By Jakovos Kypri
As Operation Iraqi Freedom rumbles on, the success or failure of Iraq’s post-war transition will depend on whether domestic realities are accurately understood and come to serve as the basis of a legitimate form of governance. Thirty years of Baathist rule and 12 years of international sanctions have led to profound changes in Iraq’s socio-economic, political, and ethnic make-up. Any plan to govern Iraq democratically must rest on these realities. Consequently, this essay/article looks at Iraq’s new and complex realities are likely to pose a challenge to the various models being discussed by the US and the international community.
Iraq’s domestic realities
With the oil boom of the early 1970s the Iraqi regime embarked on a determined program of social engineering. The massive revenue gained from oil enabled the regime to increase the size and number of social groups directly dependent on the state and marginalize those that were not. The main beneficiaries were the minority Sunnis; those to be most affected were the majority Shi’ia, and smaller Assyrian and Kurdish community. The political elite consisted of Saddam Hussein’s extended family and clan; allied tribes; the Ba’ath Party’s senior echelons; and Iraq’s many technocrats and bureaucrats. In order to control these divergent groups Saddam Hussein fostered feelings of mutual suspicion among them. Sheltering them from the effects of sanctions, which in turn guaranteed their loyalty both to him and to the Ba’ath Party.
However, after 12 years of sanctions and economic deprivation Iraqi’s on the verge of liberation, Iraqi’s will invariably demand stability, normalization, economic rehabilitation and national reconstruction. Deprived of property and capital, their sole hope lies in rapid economic and political change that will touch them materially and personally. If they are denied meaningful employment and improved services, and if law and order is insufficiently restored, their capacity for disruption and therefore instability could be significant. Consequently, given the above realities clear steps will be need to be taken to begin the process of redrawing the power balance between these groups and by untangling some of the complex business links which underpin the Baathist regime and power structures which have so far served to prop up Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Evaluating post-war governance models
By virtue of its role in advocating and planning the war, both models under discussion in the US (primarily between the US State Department and Pentagon) suggest that the US will take the lead role in developing and presenting the vision of a post-conflict Iraq. Although the administration has been cautious about detailing its plans, scant information regarding the two models under discussion, point to the following:
The First Model
The first model has the US assuming full responsibility for Iraq’s institutional structures for one to two years. This approach would enable the US to navigate among the competing claims to power and refrain from appointing a government until Iraqis have been enfranchised. This model would also meet one of the key demands of exiled opposition groups such as the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which demand that a process of de-Ba’athification of the second tier of Iraqi military and civilian personnel take place. On primary inspection, this approach would probably guarantee a modicum of stability, safeguard Iraq’s territorial integrity, and begin the process of incorporating more Kurds and Shi’ia into the central government. However, despite this proposal’s obvious merits, it has been roundly criticized by members of the Iraqi opposition and even by some US policy makers who believe that it risks alienating Iraqis by denying them self-determination, exposes Washington to accusations of imperialist designs, and excludes the international community.
The Second Model
The second model has the US handing over power to an as yet undefined Iraqi Interim Authority (IIA) in four to six weeks after war’s end. Within this transitional process General Jay Garner would assume civilian control over the Authority’s activities and be directly answerable to General Tommy Franks, head of Central Command. The IIA would consist of 60-70 members of the external Iraqi opposition and 4-6 representatives from each of Iraq’s 18 provinces. In addition, the IIA would be tasked with forming an executive council consisting of equal numbers of representatives of such groups as the Iraq National Congress (INC), the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).
Despite their traditional divisions, this part of the plan envisages that both exiled and indigenous Iraqi groups and Kurdish organizations will play a key role in trying to forge an internal consensus on the guiding principles for a successor regime. Working under the aegis of the US State Department, the opposition groups, together with independent jurists and scholars, which participated in the March 2002 US sponsored “Future of Iraq” project, will form the mainstay of the IIA. This in effect would be the first step toward a constitutionally enshrined federal system involving the devolution of authority to lower units of government, a system of checks and balances, and extensive political and cultural rights for Iraq’s ethno-linguistic and religious communities.
Of the two models, this model seems the most advanced, not only in its depth and scope but also in its potential to best provide a catalyst for the adoption of federalism in a post Saddam Hussein Iraq.
The role of the international community
Despite the debate underway, it is still unclear what role the UN and EU will have or be allowed to assume. Taking somewhat of a backseat role, European members states have been most vociferous in demanding that the UN play the leading role in reconstructing Iraq and that the EU take the lead in providing the main bulk of funds to help aid reconstruction. However, whilst EU members states will undoubtedly continue to apply pressure on the US to accept a prescribe a greater role for the UN, it is unlikely at this stage that it will play anything more than a tertiary role by helping to implement a food-for-oil program. Individual Middle Eastern states will also want to provide humanitarian assistance and economic aid. Egyptian, Saudi, and Turkish contractors in particular will be keen to bid for contracts.
Democratizing Iraq likely to be long and painful journey
While the post-war reconstruction of Germany and Japan suggests that creating legitimate governance institutions in formerly totalitarian society such as Iraq is not impossible, it also suggest that the process will, even in the best of circumstances, be lengthy, complex, and expensive. No less important, the democratization of Germany and Japan succeeded only because a substantial portion of the international community-the US and its allies-was committed to the project. The lesson for Iraq is clear: the US cannot do it alone.
Jakovos Kypri is a Senior Analyst at the Eurasia Group
This material has been prepared by Lehman Eurasia Group LLC, a joint venture between Eurasia Group Limited and LBI Group Inc., an affiliate of Lehman Brothers Inc. This document is for information purposes only and it should not be construed as investment advice. This information has been obtained from various sources; we do not represent that it is complete or accurate and it should not be relied upon as such. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.