ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Yearning for the Ba’ath in Iraq

Yearning for the Ba’ath in Iraq

26 August 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The massive bombing two weeks ago in northern Iraq not far from the Syrian border is symptomatic of the overall collapse of any semblance of law and order in that supposed country. This time the victims were the Yazidis, a small semi-Moslem sect accused of heresy by Sunni extremists and Al Qaeda. Four truck bombs killed over 500 and wounded more than 1,500. The marginalized, impoverished Yazidis posed a threat to no one, except for those intolerant of anyone different from themselves. But such is the power of extremists as they smash any inkling of consensus concerning the future of a united Iraqi nation state. Iraq can only be unified by a centralized government willing to use massive force to crush separatism, real or imagined. Since 1958 when British influence was booted out with the overthrow of the government by General Kassem and more intensively with the rise of the Arab secular, socialist and nationalist Ba’ath party in the early 1960s, force or the threat of its implementation by the central authority was the glue holding the modern Iraqi nation state together.

More than four years after the invasion by US and British forces the war against Saddam Hussein is a complete victory, but the peace most assuredly is lost. Massive bombings against civilian and at times military targets are a matter of routine. Every year tens of thousands of Iraqis die and are maimed as a result. The veneer of a government led by PM Nuri Kamal Maliki either does not want to confront the extremist Sunni and Shi’ite factions or does not have the ability to do so (or both). Mayhem is the result. And this seems to suit every factional leader just fine, just that the average terrorized citizen is the anonymous victim of course.

The rise and fall of American troop deployments is only a passing tactical initiative. Either the US, Canada and the European Union fully commit themselves to a long term major troop deployment with no exit date until the objectives of stability and the reformation of a unified Iraqi national state and identity are formed or one can expect the disintegration of the Mesopotamian land mass into at least three zones – Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish. No intermediary measures will suffice. It is clear that popular opinion in the West nixes any possibility of overwhelming intervention thereby leaving the US and Britain to repress the insurgency only for the moment. In the end there will be a full withdrawal. The international community must consider itself quite fortunate should Iraq only break down into three autonomous regions (or even states) since the possibility of the complete shattering of Iraq into tribal loyalties certainly exists.

Who today is willing to fight and die for a united Iraqi state? Religious, tribal and clan identities are paramount as the Iraqi state sinks into history and today can only be seen as a fiction. Although Britain set the borders of modern Iraq it was the secular, dictatorial and brutal Ba’ath party lead by Abd as-Salam Arif, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and eventually Saddam Hussein which forcibly held the country together. Especially under Saddam military force and massacres welded the country together through a reign of terror. Factualism of any sort was suppressed and tens of thousands died. Hundreds of thousands more were slaughtered in the eight year war with Iran (1980 – 88) and additional casualties added in the first Gulf War against the Allies (1990 – 91). Despite it all an Iraqi national entity was emerging, certainly amongst the Sunnis and somewhat within the other factions. Internationally, Iraq was seen as a national entity. The ideals of secularism, Arabism and socialism were enforced through violence and terror or the threat of their usage. Saddam understood the Stalinist policies of unifying a factionalized entity into a state. Democracy, freedom of religion and human rights would never be the answers. Iraq was a recognized international force and major player in the Arab world and Middle East.

Today Iraq is a shambles with no solution in sight. The Ba’ath rose to power for a reason. It was necessary should Iraq move from a fictional geographical region to becoming a national entity. The Ba’ath implemented policy through brutality, realizing that persuasion did not work in religious, tribal and non-democratic societies. But as hated as Saddam was and as horrifying as the murderous Ba’ath regime’s policy was for decades, most people prefer the most oppressive of dictatorships when faced with anarchy, or worse yet, chaos. Presently, the Anglo-American alliance is holding down violence in Iraq a few notches below the disintegration point.

When they leave, the crumbling of the Iraqi state may very well be complete. Furthermore, terrorists world-wide will use Iraq as a training ground and launching pad for operations. We all may yet yearn for the days of the Ba’ath and even the likes of Saddam Hussein.