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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

An Islamic Republic of Iraq a Bush nightmare
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

Writing an op-ed column in the New York Times of February 5, Thomas L. Friedman, known for his establishment links, talked of the possibility of an Islamic Republic of Iraq rising from the ashes of Bush's chaotic handling of 'liberated' Iraq.

Understandably, to the likes of Friedman who whole-heartedly backed the illegal Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq, such a denouement at the end of all their machinations and tricks would be the worst outcome for Iraq. Of course they could not be expected to be concerned about the interests of the Iraqi people who hardly matter to them in any reckoning. But what must be robbing them of their sleep is the fear that an Islamic Republic, founded in all of Iraq or parts of it, would rob them of their grand machiavellian design to pillage and plunder Iraq's riches after nominally transferring its sovereignty to a pliant and pliable regime of Iraqi vassals.

The Kurds have had an excellent deal under the American canopy of 'no fly zone' over northern Iraq over the past 13 years and would like to not only preserve it but also add significantly to it. They want an Iraqi Federation in which they should continue to enjoy the current benefits of near- total insularity from Baghdad. The two main Kurdish factions-the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Popular Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-have joined hands to press this demand from a united platform.

That the Bush end-game for Iraq, which his neo cons had elaborately conceived, is unraveling is beyond doubt. There are redoubtable indicators that his strategy to keep the American people in perpetual darkness on Iraq-by feeding them constant lies and fabrications-is coming unstuck, and at a pace that must be baffling for him.

The latest body blow has been dealt by Dr. David Kay, Bush's Chief Arms Inspector in Iraq. After months of scouring Iraq with a fine tooth-comb, and squandering tens of millions of dollars in the process, Kay has thrown in the towel and pronounced that what his team had been looking for was never there. Kay's candid confession that " we were all wrong" on Iraq and its much-touted Saddam arsenal of deadly weapons has literally pulled the rug from under Bush's feet. 

Although Kay, in his bomb-shell testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, did his best to insulate Bush from all blame, and pointed the finger solely at Intelligence failure, any one reading between the lines could easily get the sense that it wasn't intelligence failure only but, much more, the Bush hawks' lust for war that provided the trigger for Iraq's invasion and occupation. The hawks tailored the intelligence, or lack of it, to suit their agenda. Rumsfeld had no faith in CIA ( or knew that there was no doomsday cache hidden in Iraq ) and therefore had his own intelligence claptrap-the Office of Special Projects-set up in the Pentagon to churn out intelligence to his and other hawks' taste.

But the opposition Democrats, especially those like Senator John Kerry and Howard Dean who hope to challenge Bush in the presidential race later in the year, have seized the Kay revelation with relish. They know that Bush is becoming increasingly vulnerable because of his mendacity. But what is even worse for Bush is that the gullible establishment news media, which had earlier swallowed every scrap of propaganda and bundle of lies from the Bush White House without a question, has now started asking uncomfortable questions. Bush and acolytes are now finding it increasingly hard to hawk their blatant lies and half truths to a skeptical and doubting media.

However, it is in Iraq itself where the going is getting tougher by the day for Bush and his policies to hoodwink the Iraqis in the name of 'democracy.'
The political clock in Iraq seems to have stopped at the juncture where, last month, Ayotallah Sistani had knocked the bottom out of it by declaring his and his, majority, people's total opposition to any system of selection that the Bush pro-consul in Iraq, Paul Bremer and his bunch of American lackeys in the Iraqi Governing Council ( IGC ) had thought of foisting on the Iraqis in the garb of democracy.

Bush has gained a reprieve against the total collapse of his devious plan to hold the Iraqis hostage to, what a Canadian commentator Naomi Klein has aptly described as, his version of an "appointocracy." The reprieve has come from none other than the much-reviled (by the Bush neo cons) UN whose Secretary General Kofi Annan has agreed to send a small survey mission to Iraq to gauge the suitability of direct elections at this stage. Bush may be hoping that the UN will bail him out of his predicament by not vouching in favour of direct elections at this stage. 

However, the best that UN could do for Bush is to come up with a recommendation that direct elections for an Iraqi constituent assembly are not feasible to be organised before the deadline of June 30th for transfer of power to the Iraqis. But the UN will not say that the June 30th deadline is sacrosanct and must be adhered to. It is Bush and Bremmer who have drawn a line under June 30th and made it sacred to themselves. Bush has his heart set on June 30th because that, according to a number of American commentators, will be "a braggable" thing for Bush to flaunt on his election stump. He, if that deadline was kept unchanged, will have a tool in his hands to deflect all criticism by the Democrats of his 'handling' of Iraq. He would be able to defend his position by bragging that he had brought 'democracy' to Iraq and managed to pull the US out of its morass.

But whilst Bush might still get half a lifeline thrown to him by the UN, the Iraq situation on the ground and its political factions, now in full stride, may not be so inclined to be charitable, any longer, to the tormentor whose rapacity and shenanigans have brought so much misery and suffering on them.

