Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Iraq and Libya: Parallels and Non-Parallels

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 6 April 2011 23:06

Subsequent to the start of the Iraq War om 2003, Western analysts spent a prodigious amount of time and energy debating an “alternative” Iraq policy that never had any chance of succeeding in the real world and which therefore served as a major distraction in the overall discussion of policy options: A three-way soft partition of the country. Today, with the sudden upsurge of Western interest in Libya – and with a general explosion of simplistic punditry focusing  on the ethno-sectarian geography of the broader Middle East – it is only a question of time before think tankers in the West will discover certain tripartite patterns in Libyan history, too, and use them as a basis for discussions of possible ways forward. However, even a cursory and preliminary reading of Libya’s history should make it possible to preempt at least some of the scenarios that seem destined to appear in future discussions.

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with the main elements in an historian’s refutation of the soft-partition option for Iraq. Briefly, the soft partition scheme as it emerged in the post-2003 period ignored at least three important historical facts: 1. The three-way division of Iraq in late Ottoman times did not follow ethno-sectarian lines (Baghdad had most Shiites and Mosul was mixed) and was never complete (Baghdad served as a proto-capital for all three provinces in certain spheres of administration including military and judicial affairs); 2. The three-way partition had existed for some thirty years only (circa 1880-1914) before which there were long periods of administrative unity in a single province (Baghdad); 3. Far from being an “artificial” term, the concept of “Iraq” was in fact frequently employed by the local population, Ottoman administrators and foreigners alike in the nineteenth century. In sum, then, the post-2003 soft-partition scheme for Iraq had no historical basis, meaning that on top of the numerous ethical and practical considerations involved in its implementation, it seemed unlikely to find any popular resonance even if an attempt had been made to push it through.

When it comes to Libya, unlike Iraq, the country actually does have a history of twentieth-century federalism as well as complete territorial fragmentation. During the first years after independence, from 1951 to 1963, Libya had a federal state structure which among other things featured extensive taxation powers for the three federal regions (Benghazi in the east, Tripoli in the centre-north and Fezzan in the south). That tripartite federal structure, in turn, was based on complete administrative separation in the 1940s, when developments in the Second World War and the ouster of the Italians in 1942 had led to the creation of three separate zones of occupation with their own administrations. Although the ethno-sectarian geography of these lands did not correlate perfectly with the tripartite administrative configuration, Benghazi stood somewhat out thanks to a strongly influential puritan Sufi movement (the Sanusiyya), whereas non-Arab (particularly Berber) influences were said to be somewhat stronger in the west and the south. In contrast to the situation in Libya, Iraq remained a centralised state from the formal inception of the monarchy in 1921 until the beginnings of experiments with Kurdish autonomy in the 1970s.

On the other hand, though, if we go further back in history, the parallels between Iraq and Libya are quite striking. Just like the territory of modern-day Iraq was administratively unified for a great deal in the late 1700s and the early 1800s, a political entity almost perfectly coterminous with the modern state of Libya existed in the same period: The Barbary state of Tripoli. Contemporary accounts of North Africa in the early nineteenth century almost invariably focus on four dominant political entities in the region: Morocco, Alger, Tunis and Tripoli. Headed by the Albanian Karamanlis – a group of military officers that broke with the Ottomans and as such another parallel to Iraq where the Georgian mamelukes reigned – the Tripoli state engaged in lucrative piracy activities in the Mediterranean that enabled it to subjugate, albeit tenuously, the territory to the south and east of Tripoli (incidentally, those piracies also brought them into conflict with the United States). After the Ottoman reconquista in 1835 (the timing being another Iraq parallel) that same geographical area remained mostly unified as a single vilayet until the 1880s. At that point, Cyrenaica was definitively separated as a distinctive unit. By way of contrast, Iraq oscillated between unified rule and various subdivision formulas throughout the nineteenth century.

