Blunders in Iraq and the birth of ISIS: A way out of extremism
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader and the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS], was created in the Iraqi prison like Camp Bucca under the American occupation. The deep humiliation felt by him and the rest of 18% Sunni population of Iraq, after the exhaustive de-Baathifiction process, disbanding of 300,000 Saddam’s Sunni army, and imprisoning many Sunni leaders, the occupying power flared up hatred and revenge among the group that governed Iraq since the Ottoman Empire. Sensing a power shift in favor of Shia and Kurds orchestrated by America the Sunnis went on the offensive. The ensued inferno of sectarian conflicts – among other factors -destroyed an enormous possibility of a country containing the second largest oil reserve in the world.
It is well known fact exposed by many experts that America’s mishandling of Iraq knows no bounds. It is mind-boggling how the Superpower, that once –after the World War II — rebuilt devastated and defeated enemy countries like Japan and Germany to become world powers, could possibly fail so miserably in Iraq fifty years later after becoming more powerful, more capable and more experienced. Everything that possibly could go wrong did go wrong.
Mr. Bremer, who did not know much about the Middle East, was sent to head the Coalition Provincial Authority [CPA] in 2003, Washington’s shadow government in Iraq. His Executive Order 1 and 2 ignited the sectarian fire all across the land, 4.7 million Iraqi got displaced, hundreds of thousands got killed, enormous destruction of properties and infrastructure, the economy almost came to halt, most of the technocrats and technical people who were supposed to rebuild the country left the country. Within just few years of occupying Iraq, a country that was relatively well-educated and prosperous in the Middle East before, descended into the dark age difficult to fathom.
Much of these could be avoided if some visionary steps were taken such as setting up a power-sharing arrangement among the three ethnic groups:- Shia [60%], Sunni [18%] and Kurds [21%]. Each of these groups with long regional connections is indispensable in keeping Iraq as one nation. If power-sharing arrangements and national reconciliation processes have turned arch enemies into partners in governance in places like South Africa, Kosovo, El Salvador, and now in Afghanistan why it was not tried in Iraq?
These steps, difficult in other times, could be done relatively easy in that primordial period when there was a total power vacuum – except the occupying power [mainly America] – after Saddam was gone and the Iraqi political factors and forces were just beginning to take shape. Almost anything could be done by America without much resistance and difficulty. This is the way America’s occupation created a total shift in direction for Japan and Germany over half a century ago. Some of those steps were not democratic at all, but those were the initiatives that helped turn these societies democratic and successful in the long run. Why America failed to embark on such a Marshall Plan for Iraq?
Extremism does not grow where good governance and stability prevail. Al-Qaeda, Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia and ISIS in Iraq and Syria all originated in utter chaos, turmoil, repression or subjugation of a group, and poor or lack of governance.
In Iraq, under the Shia and Kurdish pressures and the pressures from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who – in order to attain the Shia dominance – played on America’s democratic ideology compelled America to give the premature election in 2005. America complied and the American neo-conservatives who wanted to influence Iraq through Shia rule became happy. Consequently, the constituent assembly that the election produced was over 60% Shia and the constitution the body framed was not acceptable by the Sunnis. Realizing early on that this was a game they would invariably be made to lose Sunnis boycotted the election and went on the offensive. Both Iraqi and American people paid a heavy price for this blunder.
Why America failed to do what it did for El-Salvador in 1992 that is compelling the arch rivals to come together to negotiate terms of power-sharing and peaceful coexistence?
Therefore, a step in the right direction could entail rehabilitating and integrating the Sunnis into the society but taking off and punishing only the top people of the Saddam’s regime. Similar integrating processes were undertaken for the Nazis & Japanese after the World War II and later for South African whites. The integration of Sunnis would have saved Iraq from the horrendously destructive and bloody episodes. America invaded Iraq, it was America’s responsibility to take the right course of actions and rebuild Iraq using a Marshall Plan.
The Muslim world along with others paid a high price for the Western follies for a long time. Through the long Colonial rules and exploitation, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 and the post World War II period in creating the troublesome Middle East, installing puppet governments and consequent repressions during the Cold War, the propagation of neo-imperialism and later globalization the West has done immeasurable injustices and troubles. A vast young generation – 65 to 70% population of the Muslim world is 35 years or younger – is frustrated and angry about what was done to their societies and their gloomy future. The breeding grounds for troubles and extremism surely loom large. In the name of security and national interests, the West has done tremendous disservice to its own people as well. It is long overdue that the Western powers in general and America in particular should now be seen as part of the solutions and not part of the problems. After causing all these misdeeds, now conveniently, they cannot excuse themselves on grounds of so called ‘others’internal affairs’.
The West has a great leverage that it can use to compel many countries that are undemocratic and even repressive to go for inclusive politics and power-sharing arrangements. In order to defeat extremism there is no other alternative but good governance. In this global society there is increasing awareness of human rights and dignity, it is counterproductive to marginalize any group or leave them out of a political system.
No matter how wrong and oppressive a group was in the past, a substantial part of that always can be reclaimed and integrated into the rest of the society with a visionary process. In doing so a win-win state of affairs ensue and the society becomes victorious. South Africa after the Apartheid period, Europe after the World War II, America after the Civil War in 1864, and many other examples in history remain testament to that truth. Troubles ensue when these groups – the menaces of the past – are rejected and cornered.
One does not need reconciliation where there were no serious disagreements and difficult past. Nelson Mandela realized that seeing the consequences of Zimbabwe’s failure to integrate. Right after he got out of the prison in 1994 he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through which he punished only handful perpetrators but the rest were integrated into the society. This process of integration helped South Africa to become the ‘rainbow’ nation that it is now and triple its GDP within twenty years. On the other hand Sri Lanka and Nepal were on the right tracks but now they seem to stumble because they still fail to incorporate power-sharing system completely. On the other hand Tunisia is becoming a success story in our time by marginalizing the lurking extremism through inclusive politics and power-sharing via proportional representation. A lion’s share of the credit goes to the visionary leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi.
As for Iraq, America in collaboration with the international community still can exert enough pressures to help bring about inclusive politics and power-sharing arrangements.
One way the inter-dependency could be achieved is by setting two legislatures, the lower house elected on the basis of universal suffrage and the upper one consisting of equal number of elected members from each group and striking a balance between the two houses under a presidential form of government. Furthermore all important posts including that of the President, the Supreme Court judges, army heads, etc. assigned to leaders from each of these three groups on a rotating basis or some other preset formula as was done in Lebanon in the past. Striking a delicate balance between the national and provincial governments also is an imperative. The army should be the army consisting of all three groups with specific quota assigned to each group to ensure inclusiveness. Only then groups like ISIS can be subdued and transformed. Similar solutions go for Nigeria and Somalia as well.