Iraq: Making Ethnic Peace After Saddam
(Reviewed March 5, 2003)
A Conversation with Kanan Makiya and Patrick Clawson
In a seminar session on January 15, 2003, two experts on Iraq spoke about the prevention of ethnic conflict after the expected elimination of Saddam Hussein’s regime through military action. Brandeis professor Kanan Makiya is a leader of the Iraqi opposition, and Patric Clawson is deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. What follows is an edited version of their remarks and the subsequent general discussion, moderated by Center fellow Timothy Samuel Shah. The seminar was part of the Center’s project on Ethnic Partition and U.S. Foreign Policy.
Timothy Shah: Kanan Makiya is a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Brandeis University. Born in Baghdad, he left Iraq to study architecture at MIT and later joined Makiya Associates to design and build projects in the Middle East. He left the practice of architecture to write Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, originally published in 1989 under a pseudonym. Among his other books is Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World (1993). Dr. Makiya was one of a small group of Iraqi dissidents who met with President Bush on January 10 to talk about a post-Saddam Iraq.
As a way of entry into this topic, I will mention a deibate now raging in the Arabic press coming out of London. The debate started with an extraordinary personal attack on me by Edward Said of Columbia University, which was published in the Arabic daily al-Hayat on December 3, 2002. Mr. Said and I have not crossed swords in public for at least eight years, so what on earth could have occasioned this attack?
Reading between the lines—because most of it is personal and utterly beside the point—I surmise that he has taken great offense at two ideas I first proposed in public last October. The two points were later included in "Transition to Democracy in Iraq," a document submitted to the London conference of the Iraqi opposition in December. These ideas concern the reshaping of the future state of Iraq on a non-ethnic and federal basis, ideas that I argued necessarily implied that this future Iraqi state would have to be a "non-Arab state." Mr. Said views this as a fantasy of the U.S. State Department, whose stooge I am supposed to be, beavering away in some basement office in the State Department building, as he so colorfully puts it.
Would that any of that were even half-true. In fact, the U.S. State Department has labored hard to distance itself from me and the whole "Transition to Democracy" report, and individual officials did everything they possibly could to undermine that report during the recent London conference. Mr. Said’s comments stirred up a hornet’s nest of anger amongst Iraqis who quite correctly read his article as an attack on them and their opposition to the current regime in Baghdad. Their replies are appearing virtually every other day in one form or another in Hayat, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, and other Arabic newspapers.
Unlike Said’s diatribe, the debate that has ensued is clearly focused on substantive questions: ethnicity and the kind of federalism that might or might not work in post-Saddam Iraq. One of the best contributions critical of my position was by a Lebanese writer, Hassan Mneimneh, who asks in the December 29 issue of Hayat: Why even begin, as Iraqi oppositionists tend to do, by assuming that a federal system is the best solution to the problems of the Iraqi state? After all, he says, there are other ways to decentralize, and each time that a formally centralized state has attempted to make the transition to a federal system (the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, perhaps Czechoslovakia), the experiment has clearly failed. Federalism works best, he argues, when it is a matter of uniting already constituted fragments into a larger entity (the United States, Switzerland, perhaps even the United Arab Emirates), not when it is a matter of disaggregating an already constituted entity.
Now there is a great deal in Mneimneh’s argument. The case he has marshaled constitutes the most serious challenge to the idea of federalism as applied to Iraq since the Kurdish parliament first adopted the idea in 1992, followed very shortly thereafter by the Iraqi National Congress at its very important meeting in Salaheddin in northern Iraq. Since that seminal year, Iraqis in opposition have simply taken it for granted that the future post-Ba’ath state would be "federal" in some sense or another. Many people aren’t sure exactly what "federalism" means. Nonetheless, the idea is commonly accepted in the opposition’s political parlance—and that represents a major departure from Arab politics in general.
Mneimneh correctly points out a number of ways in which a federalist approach to the problems of Iraq might fail. I would perhaps go even further than he has to say that there is really only one very powerful argument for trying to tailor the idea of federalism to Iraqi conditions in the post-Saddam period: to keep the Kurdish people inside Iraq as Iraqis and not as a people who, because of their particular history, are forever straining to separate and establish their own state. If I am wrong in this assessment—if it turns out, for instance, in a national referendum during the transition period that the Kurdish people are not particularly anxious to separate, and that the whole issue of federalism is a kind of nationalist power-grab by Kurdish political parties—then the case for federalism folds, it seems to me.
