- Pages: 42
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- Category: Iraq
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Post-War Iraq Scenario: An Introduction
The people of Iraq are not happy over the war and are daily demonstrating against their “liberators”. The number of violent incidents is constantly increasing, and the number of deaths constantly rises. The American soldiers were led to believe that they would be welcomed as liberators, but instead they are confronted with an angry and resentful population who wish them to leave. They live in constant dread of snipers and suicide bombers and are inclined to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. This is a finished recipe for massacres and atrocities. The end result will be to fuel the flames of hatred against the invaders and encourage the development of armed resistance. This has already begun. It can go on for years.
With the ouster of Saddam Hussein, then, Bush and Rummy generate visions of the post-war regime. However, contrasting Afghanistan, there are more trenches and hurdles and more opinions. Reconstruction is about aid to those devastated by the conflict. Nevertheless it is also about more business to the reconstructors and strategic influence. Moreover reconstruction is big money, particularly where an entire oil industry needs a major renovation and not just reconstruction. Given that this is so, the US at least has hard headed horse-sense on its side when it says it wants the major role in the process. War is costly business and money should not go waste.
On the other hand, political reconstruction is a dangerous and dangerous task, particularly in the Middle East. A friendly regime in Iraq would be just the thing the US is looking for in a region where anti-US sentiments run high and where other friends, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seem to be getting more uncertain by the day. Besides, there is the Palestinian question and Iran, the second altar in the President’s axis of evil. However the program of regime change is burdened with more problems. Iraq, new to democratic institutions, cannot make a swift and sudden turn. Moreover the sudden demise of an iron-fisted military regime has left in Iraq, a power vacuum that cannot be nationally filled. In other words, the political future of the Iraqis, short of having a country, is highly vague except, perhaps, to the Americans. The US wants to bring in exiled elites, like it did in Afghanistan, although it is doubtful that such elites would exercise any degree of real power over a population they have hardly ever been in touch it. The possibility that many Saddam loyalists would survive the coalition coup must give cause for terrible concern.
One consequence of political “freedom” is the “freedom” to differ and oppose the government and it does not look like any new Iraqi regime would cope with opposition in a different way than Saddam did. Even more, it does not help the war-cause to have a political opposition for quite some time to come. The only practical and politically stable system for Iraq would have been a multi-party democracy and the immediate logical step for that would have been an interim constitution. The US could have stayed on until an Iraqi government was working and aided the transition to a democratic system. Nevertheless, democracy is dangerous. It creates rich ground for breeding anti-US sentiments. It is also costly. This is in particular why there may not be any real democracy in Iraq in the years to come.
With both Saudi Arabia and Turkey refusing to allow US attacks from their soil in the present war, the US might well like to build and keep military bases in Iraq for West Asian operations. In addition, Iraq without Saddam would require the containment of Iran. The Iranians are well capable of hosting a coup in Baghdad and installing an Iraqi Shiite regime. Moreover, Syria’s continued demand on reclaiming the Golan Heights remains a problem and a threat to Israel. With Turkey only too willing to cut off Kurdish territory, the situation in the North is highly unstable.
The other side to the political process in post-war Iraq is the Kurdish question. There are large Kurdish populations in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and it is recognized that all these countries are opposed to the securing of a separate Kurdish state in Iraq. Nevertheless, the Kurds have been aiding the coalition forces and would surely expect some political power out of this. Used to an autonomous polity for the last decade when no-fly zones were forcefully established over Kurdish areas, the Kurds might at least want to keep regional autonomy. In addition, ethnic strife between the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs seems a very real possibility. In the event where US soldiers make a complete withdrawal from post-war Iraq, even if it is not in the near future, deadly conflict may become more violent threatening the very objectives of the war-geopolitical strategic interests and access to Iraqi oil. The Kurdish question is made more complicated by the fact that Iran may actually be able to engage the Shies and Shiite exiles in Iran to fight the Kurds. The establishment of a Kurdish autonomous district in Iraq or even the political power of the Kurds in Iraq is likely to promote restlessness in Ankara.
