Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Table of Comments

Total Comments in Report: 92

Comments on

2. National Reconciliation

Go to Text

I was especially struck by this recommendation that the rights of women and religious minorities “must be protected.” That imperative “must” must elicit a sigh from those familiar with the Iraqi past. Long before Saddam Hussein”s dreadful reign, Iraq evidenced a talent for intolerance unusual even by Middle Eastern standards. So frequent were massacres from the founding of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921 that the new state was admitted to the League of Nations in 1932 only after it promised to guarantee to protect its minorities.

What immediately followed was described before his death in 1992 by Elie Kedourie of the London School oi Economics, a scholar of regal authority who had been born Jewish in Baghdad: “In 1933, the kingdom inaugurated its independence by a massacre of the Assyrians carried out by the Iraqi army.” The newly enthroned King Ghazi, successor to Faisal !, then promotrd the commander in charge (the Assyrians are Nestorian Christians of ancient origin who then were of special concern to the Church of England). As Kedourie added in a 1969 essay, “Brief as it is, the history of the Kingdom oi Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine, and however pitiful its end, we may now say that this was implicit in its beginning.”

It is commonly forgotten that a cabal of pro-Nazi officers seized power in May 1941, the only such coup to occur during the Second World War in the Middle East. At that point, Germany seemed irresistible and Britain was the sole European power to militarily challenge Adolf Hitler. If the Iraqi coup had succeeded, the oil-starved Germans would have formidably benefited. Baghdad was then host to the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti, a powerful clerical figure who called for a holy war against Jews. But Churchill, overruling his theater commander, rushed troopd to retake Baghdad, oust the Grand Mufti and restore the deposed king and prime minister. However, absent pccupying British troops and while the Iraqi army stood by, some 800 Jews were murdered and their homes and shops pillaged.

This was the prelude to the forced expulsion in 1948-1951 of 160,000 Iraqi Jews, who once formed the proudest and largest Jewish community in the Arab Middle East. And yet in light of past Iraqi intolerance to a dozen or so ethnic and religious communiies, the Study Group admonishes that Iraq “must” protect its minorities. If it does not, will the United States offer asylum to those who flee? Alas, the Study Group sheds little light on this relevant question (the current U.S. immigration quota for Iraq is 5,000 per annum).

Go to Text

Just above, in paragraph 18, the Study Group is insisting that we negotiate with nearly “all parties in Iraq,” including “militia and insurgent leaders.” But seven paragraphs later, it seems, the militias will simply be negotiating their own demise. Why should they, and their leaders, possibly acquiesce in this?

Go to Text

This is an attempt at rectifying what may well be one of the most catastrophic legacies of the CPA period: the acknowledgement in the Transitional Administrative Law of Kirkuk as “disputed territory” whose status is to be resolved after the taking of a census. Clearly the criminal displacement policies by the old regime could have been dealt with at the level of individuals and families instead, without resort to vocabulary from the murky world of ethno-religious politics such as “disputed territories”.

Go to Text

This is an obvious challenge to the current constitution with its differentiation between “existing” and “future” fields, and with a role for the regions in administering the latter. Given the composition of the committee charged with revising the constitution, this proposal – especially the portion that involves restoring the dominant role of the central government with regard to future fields – may at first seem unrealistic. However, among the Iraqi population at large, many still believe in a role for the central government in administering the oil sector. Often overlooked is the fact that the Iraqi oil resources outside the two centers of Basra and Kirkuk are comparatively negligible. Hence to speak of “Kurdish oil” or “Shiite oil” as if these resources were evenly distributed throughout Kurdish and Shiite territory is misleading. Most Iraqi governorates, including most Kurdish and Shiite areas, are relatively speaking poor in oil and stand to profit from an equitable distribution system channeled through the center. It is somewhat surprising that the report is mute with regard to another potential area of constitutional change where there already is a broad spectrum of Iraqi opinion: the rules for demarcating federal entities. Several parties have proposed size limits (three governorates, or even one governorate) and this is an area where moderate Shiite and Sunni opinions meet.

Go to Text

The national reconciliation recommendations form an especially interesting part of the report. The proposals presented are quite radical but at the same time, it is clear that the United States have only limited possibilities for doing anything in practice about what is an internal Iraqi constitutional process. What is remarkable is that there has been no American attempt to link these issues in a positive-sum game. Instead of unilaterally imposing troop “surges” and trying to engineer “moderate coalitions” in backroom deals, Washington could have opted for a “deal” and conditionality logic instead, for instance by offering enhanced security (for instance a temporary increase of troops and more economic aid) in return for progress on constitutional reform. If the whole package were timetabled towards a full withdrawal of US troops, this could appeal to Iraqi nationalists and American opponents of the Iraq War alike.

Go to Text

As more sophisticated members of the ISG must know, national reconciliation and the disbanding of the militias in Iraq are not going to be completed on a US electoral schedule. It will take much more than two years for that under the best of circumstances. The Kurds, for example, will never dismantle the pershmerga until they feel their security is completely assured – and perhaps not even then. (That some wear Iraqi army uniforms doesn’t make them any less peshmerga.) As for the Arabs, it is not clear they could disband the militias even if Moqtada al-Sadr and every other prominent leader agreed to the idea. So, what is the purpose of this series of recommendations? Well, it would be one way to extricate the American troops and blame the Iraqis for whatever ensues.