Somehow, I do not think that a referendum among Kurds will produce such surprising results. Federalism has profound implications for all Iraqis, of course, but it is an idea driven originally by the whole Kurdish experience in Iraq. No doubt it has been and will continue to be exploited for all sorts of crass political purposes; yet I suspect that on some fundamental level it genuinely corresponds to how most Kurds wish to resolve the dilemma of their political identity in a future Iraq.
In the report "Transition to Democracy in Iraq," federalism is placed at the center of a new, complete vision of the future Iraqi state. This is the paragraph that best sums it up:
Federalism is the thin end of the wedge of democracy in Iraq. It is the first step towards a state system, resting on the principle that the rights of the part or the minority should never be sacrificed to the will of the majority. The fundamental principle of human rights is that the rights of the part, be that part defined as a single individual or a whole collectivity of individuals who speak another language and have their own culture, are inviolable by the state. Federalism is about the rights of those collective parts of the mosaic that is Iraqi society. Majority rule is not the essence of a federal democracy; minority rights, or the rights of the part, including ultimately individual human rights, are.
Now just what is this thing that we Iraqis seek to reimagine today? There are those who see Iraq as nothing more than a peculiarly shaped piece of geography cobbled together by the great powers a century or so ago. I disagree. Iraq is an idea with the potential to uplift us, to impel us forward politically. The problem is to rediscover that idea. The seeds of it lived among the men and women of my father’s generation—and mine was the generation that did away with that. We who believed in great all-embracing ideologies of one sort or another—nationalism, socialism, Marxism, more recently political Islamism—were the ones who so gravely damaged or tarnished the centrality of the idea of Iraq during the 1960s and ‘70s. These great ideologies planted the seeds of the exclusionary spirit that still haunts and inhabits many parts of the Iraqi opposition.
Towering above all these pernicious "isms" and their destructiveness are various forms of ethnic nationalism and religious sectarianism—pioneered at the hands of the Ba’ath, to be sure, but reasserted more recently in the mirror reflections of that Arab nationalist ideology, reflections that take the shape today of Kurdish, Turkmen, and Assyrian nationalisms. This kind of nationalism, not patriotism, is the great scourge of the Middle East. If we let it set the agenda of a new federal Iraq, then indeed Mneimneh’s fears and worries could prove right, and we could see an even darker page in the country’s history than the one that has preceded it. For federalism to work in Iraq, it seems to me, it must build on what I called in a recent article in al-Hayat the "Iraqiness" of Iraq. Love of Iraq as a whole entity needs to be elevated politically over all forms of identity politics.
From these considerations flow the following observations about federalism in Iraq. First, it seems to me that no Iraqi should ever again think of using force to keep the Kurds inside Iraq. That method was tried and carried to the ultimate extreme of genocide in Hussein’s Anfal operations in 1988. Yet it failed. Political persuasion is the only alternative to force. If the Kurds cannot be persuaded, if they have adopted federalism not because they really want it but because the regional situation does not allow them to have their own separate state carved out of northern Iraq, then so be it. I for one will support them in this separatist venture, however unwise I may think it to be even from the point of view of Kurdish self-interest.
Second, it seems to me that no federal system can be built in Iraq on the basis of accepting the de facto situation in Iraqi Kurdistan today. The current boundaries created by the arbitrary designation of the safehaven areas in 1991, and the balance-of-power arrangements between the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party), the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), and the Iraqi regime, must be reconsidered on a rational and strictly administrative basis with the explicit intention of not consecrating ethnicity as the basis for territorial divisions.
Third, the Kurdish militias, or peshmerga, must be persuaded to disarm themselves during the transitional period, as part of the whole internal security package of the new Iraqi state. Disarmament must be accomplished by the Kurdish organizations themselves. Otherwise there is a real danger that the Americans or the Turks will do it by force, and that will be a catastrophe for Iraq. Certainly I do not think that any Arab Iraqis should be involved in this, given the terrible history of Kurdish suffering at the hands of Saddam.