America’s best gamble for an Iraqi administration is the Shiite, Ahmed Chalabi and the Kurd leaders, Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barazani. Chalabi, a Western educated discreet Shia has been living in London since 1958. Then again, the Shiite clergyman, Ayatollah al-Hakim, now in Tehran, enjoys great support amongst the Shiites of Iran who make up around 60 percent of Iraq’s population. Al-Hakim is expected to be the greatest obstacle to a peaceful pro-American order in post-war Iraq. Head of the Council for Islamic revolution in Iraq, Al-Hakim enjoys the backing of the Iranian government and any post-war privilege that excludes him might have to deal with a rebellion problem. That the SCIRI has a well-trained military wing, The Badr Brigade, can be no comfort to the Americans.
The greatest challenge facing the Anglo-American coalition is the forming of an effective consensus in Iraq among its many politico-religious-ethnic groups. This includes, as have been seen, the Kurds, the Shiite Arabs and the Sunni Arabs who have so far been politically dominant. To a country that has not seen any authority except an iron-fisted cliquish regime, effective and peaceful power-sharing is likely to be a formidable task, a task whose challenge is compounded by the existence of rival militias. The establishment of a stable, modern, and responsible political authority in Iraq appears to be a tall order.
Iraq’s Economy: A Historical Background
The history of Iraq during the 20th century can be classified into three practically distinct periods:
- 1921-1958: A constitutional monarchy under direct British control at first and later under major British influence.
- 1958-1968: A series of nominally republican regimes headed by military officers who assumed power in most cases through a military takeover.
- 1968-2003: A government controlled by the socialist, pan-Arab Baath Party, which quickly developed into a vehicle for one-man rule by leading party official Saddam Hussein.
- The Constitutional Monarchy Government
During the first period, Britain established a monarchy in Iraq under King Faysal I, a leading member of the prominent Hashemite family. In 1932, Iraq became an independent country, however the bilateral treaties replacing the British mandate provided for a continued British role in Iraq, mainly in defense and foreign affairs. Rising hostility to Iraq’s western ties and mounting nationalist sentiment among younger Iraqis including the armed forces created growing alienation from the regime. In July 1958, a group of army officers led a coup in which the King and leading officials were killed, many other officials imprisoned, and a republic was declared.
Economic institutions developed gradually during the early years of the Iraqi monarchy as the government sought to establish itself and cope with internal tensions and ripple effects of World War II. With the dawn of mounting oil revenues in the 1950s, Iraqis were able to focus to a greater extent on the nation’s economy. At this time, Iraq’s economy was mainly market-oriented, although based more on feudal and traditional rather than on modern principles. A development board, established in 1950, announced multi-year plans that underlined three priorities: agriculture, transportation and communications, and construction. Critics have commended the board for using most of the country’s oil income for capital investment and Infrastructure development. Some criticize it, though, for over-emphasizing agriculture and under-emphasizing industry and human resources, which would have appealed to two increasingly important elements: the educated elite and the workers (See, for example, Marr, pp. 134-135). By ignoring these groups, the government may have contributed toward the climate of disaffection that helped bring on the revolution in 1958, although political opposition appears to have been a more important factor in the fall of the old regime.
- The Military Regimes Governments
Three military leaders governed Iraq successively during the decade that followed the ouster of the Iraqi monarchy by left-wing army officers. General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who led the overthrow of 1958, terminated Iraq’s ties with the West, withdrew Iraq from the Baghdad Pact, and aligned Iraqi policies to a significant level with those of the Soviet Union. Steady weakening of his power base, exhausted by growing domestic unrest that include beginning of a Kurdish insurgency, led to a second coup in which Qasim was overthrown in February 1963. Qasim’s successors, Generals Abd al-Salam Arif and Abd al-Rahman Arif, took rather more moderate positions on regional and international affairs, established better relations with other Middle Eastern states, and espoused a more responsive position toward the West, while keeping ties with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Arif regimes faced further domestic volatility, the Kurdish insurgency continued to simmer, and the government lost much of its authority. A year later, on July 17, 1968, the Arif regime was ousted by the Baath Party.