Unlike Iraq, there is less continuity as far as nomenclature is concerned in the case of Libya. Rather than using the name “Libya”, many contemporary sources simply referred to these lands as Trablus al-Gharb or “Tripoli of the West”, i.e. to distinguish it from the “eastern”/Syrian Tripoli in what is Lebanon today. For example, despite the formal differentiation in the late Ottoman period between the vilayet of Tripoli and the special administrative district of Benghazi, the Ottoman historian Mahmud Naci referred to Benghazi as “part of Tripoli” in his discussion of the Sanusiyya. Similarly, an early Libyan historian, Ahmad Mahmud, referred to the “Cyrenaican desert of Tripoli” as the birthplace of Umar al-Mukhtar (who would go on to become a famous Libyan nationalist) and to Fezzan as “an oasis that belongs to Tripoli”. Conversely, in the case of Iraq, the term “Iraq” appears far more frequently in sources from the nineteenth century and was often used interchangeably with the greater Baghdad vilayet. In the Libyan case, then, it seems clear that the Italian occupation from 1912 onwards was instrumental in introducing a new term for referring to the country, even though also the Italian administration for some years featured administrative differentiation between Tripoli and Cyrenaica. Ultimately, the Italians opted to organise the entire country in four perfetturas dependent upon Tripoli, meaning that centripetal forces once more came to the fore.

Exactly as in the case of Iraq, Libyan historiography does include a trend that has been dismissive about the whole idea of continuity from the old mameluke days to the era of the modern state. But whereas constructivist narratives of Iraqi history mostly consist of the unempirical musings of armchair commentators who have never held an actual Ottoman document in their hands, when it comes to Libya there are a number of eloquent, well-researched and indigenous accounts of the creation of the modern state that in various ways question the paradigm of Tripoli as the natural focus of a centralised state incorporating Fezzan and Cyrenaica. By way of example, Ali Abdullatif Ahmida has written a largely constructivist version of the emergence of the modern Libyan state in which he goes far in embracing an “artificiality” paradigm. In particular, in order to counterbalance Tripoli-centric narratives, Ahmida accords prominence to a small political entity in the far south of the country around Fezzan: The state of Awlad Muhammad which existed between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. A similar revisionist take can be seen in the work of Muhammad Mustafa Bazamah, which focuses on Cyrenaica or Barqa as it is usually called in Arabic.

Ahmida’s and Bazamah’s contributions come across as fresh challenges against teleological versions of Libya’s modern history. Nonetheless, they can perhaps themselves be challenged for magnifying the importance of the south and the east, which after all were dwarfed by Tripoli in terms of population numbers: Around the time of formal unification, Tripolitania had around 700,000 inhabitants; Cyrenaica, 300,000; Fezzan, 60,000. In accounts from the early 1950s it is actually French protestations against the amalgamation of the three occupation zones into a single state that loom largest in the sources. “Libya is an artificial and sterile country”, declared pro-imperial forces in Paris in December 1949, exactly at the juncture when the idea of formal Libyan unification was beginning to gain traction in international circles.

This point in turn relates to what is perhaps the greatest contrast between Iraq and Libya as far as territorial stability is concerned: Whereas both Tripoli and Baghdad presented a certain degree of continuity as proto-capitals for greater Libyan and Iraqi regions between the 1700s and the 1900s, Libya experienced a unique degree of both informal and formal territorial fragmentation during the first half of the twentieth century – above all as the result of different legacies of interaction with foreign, imperial powers in different regions of the country. Firstly, Sanusi resistance against the Italians provided for anti-colonial sentiment that translated into regional patterns: Cyrenaica, anti-Italian; Tripolitania, less so. Later, as the result of developments in the Second World War, formal fragmentation ensued in the shape of three different zones of occupation: Fezzan (French), Tripolitania (British), and Cyrenaica (separated from Tripoli and reconstituted as a single entity under the British, with special guarantees for future independence).