The fourth important consideration for federalism in Iraq is that law and order in a future federal state must involve local agencies at the regional level—and in regions dominated by Kurds, these will no doubt be overwhelmingly Kurdish—with a single all-powerful, all-Iraqi federal policing agency empowered to act inside the regions in pursuit of constitutionally proscribed criminal activity.
Fifth, a future federal system must be based on completely open borders, with no border control points. There must be total freedom of movement for people and capital between regions. The various regional parliaments should not have the authority to pass any laws obstructing individual ownership or the movement of capital and people across regional boundaries.
These are, it seems to me, the minimum ground rules for making federalism work in Iraq. And I know that many individual Kurds support them. Some of the major organizations do not, and others are wavering. We have spelled out many other details in the "Transition to Democracy" document, which I submit to you as so far the only thought out—if incomplete—plan for a future Iraqi state.
What is sorely missing at the moment is a dialogue between the Kurdish professionals who at the behest of their parties drew up the draft constitution for a federal Iraq constituted along ethnic lines, and the authors of the "Transition to Democracy" document, who reject such an approach. I have been in discussion with Kurdish leaders about such a dialogue and intend to initiate it at the forthcoming conference of the Iraqi opposition in northern Iraq. Such a dialogue could go a long way toward the development of an all-Iraqi position on this thorny issue of federalism.
Timothy Shah: Thank you, Dr. Makiya. Speaking next is Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-convener of the study group that in 2001 issued the report Navigating Through Turbulence: America and the Middle East in a New Century. Dr. Clawson edited the recent volume How to Build a New Iraq After Saddam. He is also senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.
Kanan Makiya has addressed the issues of federalism with respect to Iraqi domestic politics with great skill and insight. Now I want to talk about how some of these issues look to Iraq’s neighbors and to the United States, and why there is strong support for federalism but lack of clarity about what that concept means.
Let me begin with the pervasive fear throughout the Middle East that we are approaching another moment like that at the end of World War I, a moment when the map of the Middle East is going to be redrawn. The phrase "Sykes-Picot" keeps popping up; there is fear that, as in the secret 1916 agreement between Britain and France for dismembering the Ottoman Empire, outside powers are engaging in some secret plan for redrawing the map. The concern is as much about redrawing the political map as it is about redrawing the geographic boundaries of the states. But there is a powerful sense that there are plans to completely transform the region, and that these plans will be as unsuccessful as the Sykes-Picot agreement, nicely summarized by one author as "the peace to end all peace."
In particular we see a situation in which each of the six neighbors of Iraq fears the others will gain influence at its expense. For instance, the Saudis are petrified that this new Iraq may in fact be a democratic Iraq in which the Shi’a community has such a large voice that Iran, which is run by Shi’ite clerics, will be able to have great influence within Iraq. They also fear that it would set a bad example for the Saudi Shi’a community, which has few political rights. The Turks, too, fear that Iran would have considerable influence. And Iran is not much happier about the idea of strong autonomy for a Kurdish region—after all, Iran itself is 40 percent non-Persian. Indeed, most of Iraq’s Arab neighbors are pretty artificial countries. Saudi Arabia is a union of three regions that historically had little to do with one another. Syria is not much more of a natural country.
There are powerful reasons why we should all be interested in seeing a federal state in Iraq, and why that goal has become a mantra adopted by the United States. But that Iraqi federal state, I would hope, will include not one Kurdish region but several. Ideally, to my mind, the eighteen provinces of Iraq should all have the same degree of autonomy; there should not be some special status for the Kurdish region. That would help with several issues. One is that in oil-rich countries like Iraq, the oil revenues come like manna from heaven to the central government; there are essentially no constraints upon the government’s use of this money, because the citizens themselves do not pay taxes to produce it. All too often the government decides to spend vast sums on military weapons, which they can use to destabilize their region. If instead the oil revenue were distributed to the provinces, it would stand a much better chance of being used for such things as education and health and economic development. A province is not likely to seek nuclear weapons on its own.
A provincial-level federalism would be useful, then, to combat the natural trend in a country like Iraq toward an overly centralized state run by a powerful autocrat, and to reduce the dynamic seen in the OPEC countries of everybody wanting to control the central government in order to have the oil money, thus stifling civil society.