The revolutionary regimes of 1958-1968 reversed many of the economic policies of the old regime, despite the fact that like the monarchy they continued to devote major resources to transportation and communications, in addition to military modernization. General Qasim, the first of the military rulers, and his key advisors were influenced by socialist models and laid emphasis on several themes which bore this stamp: a planned economy, removal of foreign economic influences especially in the oil sector, and land reform. The Development Board, associated by Iraq’s new leaders with the old regime, was brought to an end and replaced by a ministry of planning, together with a planning board. In 1961, Qasim moved against one of the principal vehicles for foreign involvement in Iraq’s oil sector, the partially British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Law Number 80 expropriated 99.5% of IPC’s concessionary area, leaving the company only those areas currently in production.
Land reform, conceivably the most important of Qasim’s economic measures, was a striving activity designed to disintegrate the old feudal system of land ownership and reallocate land to peasants; nevertheless, implementation was slow as the government sought to establish the necessary machinery to administer the program. One commentator has said the early reform measures “did more to destroy the edifice of the old regime than to construct the foundations of the new.” (Marr, 169). Basic economic policies inaugurated by Qasim continued under his two successors, however at a rather slower pace. The Arif governments adopted additional measures to increase the role of the public sector in the economy; in July 1964 it nationalized many companies and in the same month it nationalized the 27 largest privately owned industrial firms. The government also restructured other companies, required profit sharing with workers, and participation by workers in management. These and similar measures contributed toward capital flight and departure of trained management, with a related decline in industrial development during the 1960s.
- The Baathist Regime Government
Baathist leaders quickly established one party rule. By the early 1970s, Saddam Hussein, a forceful party official, had consolidated his control over the party leadership and government apparatus. In 1979, Saddam Hussein replaced the aging President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr as president of the republic and in several ancillary positions. Saddam’s position as president was approved in 1995 and 2002 by majorities of 99.6% and 100%, respectively. Parliamentary life, suspended after the ouster of the monarchy in 1958, was nominally restored in 1980, when a new law established an elected 250-memberNational Assembly. After a period of international strain in the early 1970s, Saddam restored relations with most Middle East countries in the later 1970s and 1980s and reestablished relations with the United States in 1984. Trade relations grew with the United States, which–like the conservative Arabian Peninsula monarchies–regarded Saddam’s secular regime as a defense against the militant clerical regime that came to power in Iran in 1979. Meanwhile, the ongoing Iraq-Iran war, which lasted eight years and resulted in a total of perhaps a million casualties, left Iraq considerably destabilized and burdened with an $80 million debt to oil-rich Gulf states who had helped finance Iraq’s war. The occupation of Kuwait resulted in a major military defeat by a U.S.-led coalition, extensive damage to Iraq, and tough economic sanctions, while relegating Iraq to the status of a pariah state.
During the early years of his rule and in line with the socialist principles of the Baath Party, Saddam followed economic policies like those of the preceding military regimes. The government used central economic planning to manage its resources. Expenditures were divided into three categories: a government operations budget, an investment budget, and an annual import budget. Flush with mounting oil revenues, Iraq was able for some years to pursue its socialist model without having to make inflexible choices between solvency and other priorities such as welfare benefits, infrastructure development, and even armed forces modernization. One commentator observes that in the early years of the Baathist regime, “[t]he responsibility of the state was not so much to allocate scarce resources as to distribute the wealth, and economic planning was concerned more with social welfare and subsidization than with economic efficiency.” (Metz, p. 127)
Growing economic burdens resulting from the long-drawn-out Iraq-Iran war led Saddam to change course in the mid-to-latter 1980s. Giving up to some extent the socialist ideology that had dominated Baathist thinking in the past, he embarked on a more practical course of economic reform. In June 1987, a speech by Saddam urged provincial governors that “[f]rom now on the state should not embark on uneconomic activity.” That year, the government eliminated a labor law that had guaranteed full employment; laid off thousands of government workers (many of whom were foreign nationals); transferred other civil service workers to factory jobs; and took steps to privatize government-owned enterprises, including: bus companies, gas stations, agricultural enterprises, department stores, and factories. In an even more acute departure from the three previous decades, Iraqi officials declared in late 1987 that the government would offer incentives for foreign companies to operate in Iraq by easing former restrictions on foreign direct investment.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and its consequences considerably changed the economic outlook in Iraq. Hereafter, Iraqi efforts were focused on evading the international sanctions imposed as a consequent of the invasion, taking advantage of the Oil for Food Program, and obtaining additional assistance through humanitarian donations, illicit trade, and private barter arrangements. This “twilight” economy might well have lasted for some time to come had not the Bush Administration decided that the current situation was no longer justifiable and required another application of military force.
