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A Peace of Their Own

U.S. help is welcome, but after the war Iraqis must chart their own course

March 02, 2003|Barham Salih | Barham Salih is prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which governs the eastern sector of Kurdistan.

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq — No one wants a war in Iraq less than the Iraqi people. But we don't have the luxury of being antiwar. For the last 35 years, the Baathist regime has been waging war against Iraqis. We know that there can be no peace without the military liberation of Iraq. The brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime leaves Iraqis and the civilized world with no other option.

And so, not for the first time, a persecuted people is asking for help in dislodging a dictatorship. But we also ask that the U.S. protect and nurture a postwar Iraqi democracy. The U.S.-led campaign must be about more than simply eliminating weapons of mass destruction and forcing a regime change. Rather, the use of force must yield a clear political gain: the foundation of a democratic state that will be at peace with its own people and with the Middle East.

It is too often forgotten that Iraq is the ultimate failed state, the twisted product of British colonialism. From its beginning, the Iraqi state brutalized its Kurdish minority and excluded the Shiite majority. Although uniquely brutal, the present Baath dictatorship is also a symptom of the closely interwoven political and military structures that evolved from the colonial era. With little base of support, Baghdad regularly used force to impose its will.

The transition from the status quo to a democratic state is a process in which the U.S. and the international community will have to play a pivotal role. The U.S.-led coalition will be instrumental in getting rid of dictatorship. And the U.S. military will undoubtedly be central to stabilizing the security environment and offering the Iraqis the space within which they can develop a democratic system.

But peace in postwar Iraq, much less democracy, cannot be established without the full participation of the nation's secular democratic movements and other indigenous political groups, including religious establishments and even tribes. Iraq has a long history of both political and social opposition to the Baath regime, and the regime's diverse opponents will all want to play a role in shaping a postwar Iraq.

A national transitional authority, drawing from these domestic political movements and aided by the U.S.-led coalition and the United Nations, must be quickly put into place. A delay in handing over power to a national authority will play into the hands of undemocratic anti-Western forces, not only in Iraq, but also in the wider Islamic world.

During the transition period, de-Baathification (like de-Nazification in the period following World War II) will be a vitally important, if complicated, undertaking. As a first step, the regime's much-feared security services must be dismantled. The military must be demobilized to facilitate the purging of Baathists and human rights violators, and then restructured to serve the peace and security of the people. The highly centralized Baath structures control the political, economic and social spheres of Iraq and must be dismantled. New decentralized and accountable institutions with proper checks and balances must be set in place.

De-Baathification also means reforming the economy. State control and centralization foster corruption while millions live in poverty. The oil industry needs to be de-monopolized and its revenues devoted to the well-being of the population and the economic revival of the country.

Within the structures that maintain the Baath dictatorship lies a deeper problem. What Iraqis call a Baath mentality permeates the educational system, warps social services and dominates a greatly weakened civil society. A 35-year process of Baathification has inculcated the norms and values that bolster the dictatorship into every nook and cranny of society. The Baath mentality values obedience over initiative, deference to authority over critical thinking, loyalty over ability and violence over conflict resolution.

This Baath mentality will take a while to eradicate, but the process must begin immediately. This will require reforming the educational systems and establishing methods of identifying and rewarding talent, merit, ability, independent thinking and service to the community in newly constructed institutions.

A vigorous truth and reconciliation process must be instituted to begin to heal the wounds and instill a meaningful sense of justice among the people. The top leadership of the Baath party must be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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