For a few years after 1945 – an interlude caused first and foremost by procrastination in the international community regarding the disposal of the Italian colonies generally – it seemed likely that Fezzan would become attached to other French colonial possessions in North Africa; that Cyrenaica might come under some kind of British tutelage; and that Tripolitania might possibly even revert to Italian overlordship. Despite growing agitation in favour of unity among the Libyans themselves, it was probably only a certain anti-imperialist surge in the newly founded United Nations as well as a general preference in London for more informal and economic forms of empire that eventually consecrated the formula that would prevail: The unification of all three zones of occupation in the single kingdom of Libya.

During this process, what happened to the Sanusiyya-dominated Cyrenaica presents certain interesting parallels – and non-parallels as well – to the fate of Kurdish independence dreams after the First World War, which were basically crushed between the treaties of Sevres in 1920 and Lausanne in 1923. In the 1940s, despite some common cooperation against the Italians in the 1920s, there was much to suggest that a degree of apartness had developed between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania as the result of different trajectories during the years of Italian rule, and with the Cyrenaicans in particular increasingly warming up to the prospect of having some kind of separate political entity with a privileged connection to the British Empire. For example, a representation by Umar Mansur in 1945 called for Cyrenaica to become “an independent country” under Sayyid Idris, the Sanusi leader. Unlike the Kurds in Iraq, however – and despite the preferences of the numerically dominant Tripolitanians for some kind of more tightly integrated state – the Cyrenaicans managed to provide national leadership (King Idris) once the idea of a unified Libya gained international support. They went on to dominate the federation that was subsequently formed and provided their own input to the terms of that federation, even though there were also external influences at work including UN “experts” (in a parallel to post-2003 Iraq, one of them was a Dutchman, Adrian Pelt). Of course, in the case of Iraq after the First World War, the monarch – Faisal I – was imported from Hijaz and a centralist formula of government adopted.

In Libya, there generally seem to have been more cross-cutting cleavages than in Iraq. Maybe some Cyrenaicans appeared parochial at times, but after all much of their Sanusi heritage was pan-Islamist rather than regionalist, stretching into Sudan and parts of the Sahara. Historically and geographically, Cyrenaica was actually closest to the heart of the Arab world and centres like Cairo, with some authorities even claiming that the grand division line between the eastern and western parts of the Arab world – Machrek and Maghreb – cut Libya in two, with Cyrenaica belonging to the Machrek and Tripoli to the Maghreb. Also , it seems that Cairo-educated young men of Cyrenaica played a key role in converting Sayyid Idris from a narrow Cyrenaica-oriented approach to a broader one focused on all of Libya, and may have played a role when the king first began considering a move from a federal to a unitary formula of government in the mid-1950s (this was eventually achieved in 1963, subsequent to the discovery of oil in 1959). These are all factors that would seem to put the Cyrenaicans in a different position in Libya than what the Kurds experienced in Iraq, the superficial similarities of the size of the communities and the degree of territorial concentration notwithstanding.

On the balance, then, one senses that despite the upheavals of the twentieth century – and the efforts of erudite and articulate scholars in the constructivist tradition – the vision of a centralised state with Tripoli as its capital eventually prevailed in twentieth-century Libya, much like what happened to Baghdad in Iraq. Today, the regionally entrenched opposition in Benghazi appears to be going out of its way to emphasise its adherence to the idea of Tripoli as the undisputed capital of Libya, although it should perhaps be remembered that the monarchy flag used by these opponents of Gadhafi is also originally a federalism flag. But, as the Second World War showed, too much external intervention can easily disturb local equilibriums and propel artificial schemes to the forefront. Left to its own, Libya might well eventually gravitate towards Tripoli in one way or another, but with foreign intervention, the question is a lot more open. It should be remembered that the UN Security Council adopted for Libya provides international powers with a much bigger toolbox than what Western powers had in Iraq in the 1990s, when the no-fly-zone had no legal basis (except a fictional exegesis of UNSC 688) and when suggestions of a no-drive-zone was never on the table in a serious way (even though the Clinton administration seemed to be trying to create one in 1996). Accordingly, as happened during the Second World War, Libya may in the future once more come to experience formal territorial fragmentation and the emergence of enclaves of the kind one would otherwise only expect in settings where there are more enduring legacies of truly indigenous separatist schemes, like Yemen.