Iraq’s Demographic & Social Conditions: An Overview
By 1990, Iraq was one of the more prosperous and highly developed countries of the Arab world. It was an upper middle income country with a large middle class, considerable technical capacity, high (by regional standards) female participation in education and the economy, and fairly high standards overall of education and health care. Since 1990, economic conditions in Iraq have worsened and education, health and living standards have dropped. Social, religious, and ethnic differences have become more manifested and conceivably more considerable.
Iraq’s population has grown progressively in recent decades, from 9.4 million in 1970 and 13 million in 1980 to 22.3 million in 2000, a rate of increase comparable to most other countries in the region. This is despite population losses as a result of war, civil conflict, and emigration. In 1965, 51% of the population lived in urban centers. The urban share rate reached 73% in 1988 and 77% in 2000. Baghdad held 35% of the population in 1960 and 55% in 1980. Its share has since dropped to 27% as the other major population centers grew in size. This expanded pattern of urbanization is characteristic for most advanced developing countries. In 1989, Iraq had life expectancy and mortality rates comparable to those for Saudi Arabia, Libya, and other high income Arab countries. By 2000, life expectancy in Iraq had fallen to 61 years while it had grown in the Middle East as a whole to over 67 years. Similarly, the Iraqi mortality rate for children under 5 rose from 95 per thousand in 1980 to 121 in 2000. Primary school enrollment rates fell from 100% of the relevant age group in 1980 to 88% in 1998, at the same time as secondary enrollment rates declined from 57% to 20%.
In the late 1980s, Iraq’s middle class was an extremely urbanized, secular, well-educated group, consisting mainly of state employees and civil servants. According to one figure, the middle class rose from 28% of Iraq’s urban population in 1958, to 54% in 1988 (International Crisis Group Middle East Report No. 11, 2003). The middle class gained significantly from the expansion of educational and government employment opportunities and from increased levels of government revenue. Since 1991, on the other hand, the lower ranks of state employees suffered greatly from years of war, economic sanctions, and the general reduction of government revenues. Salaries did not keep up with hyper inflation. Many families were obliged to sell household items and other assets. The flow of population to cities also increased the ranks of the urban poor. Joblessness or underemployment among former rural residents was a problem and has become more so in the past several years. In recent years, Iraqis have come to rely progressively more on kinship networks and religious charities for support the government no longer provides.
Iraq’s population includes a wide diversity of religious and ethnic groups. Some 95% of the people are Muslim, Islam being the officially recognized religion. Most of the Arabs in Northern Iraq, the Bedouins, the Kurds, the Turkomans and some inhabitants of Baghdad and Basra are Sunni, while most Arabs in the South are Shiite. There are also small Christian communities, mainly near Mosul, in addition to other small groups such as the Sabian and Yazidis (The Middle East and North Africa, 2003, Europa Publications, 2002, pp.477-78).
Despite the fact that the majority of Iraqi Muslims are Shiite, Sunnis are excessively represented among Iraq’s wealthy Muslims. The preponderance of Sunnis in Iraqi political, economic, and defense institutions goes back to the Ottoman period and continues to be a major grievance of the Shiite community. The government of Saddam Hussein sought to mold from these different groups a common sense of Iraq nationality. It was successful in part during the Iran-Iraq war, as few Shiites went over to support the Iranian side despite commonalities in religion. Whether that identity is strong enough to weather the current difficulties remains to be seen. The answer to that issue will have considerable bearing on Iraq’s future economic and political prospects.
