Friday, 6 July 2007

Three-way split the best hope for Iraq?

I've just finished reading Peter W. Galbraith's The End of Iraq. It's an authoritative account, not only of the war and its aftermath, but also of America's relationship with Iraq since the 1980s, by someone who has been associated with the country over a long period and was one of the first to uncover Saddam's genocide against the Kurds. Although Galbraith was not against the war - he describes his gradual realisation that Saddam's murderous regime would only be removed by external force - he is an unsparing critic of the ignorance and incompetence that produced its chaotic aftermath.

When the report of the Iraq Study Group appeared, it was tempting to think that, if only Dubbya had followed the wiser counsels of James Baker and other members of his father's circle, things might have turned out differently. Galbraith's book disabuses us of such thinking, reminding its readers of the appeasement and duplicity that characterised the dealings of Bush senior's adminstration with Iraq and its people, culminating in the betrayal of the Shiite revolt against Saddam following the first Gulf War.

Galbraith's instinctive sympathies lie with the Kurds, with whom he has had the closest association, and the second half of the book is really an extended argument for an independent Kurdistan. Since this is the part of Iraq that has the best hope of developing into a secular, pluralist democracy, it's hard to disagree with him. Galbraith argues that the West should endorse the de facto splitting up of Iraq into three independent states - Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni Arab region in the middle, and a Shiite south - and suggests that this may not be as bad a prospect as many assume.

My main reservation about this argument is that it is tantamount to accepting an authoritarian theocracy in the Shiite area. This may be a 'democratic' outcome, but it means condemning secular Shiites, as well as women and sexual and other minorities, to an oppressive future. Surely true democracy must involve protecting the rights of minorities, rather than simply accepting the rule of an authoritarian majority? (though parts of Kurdistan have not been immune from fundamentalist oppression: see this post.)

Galbraith provides further evidence of how British and American actions following the liberation contributed to the rise of fundamentalist religious parties in the south. As I've noted before, by giving power and resources to these groups the allies were following a communalist policy that was reminiscent of nineteenth-century colonialism. A detailed critique of this betrayal of secular Iraq has still to be written, though Rory Stewart's book about his time as a 'deputy governate administrator' , which I've yet to read, may shed more light.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly (I only read the abridgement in the Guardian) Rory Stewart in his book recounts how he insisted on including the local representatives of the Sadrists into the regional government, against the wishes of other local Iraqis. So there's some reason for thinking the betrayal started with the urge to be "inclusive". Reflection would make one realise that the political order of a free society has to be exclusive of at least some people.