31 Responses to “Iraq and Libya: Parallels and Non-Parallels”

  1. bb said

    Thanks Reidar. I was hoping you would write something about Libya, and that was very interesting reading.

    Going forward, one also hopes that the Libyans can be facilitated by the UN into choosing a parliamentary system over a presidential (“strongman”) system, based on proportional representation, so as to encourage the development of political parties – so essential for democracies – and increase the representative stakeholders. Perhaps Libya’s close ties with Britain will help this along.

  2. Salah said

    On the balance, then, one senses that despite the upheavals of the twentieth century – and the efforts of erudite and articulate scholars in the constructivist tradition – the vision of a centralised state with Tripoli as its capital eventually prevailed in twentieth-century Libya, much like what happened to Baghdad in Iraq.
    With all due respect of Reidar senses, listening before the situations worsen in Libya there were talking by western officials /media that Libya state will be divided to three regions!?
    This was by different sources from US and also Germany’s sources. But as seen on TV both from side of Libyans, pro- regime also the rebels both the denial was clear there is no differences between Libyans, all they dismissed any thinking of regional division or civil war inside their state, even some oppositions were interviewed by BBC also Aljazeera they all dismissed the civil war or any willingness by Libyan people of their country will divided.
    So it’s the opposite what your sense stated, it is useful to bring some respected sources especially from inside also outside Libyans leaders/ people that they have same sense as yours.
    Back to Iraq the regional division was initiated by No-Fly-Zone acts priors to 2003 invasion , for 13 years the western force used UN cover to enforce the regional division while most Iraq along that years no one thinking of regional division of their land, but the voices was raised before and during the 2003 promoting the three regional system in Iraq the momentum was high but the dissatisfactions and support inside Iraq and Iraqis made things went low, while things on the ground very slowly moving toward regional division

  3. Bb,
    Iraq always had parties since the 1920’s, the difference now is your PR made most parties based on sect and ethnicity. It seems to me that you are once more trying to fit reality to your undergrad political science concepts.

  4. Salah said

    Perhaps Libya’s close ties with Britain will help this along.

    doubtably “Libya’s close ties with Britain” will give birth of any useful of democratic political system,

    We seen how the development of political system in Iraq lead by US, they brought “Very Strong” men well organized working hard from the Green Zone for a democratic Political system in Iraq?

  5. bb said

    Yes, Faisal we all know about the diverse political parties that flourished under the Baath Party regime from 1963 to 2003 – 40 years. Perhaps you could describe them for me and their fate since the 1920s.?

    I thought the whole point of the Arab democracy uprisings was that the people of these countries are wanting to make a transition from absolutist regimes to pluralistic, democratic ones? You seem to believe this can be achieved without a political infrastructure which encourages maturing then flourishing political parties representing diverse aspects of the polity? In that case, you might consider the examples of Turkey, South Africa and now Iraq and tell me why you believe one party rule as per Baath is prefereable?

  6. Kermanshahi said

    The main difference is tht “Tripolitanians,” “Cyrenaicans” and “Fezzanians” don’t actually exist, this just refers to the same Sunni Arab population only living in a different zone based on colonial drawn borders. This is an artificial divide created by colonialists, meanwhile in Iraq there was actually a real divide, the Kurds are actually a completely different people than the Arabs, this difference actually exists and it existed for milenia before colonialists ruined the Middle East. The Kurds are not only a different race (Iranic rather than Semetic) but they have a different culture, a different language, this is not the same as being an inhabitant of a British drawn square in the desert. Than you have the Shi’a Sunni divide which is based on actual religious beliefs, rather than on which side of the straight line some rich colonialist drew on his desk, you lived. So when they forced Kurds into Iraq, which the Kurds resisted the invasion costing thousands of deaths and started rebelling against the annexation immedietly and meanwhile put Shi’as, which have always been opressed, and Sunnis together in a country with a Shi’a majority but a Sunni leadership, with all of these “non-secterianist” leaders being Sunnis from 1919 to 2003, without exceptions, this was a recipe for disaster.