Iraq’s Economy In Recent Years
The configuration of the Iraqi economy has been characterized by heavy state control and involvement. According to one source, different governments from the British reign and the monarchy, to Baathist rule and Saddam Hussein have all had the common goal: to fix prices and to stabilize consumption. Government control of the economy strengthened from one regime to the next. However, an essential goal was to satisfy the large sector of the population that was employed by, and dependent on, the state. During the 1970s, hard choices were avoided as oil revenues financed development projects and covered economic mismanagement resulting from state control of the economy. The eight year war with Iran exhausted the economy of its surplus oil revenue and forced the regime into debt. The first Gulf war and economic sanctions forced new constraints on an already weakened economy. Economic statistics were considered state secrets during the Baathist regime and were censored or not kept at all. Such scrappy data that do exist show that the Iraqi economy since 1980 has suffered absolute declines in gross domestic product (GDP), chronic inflation, extensive depreciation of its currency, practically non-existent foreign investment, and the accumulation of a severe debt burden.
The prevalence of the state in the economic affairs of the nation was confirmed by a series of annexations and nationalizations in the 1950s and 1960s. In agriculture, expropriation of land occurred faster than reorganization to the disadvantage of that sector. The petroleum industry was nationalized in stages from 1961 to 1973. Major industries were nationalized in 1964. These nationalizations also enabled the government to weaken rival power centers, whether landlords, the Shia business community or foreign oil companies.
From 1968, the Baathist regime placed greater focus on the industrialization of the economy. The government embarked on two five-year development plans in 1970-1980. The first plan was mainly concerned with “economic independence”– the final nationalizations in the oil sector and investment in that sector. The modesty of the objectives reflected a consolidation period for the regime, and to a certain extent, the lack of money to achieve more far reaching development goals (Cordesman and Hashim, p. 128) .17 This changed with the oil prosperity following the first Arab oil embargo. The second five-year plan (1976-80) reflected an Iraq that was flush with cash and ready to spend money, nearly $14.2 billion on economic development, often erratically. Heavy industrial complexes such as the petrochemical complex at Basra, the iron and steel mill at Khor al-Zubair, the development of sulphur and phosphate extraction and processing, and the fertilizer industries were developed during this period.
Much of this industrial structure was not successfully utilized after the occurrence of the war with Iran in 1980, due mainly to the inadequacy of Iraq’s administrative apparatus. Direct attacks on Iraqi industry around Basra were less important than the Iraqis’ incapacity to obtain inputs, spare parts or to export oil or other products due to damaged ports. Iraqi economic management during the war predicated on a belief that Iraq could fight a quick and limited border war without disturbing the home front or its economic development plans (Cordesman and Hashim, p. 133). To pull this off, the government borrowed to finance its continued spending.
As the war exhausted funds that could have been utilized for economic development, weak points in the economic development strategy became evident. In spite of the occurrence of the state sector in the management and planning of the economy, there seemed to be very little actual planning. An industrial infrastructure was developed apparently without regard for transportation or supply hindrances. There were no clear priorities for development. Workers often did not possess the technical competences that were required to operate the plants and there existed a shortage of managerial and administrative skills to manage the public and private sector. Many of these failings reflected problems in the state sector itself. Officials were often disinclined to assume authority or accountability, and rigid (and ideologically driven) economic policies were common (Mahdi, p. 42).
As noted, the government embarked on a series of economic reforms planned to make the economy more flexible and more market-driven in 1987. It removed price controls on commodities. It privatized several sectors of the economy either by selling assets directly to domestic investors, through public assistance on the newly constituted Baghdad stock exchange, or through long-term leases of state assets. The most well-known of these divestments was Iraqi Airways, in which a majority of the enterprise was sold off to the public. It also dropped or removed state subsidies to enterprises remaining in government hands and for agriculture. The country’s labor law, which largely guaranteed lifetime employment, was abolished and thousands of white collar officials of state enterprises were without a job. The government also eased direct investment restrictions, allowing limited foreign ownership of investment projects. This last reform reflected the increasing reluctance of western creditors to loan money directly to the Iraqi government for development projects (Metz, p. 128-9).
These economic reforms did not long survive the end of the Iran-Iraq war. By 1989, the economic crisis intensified and aggravated the drop in living standards for most Iraqis, creating a threat to the capability of the regime. Besides, the success of the privatization program was unsatisfactory with many enterprises sold for under either book or replacement value. With the economy facing terrible channels, the government enforced price controls, re-nationalized some state enterprises, and raised industrial and agricultural subsidies.
