington, D.C.

When all is said and done - and much has been said but little done yet - the world does not want a weak set of states sitting over vast oil reserves next to a potential nuclear power, Iran. The split-up of Iraq will, if needs be, be prevented by military force, from within or without, democracy or not.

The terrorism and insurgency is a result of U.S. ineptitude and lack of foresight. The borders still remain open. In a sense the current state of semi- civil war is a trivial aspect of the whole process towards a new, stable, modern and prosperous Iraq and a reformed Middle East. It is a prelude to the political process, which when it starts properly, will satisfy everyone in time.


An article by the British historian Paul Johnson is applicable, in certain respects, to Iraq now.

He writes:

The Rape of Arcady

Paul Johnson

blames France, as well as Arab fanatics, for the destruction of Lebanon

July 17 1976

(source unknown - possibly The Telegraph, London)

"For me one of the saddest events of recent years has been the physical and moral destruction of the Lebanon. Of course, this tiny country had its faults, some of them egregious. It was mercenary, corrupt, and cynical. It did not believe in ideals and principles, but in working arrangements, preferably profitable ones.

It benefited hugely and unscrupulously from the Arab-Israeli tension, the commercial isolation of Israel, and the operation of the Arab boycott;Beirut, its capital, delightedly seized much of the trade which had flowed through Haifa.

But the Lebanon had, as it were, the virtues of its vices. If it was mercenary, it was also hard working and efficient. If it was corrupt, it was also a place in which sensible men could operate to create wealth - something few Arab states have learned. And if it was cynical, it was also tolerant. The Lebanon was the only Arab country in which it was possible to have rational conversation about the Israeli problem, in which democracy, after a fashion, actually worked, in which ordinary people were not persecuted and badgered for their religious and political views.

Indeed, in many ways it was a splendid little oasis of culture and common sense in the vast Arab desert of barbarous fanaticism. The drive from Beirut, over the mountains, to the Syrian frontier and Damascus, taking in the monumental ruins of the great Roman station at Baalbek, is an experience I cherish. One passed villages where the inhabitants were all Christian Maronites, or Arabs of the Greek Orthodox faith, or Sunni Moslems, or Druses, or Shia Moslems - sometimes combinations of two, or more, or even all of them, living, or so it had seemed to me, in perfect harmony and apparent prosperity.

The landscape was fertile, Arcadian, not much changed over 2,000 years, though more and more of its inhabitants were acquiring refrigerators, air-conditioning, tractors. The political system was a Byzantine labyrinth of special arrangements, carefully calculated compromises and weird anomalies, justified solely by the fact that they worked in practice, and enabled men of multiple cultural backgrounds to settle things with words, not weapons.

No doubt there was much social and economic injustice in the Lebanon, and great disparities of wealth - in what country are there not? - but there was also peace, rising standards of living, freedom of speech and expression, an easy-going acceptance of different views, creeds and habits. And in the American University of Beirut there was an outstanding multi-racial and multi-cultural institution of learning. You could live expensively in Beirut, or you could live cheaply. There was plenty of good conversation and companionship. I greatly enjoyed the company of wily Lebanese politicos and commercants, with their effortless mixing of Gallic and Arab attitudes. The Lebanon, with all its faults, was a civilised place.

Now it has, so far as I am able to judge, been reduced to virtual barbarism by the brutal and empty fanatics of the Arab nationalist cause. The flames of unreason have engulfed the country from one end to the other, and Beirut, as a cosmopolitan city, has been demolished. The loss of life has been appalling - perhaps as many as 100,000 people have been killed in a small ,compact nation.

Even more serious has been the total destruction of tolerance, which the late Pope John called convivienza, the ability of people with different faiths to live together.

This was based on mutual trust, and the certainty that differences, however acute and intractable, would not be carried to the point of violence. Of course, even the worst of civil wars have to end, and no doubt a time will come when sheer exhaustion will dictate a peace of sorts. But I do not see how the fragile structure of inter-communal harmony, which was the Lebanon's pride, and its greatest national asset, can ever be restored in full. The purely physical scars, inflicted on the families and villages, will take a generation to heal, perhaps more. As for the mutual trust between the sects, there can, I fear, never be "glad confident morning again."

No doubt Yasser Arafat and the other Palestinian thugs who started the war are proud of their handiwork. They have always said that, if they could not have their way in Palestine, then nobody else would be left in peace. The Lebanon has been their prize victim - but a victim which as taught Israel, if she needed any teaching, that there can be no question of trying to create a multi-national State with the Arabs.

I suppose the Russians are proud of their handiwork too. A small, independent State, based on political and economic freedom, lies in angry ruins: another vindication of the irrestistible force of Marxist-Leninism. But what, I wonder, of France? What do they think? Ever since the time of Charlemagne, France has always regarded herself as the special protectoress of the Christian communities of the Levant. Before, during and since the Crusades, under Capets and Valois and Bourbons, under the Revolutionary terror, Consulate and Empire, under Napoleon and republicans, Clemenceau and de Gaulle, France has always stretched out a friendly and fraternal arm to the Maronites of the Lebanon, who in turn looked gratefully to France for their cultural leadership and example.

Now, for the first time in 1200 years, France has averted her gaze and allowed the Christian cause to go by default. With total cynicism, and in unswerving pursuit of Arab oil wealth, France, under the Giscard regime, has surrendered her traditions, her obligations and her honour. It has been one of the great betrayals of history, and so far as I can see it has occurred without any significant protest by the French people. Indeed, throughout the horrors of the civil war, France has continued to sell arms, wherever possible, to the enemies of the Levantine Christians.

Thus a long chapter of Christian history is brought to an end, in blood, shame and ignominy; a small beacon of civilisation has been extinguished, and a great centre of world culture, France herself, has proved unworthy of her trust."

Its the strength of the words, a J'accuse pour notre temps, as much as their direct applicability to Iraq, though they have resonances, parallels and meanings for this currently blighted country.

His words must be taken in the context of his position , that of a Conservative Catholic.

Iraq is not Lebanon, but the same positions were evident when the war was being discussed by Europe and the U.S. in the lead-up to invasion. France was obdurate. Germany politically weak. Neither was prepared for its less able forces to be humiliated in Iraq side by side with a superior U.S. military of well-proven capacities.

Oil is endless debated, but the arms issue is one that has been rarely discussed. I have mentioned it briefly a few times. I believe our main reason for going with the Yanks is to get our share of the arms deals and our share of the provision of oil expertise (of which we have a lot) , post-conflict, rather than oil which is bought on the open market -no one country depends solely on Iraqi oil. The U.S., for example, buys roughly 10% from each of the major oils suppliers. Like the U.S. , the UK has vast swathes of subcontractors to the main military manufacturers. Total employment in the military sector is said to be roughly 1 million. The U.S. must employ many more millions in its armaments industry. It is these considerations that play a part in a modern Great Game Iraq is enmeshed in and which the media rarely discusses. Why?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Iraqi Jews

Writing to a friend who used to live in Iraq, I turned my mind back to another interesting subject, the Jews of Iraq. About a year ago, I Googled a lot of stuff, finding the diaspora site, The Scribe.

There are many heart-felt reminiscences and longings from the relatives of Iraqi Jews.

I discovered :
Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries, which has a section on Nuri Said's views on the the expulsion of Jews from Iraq. The whole piece brings current events in the Middle East into sharper view.
memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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