    All of the Arab states are artificial, but in Iraq the sub-identities are real and that’s why they have grown to be so important, in Libya the state is fake, but so are the sub-identities and that’s why they are not important there either. As you saw with the uprising, it was also in “Tripolitania” only Khadaffi got to over run the area around his own base in Tripoli, earlier than he got to overrun Benghazi, if the West hadn’t stopped him. Which is a major difference between Libya 2011, where everyone revolted and Iraq 1991 where the Sunnis backed Saddam to kill everybody. The scale was also much different, Saddam killed 100,000 people in ’91 and the Americans who were active in Iraq in the first place, were cheering him on saying “go get ’em, cause our friend King Abdullah doesn’t like Shi’ites and our friend General Evren doesn’t like Kurds,” that while in Libya it was none of their business but the death of 2 thousand people was apparently enough for them to cry “genocide” and attack a third Muslim country, that while they themselfes were responsible for atleast 40 thousand Iraqi deaths (37%) according to the IBC. Nice double standard, isn’t it? They and their allies can kill as much as needed in anti-insurgency operations to keep al-Maliki in power, but if Khadaffi kills just 5% of that in anti-insurgency operations to stay in power, it’s “genocide”…

  7. Jason said

    Reidar, what do you and your readers believe will happen in Iraq if American troops go home in December as planned? Will the new governmental institutions hold, or will it all collapse?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, the history of Iraq’s political parties in the 1920s is indeed an interesting one. Most parties back then were non-sectarian, such as the Istiqlal Party headed by Yasin al-Hashemi, which was supported by Sunnis and Shiites alike.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, your comment exhibits the classical “essentialist” approach to ethnopolitics, i.e. only linguistically or religiously defined cleavages are seen as “real”. But that approach fails to account for several interesting cases of regionally based movements. How would you explain Northern League separatism in Italy? How about Aden or South Yemen separatism? And the list goes on. My own take is that we should be open-minded towards the question of what constitutes a separatist trend, and at the same time refrain from automatically postulating a territorial component to every ethno-religious protest movement before verifying that there actually is one

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, I think the question of whether the situation will unravel or not depends fundamentally on what sort of politics prevail in parliament in coming months. As pointed out previousy, I am more optimistic about some kind of Nujayfi-Maliki alliance that can transcend sectarian divisions and bury he de-Baathification issue than the alternative represented by the Kurds, Abd al-Mahdi, Chalabi and Allawi, who are currently talking a lot, but who I fear will ultimately entrench a sectarian formula that could ultimately prompt a partition of the country. Unfortunately, my sense is that Maliki is not doing enough to build bridges to Nujayfi and instead is gambling on White Iraqiyya, which is unrealistic. It will be interesting to learn more about who was behind today’s clashes at Camp Ashraf. The more sectarian forces among the Shiites have previously played this card in order to embarrass the Americans, and this happened today again since Robert Gates was visiting. By the way Kermanshahi, what are your sources for your claims that the Americans encouraged the Iraqi regime to clamp down on the uprising in 1991? It is true that they turned a blind eye to what happened, but that is different from what you describe.

  11. Santana said

    The attack on Mujaheddeen Khalq was Iran’s reprisal for them giving away info on the parts manufacturing facilities for Iran’s nuclear program….it also shows what kind of reach and entrenchment Iran has in Iraq in order to be able to order that.

    As far as the Iraqi Army’s readiness?? that is a joke and the U.S will have 18,000 sitting ducks (civilians) exposed…the Iraqi Army is a joke right now and infiltrated by Badr and Sadrists…Maliki and Gates had a spat at their meeting when Maliki boasted of the Iraqi Army’s capabilities and Gates knows it’s complete B.S. – he left the meeting very upset.
    No one wants foreign troops in their country as a matter of principle. Maliki is not following principles…only acting under covert pressure from the Sadrists and Iran to get the U.S out of the way so Iran can wreak more havoc in Iraq and the region . They will get so entrenched that it would take a whole new invasion a year or two down the road to extract them.