The first Gulf war and the consequent sanctions caused chaos on an already troubled economy. The bombing by allied forces 1990-1991 ruthlessly damaged or destroyed much of the petroleum, transportation, power and industrial infrastructure. The government at first focused its efforts to repairing the oil infrastructure, communications, and the state security apparatus. It set up a rationing program to spread available food and consumption items. Nevertheless, government policy in effect has been imprudent, as the sanctions regime left little for rebuilding and development of the economy. Since Iraq relied on international trade in oil for the functioning of its economy, the sanctions regime had an immediate harmful effect. The Oil for Food Program improved this situation to some extent, but shortages, rationing, hyperinflation, and the absence of international trade characterized the Iraqi economy in the 1990s.
Iraq: Setbacks, Advances, Prospects
No matter what their views regarding the rationale of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, friends of democracy cannot help but wish that the new regime which emerges in that country will be a practically democratic one. This is a matter of the gravest concern to the long-suffering Iraqi people, and many others besides. For the success or failure of the effort to build and maintain a law-governed and democratic Iraq is bound to have major consequences for the fate of democracy in the Middle East and beyond.
The effect of the attempt at democratization in Iraq is not expected to become clear for a number of years. Despite the fact that many serious problems have already been met, the most difficult institutional challenges, including holding elections for a representative government and drafting and adopting a new permanent constitution, still to come. Nevertheless, given the importance of the Iraqi case, it seems worth the risk to offer an analysis of the early efforts to begin laying the foundations of democracy there, as well as some thoughts about what the future of Iraq might hold.
The threefold goal should be stated initially: It begins by analyzing the serious impediments that have troubled U.S.-led efforts to reorganize Iraq into an at least fairly functional law- governed and democratic society. Then there are stock of the many successes and achievements that these efforts had however realized eight months after the armed forces of the United States, Britain, and some other allies toppled Saddam Hussein’s 35-year-old rule in three weeks of mobile, high-speed warfare. And lastly, it suggests different modalities for the building of democratic institutions, and analyzes the prospects for a sustainable democracy in Iraq.
The allied forces have faced serious difficulties in Iraq, and these were in fact intensifying. However to describe these difficulties as definitively suggestive of the failure of the reconstruction or Iraqis’ rejection of the U.S.- and British-led coalition’s plans for their country would be a mistake, since it would mean unrealistically discounting many developments for Iraq’s future as a free, democratic country.
The setbacks for coalition forces fall into two categories: Some represent the appearance of difficulties intrinsic in the complicated circumstances of Iraq after decades of Saddam’s distortions, and neglect, while others have been the bitter fruit of unforced errors. Coping with the former and learning to recognize and fixing the latter have demanded substantial flexibility and management from U.S. diplomat L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that he heads.
In fact, a seemingly continuous array of challenges has faced the CPA, at best delaying and at worst threatening to destabilize the economic and political reconstruction of Iraq. The intrinsic difficulties can readily be listed: They include the political power vacuum created by the quick collapse of Saddam’s regime; the frenzied and sometimes violent demonstrations of political demands by people suddenly from power vacuum; and the damage visited upon the country’s economy and basic-services by coalition forces plus more than a decade of international sanctions. Yet other troubles can be traced to blunders committed by the CPA itself, some of whose policies and political decisions, mainly in the important early period after the fall of Baghdad on 9 April 2003, suggest poor preparation, inadequate knowledge of the country, and lack of understanding to some salient social and cultural traditions.
It is irrefutable that uncertainty and sometimes disorder have ruled for a depressingly long time in some parts of Iraq, mostly in sections of Baghdad (whose expansive localities contain around a fifth of Iraq’s total population of about 25 million people and in the “Sunni” zone. This area, which is often called the “Sunni triangle,” is in point of fact more of a quadrilateral whose corners rest on Baghdad in the south, Saddam’s home city of Tikrit in the north, Ramadi in the west, and Baquba in the east. The Arabic-speaking, Sunni Muslim tribes who prevail in this area received many privileges from Saddam government, and in turn manned much of his secret-police and military apparatus. It is in this area that the vast majority of U.S. losses have taken place.