Furthermore, a provincial-level federalism makes sense for reducing the problems of the minorities in the Kurdish region. This region is not simply Kurdish. In the last reliable Iraqi census that asked questions about ethnicity, the census of 1958, more than a third of the inhabitants of the Kurdish areas identified themselves as non-Kurd. There is a significant minority of Assyrians, Chaldeans, and other Christian groups, but a larger issue is the Turkmen population. In that 1958 census, the Turkmen were 9 percent of the population of Iraq. Since the Turkmen are, for all intents and purposes, leftovers from the Ottoman days and are basically Turkish both ethnically and linguistically, the Turkish government feels very attached to them and finds it politically convenient to exaggerate the attachment. This is going to be an issue. After years of suppression of Turkish identity, even more than suppression of Kurdish identity, undoubtedly the percentage of people in Iraq who regard themselves as Turkmen has decreased. And I tend to doubt that the Turkish government is correct in its insistence that Kirkuk remains a majority Turkmen city. Yet dealing with the issue of the Turkmen minority and other minorities in the Kurdish areas will be very difficult.
Another big problem is that of the internally displaced people. Iraq has probably 3 million internally displaced people out of a population of 22 million resident Iraqis and 3 million outside the country. Many of those internally displaced people are Kurds who had to flee from areas controlled by Baghdad or face forced Arabization. They are going to want to return home—to homes that were purchased and are now inhabited by other people. This will be a source of great difficulty.
Whether or not the internally displaced people return to their homes, there are going to be significant Kurdish minorities outside the Kurdish region. Probably at least a million Kurds will remain outside any Kurdish provinces or Kurdistan that could be created. There has to be some way of guarding minority rights. Moreover, establishing a single Kurdish autonomous region would be asking for trouble, because that region would consider itself the voice of the Kurds, no matter what was said about geographical definition. It might try to assert itself as the voice of the Kurds who live outside this region as well. And protecting the rights of the large minorities within the region would very likely be difficult.
And by the way, the Kurds themselves are divided! We are talking about a people who fought a civil war among themselves in the mid-1990s. The reality is that there isn’t a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq at present—there are two, one controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the other controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). It makes much more sense, therefore, to do some minor adjustments in provincial boundaries to recognize this reality. I think there should be three provinces: the PUK province, an enlarged KDP province (which used to be two), and the Kirkuk province, where there would be a great mélange of people—including almost all of the Turkmen, Chaldeans, a fair chunk of the Assyrians, a significant Kurdish minority, and some Arabs as well. It would be much easier to deal with the problem of Kirkuk if there were several different ethnic groups there, all roughly the same size, so that ethnicity would not become the basis of politics in that province.
To create a Kurdish autonomous region would also create problems in the rest of Iraq, because there would then be a particularly difficult balance between the Sunni and Shi’a communities. The biggest minority problem in the future Iraq, I would argue, will be not the Kurdish problem, for which the solution is relatively envisionable, but the Sunni problem. The Sunni Arab minority, which is no more than 20 or 25 percent of the population, has historically dominated Iraqi politics, business and trade, the army, the media, and the universities. The Sunnis of course assume it’s natural for them to have this disproportionate share. Not just Edward Said but every Arab intellectual and every Arab government is going to be extraordinarily suspicious of anything that reduces the role of the Sunnis.
Indeed, I don’t know of any Arab government that wants to see democracy in Iraq. Why? Because they don’t want to see the Shi’as have a role proportionate to their share in the population. And if the issue becomes an issue of Sunni versus Shi’a, the Shi’a community will have major internal problems. It is overwhelmingly a community that is somewhat secular, and it is certainly not well represented by the rather pathetic religious leaders who are left after twenty years of Saddam’s aggression. For these Shi’a religious leaders to be called upon to represent the community would be disastrous.
Timothy Shah: Thank you, Dr. Clawson. There is obviously a great deal to discuss, and I now invite everyone else to join the conversation. [All participants will be identified at the end.]