  12. Bb,
    Your argument is classic, you use Saddam as a hanger for the mistakes of your brand of PR. It is unconvincing.

    On the surface, most if not all Iraqis want the US out. Below the surface, it is not much different but we expect the US will do what is best for its own interest. In other words, if the US stays then it will be to ward off Iran, not to save Iraqis, just don’t pretend that you’re doing it for us.

  13. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    Regarding the 1991 Gulf war, it is clear from the writings of several books that the Americans even allowed Saddam to use helicopter gunships to attack people in the south of Iraq. General Scowcroft interview on PBS.ORG is quite telling:

    Wasn’t there an uprising in the north? Wasn’t there an uprising in the south?
    Scowcroft: Of course.

    Didn’t we see their military killing people?
    Scowcroft: Yes.

    And we didn’t intervene.
    Scowcroft: Of course not.

    Not from the air.
    Scowcroft: Of course not.

    We didn’t cut off their gasoline supplies.
    Scowcroft: First of all, one of our objectives was not to have Iraq split up into constituent … parts. It’s a fundamental interest of the United States to keep a balance in that area, in Iraq. …

    So part of the reason to not go after his army at that point was to make sure there was a unified country, whether or not it was ruled by Saddam?
    Scowcroft: Well, partly. But suppose we went in and intervened, and the Kurds declare independence, and the Shiites declare independence. Then do we go to war against them to keep a unified Iraq?

    You can also read other books about how America allowed Iraq to use attack helicopters in the south against civilians. In fact, Saddam’s armored divisions were still trapped in parts of the south of Iraq and Kuwait, and America “let” them slip through instead of demanding that the soldiers abandon their tanks and APCs. I don’t think the USA was as naive as they say when they say that they didnt know Saddam would attach people the way he did.

    Scowcroft’s words are pretty revealing. It is not a matter of simply being a by-stander here. America did not want shiites running the south, and kurds entrenched in the north, so in that sense, they favored Saddam keeping a unified Iraq…i.e. they wanted Saddam to crush the rebels just as he did instead of a rebel victory and the chaos the could result from it.

    Scowcroft has said that a popular rebellion is never what they had in mind for Iraq. What they wanted was some reasonable army officer to launch a coup to keep the Iraqi military still in control of Iraq and depose Saddam, but Saddam was too clever for that to succeed.


  14. Salah said

    Although there are many different views about the Invasion/Liberation of Iraq in 2003 but the reality on the ground still speaks in loudly what those 25millions Iraq suffered and what they got from the promises made by US president of Freedom, Food, Travel and all sort of those well-chosen word for his latter to Iraqis people before opening the Hill fire on them.
    Although may Libya different case somehow but we hope that to follow the steps that Iraqis went through although this look very similar as the NFZ scenario followed by first day of 200 Military fighter bombing and 108 Tomahawk Missiles fallen on our brothers and sisters in Libya, no wonder MSM telling all those very smart missile the did not harm any civilians as if these killing machine have mercy for the human and they did not harm civilians just tyrant’s Qadafdi machines and tanks.
    French intelligence on Libya

    However today is the memory of Iraq invasion it’s still Iraqis living as in the bottom of the list of the poorest countries in this world despite Iraqi official telling that the oil production around 2.5Mb/D at price $100.00/B…….

    To refresh the minds for those forgot what war and bombing will do to people what crimes done on Iraqis

    WASHINGTON — The Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison accused the Bush administration Wednesday of committing “war crimes” and called for those responsible to be held to account.

