ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Democratizing Iraq and Losing the “Peace” 28.4.04

Democratizing Iraq and Losing the “Peace”

28 April 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

American attempts to crush the Falluja uprising and bring democracy to Iraq will fail, but not for lack of trying. The basic flaw in US administration and western thinking is the assumption that Iraqis identify with the same basic values as do the Americans.

Leaving out the Kurdish minority, the average Iraqi identifies as Moslem, Arab and even Iraqi. After some 70 years of partial and then full independence Iraqis do not define their country as democratic. From the early 1930s and until the violent overthrow of the pro-British government led by Nuri el-Said in 1958, London served as a heavy handed patron, often dictating Iraqi policies and banning certain political parties (ex: the communists) from participation in elections. With General Kassem's coup, Iraq gained full independence but lost the thin veneer of a semi-democracy.

The Baath took over in 1963, only to be forcibly removed last year with the American invasion. If nothing else, forty years of Baath rule (24 of them under Saddam) did bring about a sense of regional nationalism, especially among the minority Sunnis, as evidenced by sloganeering of freeing Iraq from the "American occupation". Interestingly, many Shi'ites speak in the same national terms, even if these two Islamic sects are at odds.

When President Bush speaks of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" he does not just mean toppling Saddam Hussein, but rather bringing democracy and individual liberties to the average Iraqi. The new secular Iraqi state is to be responsible for all personal freedoms. For Iraqis, this is a contradiction, since the secular state for the last 45 years has been a dictatorship or more recently, a military occupation. Democracy is seen as a western imposition emphasizing individual rights as opposed to religious or sectarian needs. It is in direct confrontation with the religious, community and tribal leadership who see themselves threatened by giving "power to the people". The average person does not see a state authority as empowering him but rather as destroying the protection he receives from his local non-elected religious and community authorities.

Hence, the Falluja standoff and upcoming battle is not just about removing radicals and insurgents, wherever they might be. The estimated 2000 men under arms represent an Iraq not only opposed to the US occupation, but a demand by the Arab/Moslem world to rule themselves in the manner they see fit. Democracy is not an option. Although most of Falluja's 300,000 citizens are not doing battle, they will certainly support their brethren as opposed to American promises of liberalism and a western lifestyle of democratic freedoms.

America is facing a "no-win" situation in implementing democracy in Iraq. Better the US should pass on the reigns of government to moderate, traditionalist clerics identified as Arab/Moslem loyalists and stop pursuing the objective of a democratic Iraq, which will only backfire, forcing moderate and radical clerics (and Iraqi nationalists) into a unified struggle against Washington.

Just like the Americans won the war, they may also win the Battle of Falluja. But to be truly victorious, one must also win the "peace", an objective not to be realized through "democratizing" Iraq.