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Iraq: A Chaotic Irony of History

by Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi

IraqThe plight of Iraq is a true political disaster and a real human catastrophe. The fatal error of all parties involved in the the ongoing saga of Iraq since World War I had been twofold: lack of appreciation for the complex challenges rooted in the difficult conflicts and tensions among contradictory ideas, forces and situations, and ignorance for what is beyond the political, military, economic and moral powers of men and states. Moreover, no attention at all had been paid to the moral condition of the people, the political and religious leaders, and the dysfunctional nation. Finally, the existence of an almost total disconnect between the past and present, and the future of Iraq as a nation-state had resulted in a political vacuum that had enabled ruthless individuals and groups to violate repeatedly the relative stability of the status quo with impunity.

Politics is first of all what those who are in leadership positions in a given country do with the power they possess. Saddam Hussein used his absolute powers to maintain the autocracy of the Sunni minority over the majority Shia and the ethnically independent Kurdish minority. Since his power grab in 1979, the United States had not followed a principled policy toward him, and after his downfall toward the state of Iraq.

From the end of World War I, the Middle East as a region had been passing through a great crisis. Essentially, all the Arab countries had been wrestling with the practical consequences of their feudal traditions and the imported Western ideas of democracy, secularism and free market economy. In the 19th and 20th centuries, European powers attempted to pick winners and losers and form alliances that they believed served their national interests. The United States that was a latecomer to the region could have settled on a foreign policy based on special relationships with all parties. Instead, successive administrations had pursued interventionist policies that resulted in fostering instability and insecurity throughout the region. The failure of these policies had been foreseeable and is clearly apparent today. For it is impossible to exert any real influence over the people who for many centuries had been manipulated by a mainly poorly educated and power-hungry clergy that either surreptitiously or openly had dominated public discourse in the Muslim world. Neither democracy nor secularism had real chances.

The rising of the Mullahcracy in Iran had reignited the violent Sunni and Shia fundamentalism. On the one hand had been Iran, with a self-contradictory government, fighting daily for its political existence, and frightening the Sunni Arab states and the West with its rhetoric of a permanent Islamic revolution. On the other hand, there had been the member states of the Arab League with their either monarchical or dictatorial governments, also fighting for their survival, and unable therefore to inspire the West with any real confidence. The ensuing civil war within Islam had produced the chaos in Lebanon and the emergence of Hezbollah, the Iran-Iraq war, the Afghanistan conundrum and the bloody rule of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the United States’ interventions, the so-called Arab Spring, Syria, and the current sectarian conflict in Iraq.

The history of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is a nightmare. There had been more incompetence, more scandals, more acts of treachery and betrayals, more corruption, than could be possibly dreamed of in political imagination. Yet, the West in general and the United States in particular cannot and should not accept the evil that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) represents. Attempts at and actual redrawing the map of an entire region, as the Balkans had shown many times before, could lead to a permanent state of war among the many nations of the Middle East. Striving to recreate the imaginary utopia of Medina, the so-called Caliphate, would sink the entire region in a deep pool of blood. Such a development, in turn, would perpetuate sectarian violence and global terrorism. For these reasons, Iraq is worth fighting for.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a clever tactician, hard working and energetic, but nothing more. His world is woefully confined. He is submerged in his personal hatred and revenge against everything that does not serve his and his coreligionists parochial and narrow interests. Consequently, he lets his passions dictate his decisions in domestic as well as foreign affairs. Clearly, Maliki is not a statesman. However, replacing him with another tactician is not the solution. Iraq needs a statesman who would not sacrifice the nation’s interests for his personal feelings. The decision about Maliki’s future will not be made in Tehran. The man who holds the key is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the highest ranking marja in Iraq and the leader of the Hawza of Najaf.

Yet, Sistani’s position is complicated. Many lesser religious personalities and countless political wannabes are working incessantly to position themselves between the Shias and Sunnis against the state. In this situation, he will have to be simultaneously persuasive and conciliatory, in order to put an end to the bloodshed.

The United States must pursue a principled Iraq policy. Nationwide stability must be restored with the assistance of the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds. Iraq must be held together. The alternative is a national, followed by a regional, and a global tragedy.

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Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi is Vice President of Frontiers of Freedom.