    The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who’s now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

    “After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Taguba wrote. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”


  15. Kermanshahi said

    There can be many reasons for conflict inside a country but it is easier to reoncile when the country has unified population, like in Libya, they all are the same people, what is going on is a political war. Iraq however is a different issue where there are actually real divides in the population and although of the Arabs has expressed they do want to remain in 1 unified state, their voting behaviour is still deeply secterian, these groups could largely reconcile over time, but with millions killed in the last few decades of conflict what you should aks yoursel is: was it worth it? And than when Anglo-Iraqi forces invaded Kurdistan in 1921, they should have realised they were heading for a 70-year armed rebellion against this invasion. Was their greed to have more land really worth it, did it really benefit them in that case?

    And the Americans might have not directly encouraged the Iraqi regime to clamp down on the uprising in 1991, but the facts are clear. They called for the people to rise, the people did, then they decided that being a Shi’a automatically makes you an agent of Iran, so not only did they not support the uprising, their troops were active around Basra at the time, they just allowed the Republican Guard to freely move in and they even allowed them to use their helicopters during the assaults on the cities despite there being a no-fly zone. So it’s clear they didn’t want the Shi’as to win, who did they than want to win? They wanted Saddam Hussein to win and they allowed him to win.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, everyone knows the US stood back in 1991. I am not disputing that..Kermanshahi said the US told Saddam to “go and get them [Kurds and Shiites]”. That is something else.

    Santana, I guess what I am interested in finding out about the MeK incident is who gave the orders? People close to Maliki or people close to Chalabi/Lami/Jaafari?

    With respect to the question of US withdrawal I think it would be helpful if Iraqi media could engage in an open-minded debate about the true capabilities of the Iraqi forces. Say, their ability to resist an incursion by any of the neighbouring states. Unless such a debate gets going, I think Maliki and others will continue to make exaggerated claims as to the quality and strength of the Iraqi forces.

  17. bb said

    Faisal Kadri. Did not mention Saddam; he being irrelevant to the issue being discussed. I referred to the period of 40 years of the Baath ONE-PARTY rule and asked you why you seem to think this was preferable to a multi-party democracy in Iraq? You don’t like the PR system of voting, but even if it were first past the post or AV, the outcome at this point of Iraq’s political history would still be broadly same unless the electoral boundaries were gerrymandered in favor of the party you prefer, or unless the parties you don’t like (the shia parties it seems) were banned from contesting the election at all. Perhaps you think this would be a fine idea, a return to the good old days?

    Reidar: what happened to those political parties after the 1920s?

  18. JWing said

    When it comes to Iraq’s borders and Kurdish nationalism, it was in fact the latter that was last to the game. The Ottoman Empire conquered what would become Iraq in 1534 and solidified control in 1638 after skirmishes with the Persians. Iraq has had the same basic borders since then. Some of the district divisions in Iraq pre-existed the Ottoman invasion. Kurds lived with these borders with no problems. Kurdish nationalism didn’t evolve until a couple hundred years later.

    In fact, the argument that the Middle East/North African countries are “made up” by colonialist power is made up. The European countries largely stuck to the boundaries created by the Ottomans.

  19. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, intra-party dynamics in Iraq remained multi-sectarian throughout the 1960s. The classical study is Batatu, who shows how Shiites were influential in both the Communist and the Baathist movements early on. Only later did clear sectarian patterns emerge, and again it could be argued that those patterns had more to do with region (Tikrit) and clan than sect.

  20. Santana said


    In response to your question on who do I think was behind the Camp Ahraf violence-I have been informed that the Sadrists instigated the event and Maliki was obligated to go along with it….it is on their turf and he already has enough issues with them so he didn’t want to make matters worse and send them Allawi’s way…

  21. Bb,
    You are right, I do not like Shia parties, I do not like Sunni parties either, but that doesn’t make me prefer the one party system. I don’t believe that anybody can or should ban sectarian paties, conversly sectarian parties should not be allowed to arbitrarly ban others.
    What I am saying is the condiions for success of your brand of PR did not exist in Iraq. Sectarian polarization follows acts of terror, which we have too much of, PR does not see that.