Chaim Kaufmann: I wonder whether the fears all over the Persian Gulf region that what’s in store for them will be as bad as Sykes-Picot or worse might not in fact be perfectly justified. Whether, as you say, it’s in terms of explicit line-drawing on maps or other interference, we have Bush administration officials saying that after we execute regime change in Iraq we will have tremendous new leverage on the internal politics of Iran, Saudi Arabia, even Syria. The administration’s favorite right-wing friends outside are saying exactly the same thing, only in more florid terms. Why shouldn’t people in the region be afraid?
Patrick Clawson: Overwhelmingly, what those "right-wing" people are saying is that after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, they are optimistic that there is going to be a wave of democracy in the region. It’s a fascinating situation: the voices of the rabid Republican conservative movement are the ones talking about how good it is to see democracy, to see people empowered, to see minorities being able to express themselves, to see civil society freed, to see more respect for a free press. Meanwhile many people in the left wing are saying, "Come on, it’s unrealistic to expect that people want that, and it would be inappropriate if it came, because it would mean instability in the region."
But I think the people of Iraq themselves are interested in democracy and are going to be able to do better. Earlier today I was chairing a talk at our institute by Shafeeq Ghabra, a prominent Kuwaiti who runs a think tank at Kuwait University. He spoke eloquently about how the forces of democracy and liberalization will be unleashed—particularly in the Persian Gulf but throughout the Arab world as well—once Saddam is gone and Iraq becomes a force for good in the region. I don’t quite understand how that has come to be seen as a right-wing Republican idea. And if I were active in the Democratic Party I would be worried about the way these political lines seem to be drawn. I go on radio talk shows repeatedly defending the idea that democracy is good for the people in the Middle East, and people who call in to NPR shows like "Talk of the Nation" seem to regard me as some rabid conservative ideologue for such views.
Chaim Kaufmann: I think a lot of the answer has to do with people’s expectations about how much additional direct American intervention there will be in other countries’ domestic politics.
Patrick Clawson: This administration has made it extremely clear that the kind of direct intervention it is thinking of is along the lines of what we did in the 1980s in Eastern Europe. It is the "City on the Hill" idea—holding up the example. It’s the encouragement of liberal and democratic ideals and values. This is going to be great for the National Endowment for Democracy and other such things that we don’t usually associate with the Republican Party. So here we find Republicans who are enthusiastic about spreading the message of the glories of democracy to the rest of world. If I were a liberal Democrat, I would be outraged at how they have taken over my agenda.
Kanan Makiya: My own experience confirms this very same phenomenon, over and over again. People who are supporting Iraqi democrats today, who are pushing the boundaries on this question, are coming from the new conservative right in this country. In Arab politics, you get lambasted for that, but I welcome it. And liberals from the very sort of circles that I came from talk about democracy in the Middle East or about structural change in Iraq as something they are afraid of. I’ve even heard them worry about destabilizing Saudi Arabia! Why anybody would think that the current order in the Arab world is something to be preserved is an utterly amazing thing for me. But that’s in fact what is going on.
Ashutosh Varshney: A few years ago Columbia professor Alfred Stepan wrote an article on federalism in the Journal of Democracy ["Federalism and Democracy: Beyond the U.S. Model," October 1999], and the political-science profession is increasingly accepting the distinction he draws between a "coming together" federalism and a "holding together" federalism. The difference is that existing units constitute a center in the "coming together" federalism, while in the "holding together" type, a center or constitution exists that creates the units. American federalism is the "coming together" type, and it turns out to be the exception; most federations in the world are of the "holding together" type. I don’t know which particular model Iraq would head towards, but the logic of the two is quite different.
Kanan Makiya: I was not aware of that article, but I will certainly look it up. I think Iraq will have to be very much a "holding together" federation if it is going to work.
Patrick Clawson: However, it would be a peculiar type of "holding together" federation. There’s a bizarre situation at the moment: the critics of Kurdish autonomy are saying, "Oh my goodness, don’t go to war, because who knows what that could do for the Kurds," but there has been de facto Kurdish independence for the last twelve years. It is extremely difficult for Kurdish authorities to keep student radicals from trying to assert Kurdish independence. Michael Rubin, who taught for a year at Kurdish universities, has some wonderful examples of this—for example, the students going on strike when university authorities insisted on raising the Iraqi flag above the Kurdish flag. Or the regular fights that go on when Kurdish authorities insist that everybody get Iraqi drivers’ licenses. So it is the Kurdish authority that is insisting on holding the state together against these radicals. The Kurds don’t have to use Iraqi textbooks, but they do. I think a future Iraqi federation would be an intriguing mixed case of "holding together" and "coming together" federalism.