The palpable foot-dragging by Bush and his viceroy Bremer, is forcing the various Iraqi factions to come up with their own political calculus which may not, exactly, be in the interest of many of them. It will most certainly not be in the interest of Iraq's unity, and without Iraq staying in its present form, Bush may find it impossible to pursue his nefarious agenda of looting and plundering Iraq wholesale.

It is not only the majority Shiias of Iraq who have taken a firm stand, behind their sole spokesman, Ayotallah Sistani, in support of an open system conceived and delivered openly according to universal standards of democracy. The two principal minorities of Iraq-the Sunnis and the Kurds-have also been making visible strides to chalk up their own claims in the future governance of Iraq.

The Kurds have had an excellent deal under the American canopy of 'no fly zone' over northern Iraq over the past 13 years and would like to not only preserve it but also add significantly to it. They want an Iraqi Federation in which they should continue to enjoy the current benefits of near- total insularity from Baghdad. The two main Kurdish factions-the Kurdistan Democratic Party ( KDP ) and the Popular Union of Kurdistan ( PUK )-have joined hands to press this demand from a united platform. However, their demand that the oil rich city of Kirkuk and its adjoining areas also be incorporated in their federal unit amounts to overplaying their hand and pressing their luck a little too far. Neither the Shiia majority nor the Sunni minority is likely to endorse their plan and deprive themselves of Kirkuk's abundant oil resource.

What is more troublesome for both the Americans and the mainstream Iraqis is that any concession to the Kurds on Kirkuk would drive a permanent wedge between Iraq and Turkey. The Turkish government has already loudly protested and opposed such a concession being granted to the Kurds because that would make them resourceful enough to become virtually independent. Turkey would be the last country in the world to see that happen because of its fallout on its own restive Kurds.

The situation of the Iraqi Sunnis is becoming pathetic and desperate with the passage of time, and with tell-tale signs that the main battle for political supremacy in Iraq will, henceforth, be fought between the Americans and its Shiia majority.

Sunnis of Iraq are no more than 20 per cent of its population. But they were the rulers of the land for more than 350 years, since the Ottomans under Murad V took Mesopotamia from the Safavids of Iran in 1639. The western colonialists preserved the Ottoman tradition by keeping political power hostage to this Iraqi minority and suppressed the Shiia majority with force. Saddam Hussain took the repression of the Shiias to new heights.

With the demise of Saddam's repressive order, the Sunnis of Iraq suddenly find themselves bereft of a political platform as well as of patronage. So to avoid being left out on the sidelines, they too have taken steps to do some organisational work in their ranks.

Last December 25, in the twilight days of the year, 85 Sunni tribal elders and other notables gathered at Baghdad's historic Ummul Qura Mosque and set up their putative representative body, called the State Council of Sunnis ( SCS ). It brought together, for the time- being at least, not only the tribal leaders but also leaders representing the Sufis, the Salafis and remnants of the once-powerful Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen. But those hoping that these disparate Sunni factions would be able to fuse their ranks and hold out against the centrifugal forces inherent in their past know they are fighting against very heavy ods.

The Sunni Arabs' initiative to make common cause with the Kurds has already met with frustration. The Kurds, though all of them Sunnis, are not prepared to trade their secularism for the sake of unity with the Arabs. Their politics is not sectarian but ethnic. Moreover, they know that if ever the dream of an independent Kurdistan, free of all three countries amongst which they are presently dispersed-Iran, Iraq and Turkey-materialises, it would only come about on secular moorings, because the largest Kurdish faction, in Turkey, has been steeped in secularism, as is the case with the Iraqi Kurds,too.

However, what is certain and immutable is that both the majority Shiias, as well as minority Sunnis, will not let Kirkuk be consigned to the Kurds. Acivil war would almost certainly flare up if the Americans showed any inclination to bend to the Kurds on this front.

So, it is inexorably shaping into a turf war in Iraq, with each faction extending its political claims that do not, necessarily, converge on the same centre.

Avoiding an open turf war is still possible if the American occupiers see the light of reason and play according to the universal rules of democracy. If the Iraqis are given to feel, now, that their interest in fashioning a political future of their own is being given due consideration and weight, they may have less incentive to focus on parochial interests and concerns. But if they are continually frustrated and denied what is due to them as a nation, then that would be the signal to them to use other means for the attainment of their rights. A war of liberation against their latest oppressors would not only be bloody but also carry in its womb the seeds of factionalism.

The purblind American occupiers of Iraq should know that if Iraq is plunged into a national commotion, and subsequently a civil war for turf interests, that would usher in an Islamic Republic of Iraq quicker than in a united Iraq. A civil war would inevitably lead to Iraq's truncation, two, three or four ways; most likely three. That would be devastating for the Bush agenda to plunder Iraq and also make a nightmare of the neo cons' dream of turning Iraq into a forward military base for future aggrandisement in the region.

But above all, the most logical and certain outcome of any major turbulence in Iraq would be the emergence of a cleric-led southern Iraq, almost entirely Shiia, and almost certainly to become a magnet for a closer affinity with next door Iran. This would not be the best option for the Shiias themselves, just as Bangladesh was not the first option for the Bengalis of Pakistan back in the 70s. But they were forced into making the second best choice. It would be the same for the Shiias of Iraq. 

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