  22. bb said

    Thanks again, R. Would it be correct to say that all these parties were eventually either liquidated or subsumed into the Baath party?

  23. Salah said

    subsumed into the Baath party?

    No, they slaughtered after the tyrant promised them of some sort of unity governing. 11th April 1970 the Kurds to had their self-admiration also the communist party have given some privilege, but as always the tyrant have no attention to live in peace without killing he provoked his order killing as much as he could.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, no one is disputing the authoritarian character of the Baathist regime. My point is just to stress the multi-sectarian legacy of Iraqi history in the pre-Baath period.

  25. Santana said

    Zalmay has been sent “on a mission from God”….he has had intensive meetings with Biden and Tony Blinkin and the Pentagon prior to his current trip to Baghdad (he is there now) making all the rounds….kinda undermines the Ambassador…..NSC is eagely waiting for his report on how to move forward…security ministries, complete or partial withdrawl and getting the Strategic council going again…..hope all the leaders know that Zalmay is very close to KRG ($$$$$$!) and it will influence his recommendations/report.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, I think I saw a report about him meeting with Jaafari earlier today! Sort of surprising for the Obama admin to turn someone like Khalilzad into an envoy extraordinair?

  27. Between Joe Biden and Zalmay I would take Zalmay as an envoy for Iraq anyday, at least he is more critical of people (other than the Kurds!) and I am sure he remembers the attitude of Jaafary and his associates during his term. I think his task is difficult and given the present tide of democracy in the region, any solution that involves less democracy will be frowned upon. On the other hand, any new elections with Maliki as incumbent and the elections committee reporting to him will be flawed. I understand that there is wind of change in the elections committee but I don’t know if it will be enough to secure a peaceful transition of power. My favorite scenario is to let Maliki ask for UN run census and elections, this will give all parties some of what they want but no one gets everything.

  28. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    Apparently GCC does not want Arab League summit to be held in Baghdad this year because of Iraq’s stance on what happened in Bahrain.

    I think this really illustrates that the issue of sectarian politics should not be viewed from just a local Iraqi politics point of view. Rather, given the rampant sectarianism that is far worse in gulf countries than it is in Iraq, Iraq’s citizens are being bombarded with the sectarian bogeyman (shiites will feel threatened by sunni elitism in the gulf, and sunnis are hearing conspiracies that there is some master shia plan to rule the gulf).

    While it would be idealistic for Iraqis to shun the problem of sectarianism that is rampant in the countries that surround them, it is not realistic. Until all the countries of the region stop persecuting their respective shia populations, Iraqi shia will feel under threat. Since their gulf neighbors don’t want to “play with them,” Iraq will defacto wind up being buddies with the only welcoming arms in the region–Iran.

    The GCC is really moronic. Without America’s support, the GCC is pretty much a useless military organization when it comes to being able to defend itself. A future rebuilt Iraq would be the “swing” state of the gulf. If Iraq winds up as an iranian ally, the Iran-Iraq axis would be he dominant power of the gulf in the future, a result that the GCC seems not to want, but is doing everything to ensure will happen as a result of their paranoia when it comes to shia.

  29. Santana said


    I agree with you- the GCC decision is not good for Iraq nor the area….it will create two camps and this is what Iran is dreaming about. Good analysis.

  30. Samir Abdallah said


    I fully agree with your analysis. GCC decision is neither to the benefit of the their sunni or shiite population. It just brings in more tension and instability to the region for years to come.

  31. Salah said

    the Iran-Iraq axis would be he dominant power of the gulf in the future, a result that the GCC seems not to want,

    The problem is Not Iraq/Iran or GCC, if both side believe in living peacefully this matter will not end the power struggle in the region, most importantly if both thinks they believe in Islam regardless the sec they believe in, then they should share relation all which better off for all of them to be one power and befits more.

    Let not forgot the recent Kuwaitis discovery of Iranian plots although Iran denial as usual but this not acceptable at any level of intentional relation between countries.

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