Kanan Makiya: The Kurdish idea of federalism, at least as developed in a draft constitution that the KDP put forward, is very much one of accepting the de facto situation and simply calling it federalism. It’s not really the result of thinking through the concept of federalism. It virtually creates a separate state within a larger framework of the state. We are trying to bring or pull the Kurds into another idea of federalism, because their idea of it—partly for the reasons Patrick went into concerning the regional situation and the Iraqi situation —is not going to work. I don’t think we can construct a workable Iraq on that basis.
Claudia Winkler: Dr. Makiya, do you favor using the provinces as the components of a federalist system? If not, what other units would you use?
Kanan Makiya: Like Patrick, I would very much like to start with the existing eighteen provinces and not mess around with the current boundaries during the transitional period, and then conduct detailed discussions with the various parties to see if minor adjustments could be made. However, amongst Iraqis there is a sudden rush to draw maps. We in the Iraqi opposition group decided to put all such map-drawing projects aside and concentrate on the idea that, at least during the transitional period, we would work with the existing provinces.
Having one Kurdish region would be a big mistake, because that would inevitably lead toward a notion that Iraq is a tripartite state. But having several Kurdish regions, several Sunni regions, and several Shi’a regions could result in a complex interplay. Local and national politics would be very, very interesting.
Patrick Clawson: Sometimes provinces or states are used to provide a balance among ethnic groups so that you can have, for instance, a bicameral legislature. Iraq in fact had this during the monarchy, with representatives of the provinces directly elected. But I don’t see how that can be used to solve the problem of the preeminent role of Shi’ites in the country. It is very hard to come up with a set of provincial boundaries that don’t leave a majority of the provinces with a Shi’a majority. And since the Sunnis are also worried about some sort of a Shi’a-Kurdish combination, decreasing the number of Shi’a-majority provinces might not get you very far anyway.
My point is that I don’t think you can resolve Sunni concerns by creating a bicameral legislature with representation of the provinces in one place. Personally, I think there is a lesson to be learned from the Nigerian election rules, which require that in order to be represented in parliament, a party has to pass a certain threshold of votes in each province.
Radwan Masmoudi: Both of you were perplexed that neoconservatives and right-wing conservatives are promoting democracy in Iraq and in the Arab world. The majority of Arabs and Muslims are even more skeptical that America is all of a sudden interested in promoting democracy
in an Arab country. They don’t believe it. They say that the real reasons are oil and Israel and that we are not going to see democracy through in Iraq. In the end, they say, we will end up with another dictator in Iraq, which I think would be a major setback for peace and democracy in the region. So that’s the real fear that people in the Arab world and the Muslim world have about the invasion of Iraq.
I have two questions. First, how real is the concern that Israel will get involved in this war, either militarily against Iraq or by using the war to displace large numbers of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza? Second, Saddam is obviously a dictator and not popular in Iraq, but he is trying to rally support against a foreign invasion. Arabs and Muslims tend to unite when there is a fear of a foreign invasion. How real is the risk that Saddam would succeed in rallying support among Iraqis and other Arabs in fighting the invaders?
Kanan Makiya: I don’t think he could get very far with this. Remember the precedent here: 1991, when a much larger force gathered and everybody talked of the Arab states rising up from one end of the Arab world to the other. Now Saddam has been discredited in the Arab world far more than he was back then. He is recognized to be a brutal ruler. Also, his army is a fraction of the size it was then. As I told President Bush, I think the American army will be welcomed with sweets and flowers when they first go in there. The possibility, then, of the Arab world rallying around Saddam is very, very remote.
As for Israel: there is simply no military need for Israel to get involved in the war, and the United States does not want it involved.
