Iraq: Where It's All Heading

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October 31, 2006: Since shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, some critics of the operation have suggested handing control of the country back to Saddam Hussein and his cronies, since it was obvious that only a ruthless dictator could rule such a lawless place. Iraqis have, since then, shown a fearful lack of what Westerners take for granted; respect for law and order. In Iraq, this expresses itself in numerous ways. First, there is the proliferation of guns. Every household is allowed, by law, to have one automatic weapon. Second, there is the readiness to use those guns, by criminals, terrorists, police and soldiers. Even ordinary citizens will take out their rifles and fire them into the air to celebrate. Hundreds of Iraqis are killed or injured each year when those bullets return to earth.

Then there is the corruption. The bribe, favor or threat is considered above the law. That's a very important difference, and has long been noted in the region. This is why all of the nations in the region, except Israel (which is considered a foreign disease) is run by dictatorships or monarchies, where the law is whatever the guy-in-charge says it is. It's not that Iraqis, or their neighbors, prefer this kind of leadership, it's just that they have not reached a point where enough people in a country have decided that democracy and "civil society" is superior to the old ways.

In the West, it's been over a century since most people accepted the rule of law and democracy. Political scientists, historians and economists agree that this combination has also played a major role in creating the booming economies and all that wealth. But in the Middle East, anyone who wants those goodies, moves to the West. Trying to change minds in the Middle East is too dangerous. The old ways have too many fans, usually heavily armed fans with short tempers.

But there are an increasing number of Middle Easterners who want to try democracy and rule of law. Many of them live in Iraq. They resent Western suggestions that only dictatorship works in the Middle East, or that it's futile to try and establish democracy in the region. Until September, 2001, that was an attitude much respected (if not much talked about publicly) in the West. The dictators were supported, because these thugs kept things under control. But then came the increasing attacks on Westerners by Islamic terrorists. Many Westerners now demanded something more than "police efforts" be directed at the Middle Eastern situation. That led to the invasion of Iraq, which brought down one of the worst dictators in the region, and presented Iraqis with the option to try democracy. Many have accepted the offer, but a large minority, mainly composed of the deposed Sunni Arabs, have not.

The resulting three years of violence has caused a split in the West, with some insisting that Iraqis are not capable of democracy, and that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was a mistake. Too late for that, but is it too late for democracy in Iraq? No one knows for sure. But this is not the first time democracy has been "imposed" in the Middle East, or Iraq for that matter. When the British and French liberated the region from Turkish rule 80 years ago, they left behind democracies. Some were constitutional monarchies, as in Iraq. All of the democracies soon fell under the rule of dictators of one type or another (president-for-life or, as in Iraq, a military junta.) The Iraqis are well aware of their track record when it comes to democracy, more so than all the critics, pundits and talking heads in the West. Most Iraqis say they want democracy, and many have died supporting their beliefs. But there are still many Iraqis who prefer a dictator, a "strong man," and the corrupt old ways. This is another battle going on that rarely makes the headlines. But this is the battle that matters most. Ending the violence in Iraq is less of a problem than is establishing rule of law and working democracy. It could all end up as a Shia dictatorship, with an autonomous Kurdish region controlling the northern oil fields. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs would be screwed. But there are plenty of screwed Sunni Arabs in the Middle East, so why would a few million more matter?

 

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