Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for September 1st, 2010

Operation Iraqi Partition

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 1 September 2010 11:55

“Iraq is free to chart its own course”. The message from the Obama administration as Operation Iraqi Freedom came to an end sounded wonderful, like the release from captivity of a beautiful bird.

Alas, Iraq today is anything but a beautiful bird. Rather it is a wounded prisoner, incarcerated for the past seven years in a mental prison. True, things were not great before 2003 either: Back then, Iraq was ruled by a brutal regime whose excesses would at times assume sectarian or racist forms. Nonetheless, equally problematic, in a different way, are the acts of the motley crew of members of the “international community” whose task it was to rehabilitate the victims of the Iraq War after 2003 and put the country on the right path to true freedom. Instead, through their blind insistence on a discourse of ethnic and sectarian division they gave political opportunists returning from exile a head start and charted the way for a constitution and a political system that resonate poorly with the Iraq’s historical past.

To truly appreciate the immensity of this crime and the degree of complicity in it among Western intellectuals more generally, let’s not focus here on the big, famous or powerful, whose agendas and intellectual parameters are well known. They include of course people like Paul Bremer, Peter Galbraith, Joe Biden, Chris Hill and Ad Melkert who in their various ways have all insisted on dividing the Iraqis territorially and conceptually, as if ethno-religious communities somehow constituted distinct branches of humanity. And let’s not go so much into what journalists have done in this regard, except mentioning that probably the most consistent offender is the elusive “Qassim Abdul-Zahra” of AFP/AP (probably a pen name) as well as pretty much every Baghdad correspondent that has worked for the BBC over the past seven years (yesterday, the BBC simply subtitled an interview with Ala Makki of Iraqiyya with “Sunni MP”. How would they describe Ayad Allawi of the same secular party?) No, let’s instead look at the writings of a less known, bright young American professor at Harvard who in many ways has tried to engage in constructive dialogue with the Islamic world and at one point in 2004 also had a role as a consultant on the Transitional Administrative Law that governed Iraq from 2004 to 2005. Even he cannot get Iraqi history right.

In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Noah Feldman made the case for a prolonged US presence in Iraq beyond 2011. Feldman writes, “Iraqis’ primary identities are still of religious denomination or ethnicity, not of Iraqi nationhood – and that may remain the case indefinitely. Iraqi national identity under Saddam Hussein never truly incorporated Shiites or Kurds. Sunnis, who identified most closely with the Iraqi nation, remain in some ways disenfranchised relative to the other groups, or at least they perceive themselves that way.”

So Feldman claims Iraqi Shiites are less identified with the Iraqi nation than the Sunnis! The only problem with that bold assertion is that it totally lacks an empirical basis. Had the Harvard professor bothered to read Iraqi newspapers from the 1920s, he would have been astonished by the countless contributions by prominent Shiite intellectuals who celebrated Iraqi nationalism and their alliance with the (mainly Sunni) population in the northern areas of Iraq in opposing the British presence at the time. Muhammad Mahdi al-Basir from Hilla and Jaafar Abu Timman from Baghdad are but a few examples that come to mind. As for Feldman’s assertion elsewhere in the article that Iraq was somehow “born” as a result of British machinations, why doesn’t he turn to the Lughat al-Arab journal that was published in Baghdad in the Young Turk era (1908–1914)? It is in fact littered with patriotic references to Iraq as a watan (homeland) in articles by writers like Anastas al-Karmili (a Christian) and Kazim al-Dujayli (a Shiite).

There has been much talk about conspiracies by hostile powers to divide Iraq into separate statelets, and most of it is probably unfounded. This partition conspiracy, however, is real and since it mostly goes undiagnosed it represents arguably far most dangerous aspect of the Iraq War: Brilliant Western academics who may have the best possible intentions towards Iraq and its people but who in an attempt at sounding sophisticated perpetuate the toxic paradigm of a tripartite Iraq – be it territorially or sociologically – simply because they have failed to study the country’s history properly through primary sources. The suggestion is not that sectarian and ethnic issues are non-existent in Iraqi history. But if Western academics had stopped reproducing what are outright lies about the origins of the modern Iraqi state, the whole climate of the discourse on Iraq would have looked vastly different. Rewrite that Feldman op-ed, delete everything that is empirically incorrect about Iraq’s history, and check to see how much is left of the original argument.

Operation Iraqi Freedom may be over, but Operation Iraqi Partition lives on, regardless of Security Council resolutions or status of forces agreements. Unfortunately, there is no anti-war movement against it in the Western world because most of the academics there are in fact its loyal soldiers.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Sectarian master narrative | 80 Comments »