It could very well be that the prodemocracy forces in the Bush administration won’t win. There is a division inside the U.S. government over how far you go in democratizing Iraq. Also, from my point of view, the Bush administration isn’t emphasizing enough the importance of working with and cultivating an Iraqi partner. That means there isn’t going to be a pole for disaffected Iraqi troops to rally around. An Iraqi partner could work on undermining whatever fighting spirit may exist inside Iraq, which I think will be very low. All sorts of things could be done if greater attention were paid to cultivating an Iraqi partner, especially if the goal is democracy and not something else.
So we are still a long way from seeing democracy actually happening. I think it is important to say that. Nonetheless, there has been a real change in U.S. foreign policy.
Patrick Clawson: On the point about people in the Middle East being suspicious of U.S. intentions: they have every reason to be, because for a long time we have worked with friendly tyrants in the Middle East, a number of whom are very good at being our friends and at portraying democratic forces as hostile to us.
I wish I were as optimistic as Kanan about how this debate is going to come out. I think it’s raging within the American body politic. And that’s why I think it is particularly unfortunate that people who should be allies in promoting democracy in the Middle East—in seeing democracy gain the same importance there that it has achieved in Latin America and other places—are abandoning it. I’m very disappointed when I go to websites of the people who are bringing all those anti-war protestors to Washington. I challenge you to find any discussion there about democracy in Iraq, much less in the rest of the Middle East.
David Fabrycky: I have two questions. First, I know that Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan caused quite a stir by participating in the London conference of the Iraqi opposition last July, and I’m wondering whether either of you, following the Afghan model, sees any usefulness for symbols such as the Hashemite monarchy in post-Saddam Iraq. Second, a lot of commentators say the Iraqi opposition really doesn’t have a lot of internal legitimacy in Iraq. If this is so, what forces within the country today could provide the political will for a unified Iraq after Saddam?
Kanan Makiya: I don’t think there will be much support for a return to the monarchy in Iraq. I know some people argue for it, but my instincts say the prospect doesn’t have much popular support. Certainly, those of us who are involved in the transition document are taking the position that we ought to leave these questions open even during the constitutional period itself so that the monarchists have a chance to fight it out electorally. If it turns out that I am wrong and there is strong sentiment for the monarchy, then maybe the Crown Prince would be a very serious contender.
Your other question was about the Iraqi opposition abroad, whether it enjoys legitimacy within Iraq itself. I think there is a serious myth afloat in parts of the Bush administration that there is something called the authentic opposition that is inside the country and something inauthentic that is supposedly outside. One reason why not enough attention has been paid to the Iraqi opposition that already exists outside Iraq is the belief that inside Iraq there are all these forces that we are going to be able to work with tomorrow. But when you consider the fact that the only kind of politics possible inside Iraq for the better part of twenty years has been either Ba’athist politics or conspiracy-against-the-Ba’athists politics, you realize that there is not a lot there to work with on the day after.
Jay Tolson: Professor Makiya, what are the odds that some kind of consensus will develop among the opposition elements on this issue of a non-ethnic federalism as the road map for Iraq’s future? And how important is it that there be some kind of consensus before the possible coming conflict occurs—precisely because of the grim prospect of the peshmerga moving into Kirkuk or the 400 Arabized villages in the Kurdish area and establishing on the ground a reality that the United States and others might then have to alter?
Kanan Makiya: Although there are no signs of it yet, I am hoping that the United States will have thought through these questions before it enters Iraq. What we don’t want is a situation in which it enters only part of Iraq and leaves northern Iraq alone, further consecrating that division. This is a problem that needs to be thought about now. Our document, "Transition to Democracy in Iraq," started the process.
Patrick Clawson: The U.S. government’s Plan A is to put thousands of U.S. and British ground troops in Turkey so that we would have a large interventionary force. It’s not clear that Plan A is going to work. If it doesn’t, we’ll need to come up with Plan B fast. My Plan B would be to work closely with the peshmerga to give them something to do. Otherwise their impulse would be to find something to do, and what they would want to do is exactly what Jay mentioned: go into the Arabized villages and go into Kirkuk.
Kanan Makiya, Brandeis University; Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Timothy Samuel Shah, Ethics and Public Policy Center; David Fabrycky, Department of Defense; Chaim Kaufmann, Lehigh University; Radwan Masmoudi, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy; Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report; Ashutosh Varshney, University of Michigan; and Claudia Winkler, The Weekly Standard.