There also many violent Mujahideen from other Arab countries have broken into the porous borders of Iraq to strike at the U.S. “infidels.” Adding to the CPA’s afflictions are the huge numbers of prisoners some estimates run as high as 280,000 whom Saddam Hussein released in late 2002.
Compounding all this is the real sea of easily accessible arms in which Iraq is flooded. In the early days after Saddam’s fall it was reported that one could buy five hand grenades for a dollar in the main markets in broad daylight. Some improvement had occurred when the price had reportedly risen to $3 per grenade, though a bulk rate of $20 for ten grenades was also said to be available (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 2003). Most of the arms come from Iraqi government arsenals: The CPA estimates that Saddam amassed an incredible 600,000 tons of arms and munitions. After six months of occupation, coalition forces had been able to destroy or secure no more than about 75,000 tons—or 12.5 percent—of the lethal stuff.
All these things have contributed to the unsafe security situation, which weighs greatly and directly on U.S. forces and the CPA. Obviously, any reasonable account of the deterioration in security must recognize that many difficulties flow from the vacuum created by the collapse, under the guns of outside forces. Iraq has earlier known military coups followed by swift clampdowns, but never a continued power vacuum. The war that the coalition launched on March 19 aimed to defeat the Iraqi armed forces and neutralize the Ba’ath Party, the two institutions that for more than three decades had sustained Saddam Hussein’s hold on power. This meant that a wide political void would be left, with the practically unavoidable consequence of an indefinite period of insecurity and instability.
There were, on the other hand, things that the coalition authorities could have done differently to ease the security problem. Two major mistakes were the decision to suspend immediately all regular Iraqi military forces and the decision to ban all Ba’ath Party members from taking part in public life. The point is not that these institutions should have been allowed to carry on “business as usual.” By any measure, Saddam’s enrolled army of almost half a million troops was a mainstay of his rule. The Ba’ath Party, too, functioned as an instrument behind the “Great Leader.”
Evidently looking far over the horizon but not just down the road, CPA officials seem to have forgotten to ask themselves what it might mean to turn tens of thousands of military officers loose on the streets without initially even the promise of monetary compensation. In the same way, to exclude all Ba’athists without exception from taking part in reconstruction was to keep out most of the very Iraqi professionals whose services must prove important in any scheme to restructure the country. Coalition leaders should have known that the Party’s ranks included large numbers of nominal members who were careerists more than cadres: They had joined only for the reason that, a party card was often necessary to one’s job prospects. In the case of both the Ba’ath Party and the armed forces, it would have been wiser to have begun with wide-ranging investigations aimed at identifying violators and active pro-Saddams. However, the army’s disbanding and the party’s ban were announced without any mention of either compensation or measures to sort out the time-servers. Important groups of Iraqis with military and organizational skills were thus precariously estranged early on from the CPA and the rebuilding effort.
It is more than likely that Ba’athists and ex-soldiers have been involved in leading intensive attacks against coalition forces. These attacks have not only caused huge disruptions in the CPA’s plans to secure and stabilize Iraq, but have led to grimly sharp tensions between Iraqis and coalition forces in some areas. The undesirable position in which U.S. troops have found themselves particularly in Baghdad and the Sunni regions to its north and west has been that of trying to win civilian “hearts and minds” at the same time as maintaining intense vigilance and a high tempo of operations against daily assaults by the so-called resistance. As attacks continued, U.S. soldiers reacted with escalating hostility and less regard for Iraqi cultural norms and sensitivities.
As the year’s end approached, with the U.S. growing major military operations in cities of the “Sunni Belt,” supported by heavy air and ground weapons, there seemed to be little good will left for the United States in these regions of Iraq. Another problem that has beset the coalition authority has been the snail’s pace at which the country’s return to a growth of normalcy has proceeded. Widespread joblessness amid a sluggish economy produced many angry, and in a few cases fatal, confrontations between distressed Iraqis and coalition troops or Iraqi police. The CPA’s progress in re-establishing basic services was clearly slow for months. Lagging electric-power generation during the summer of 2003, for example, proved to be a major problem, as millions in Baghdad and elsewhere suffered from temperatures of up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and economic activity was slowed down.
Lastly, the CPA fell short of communicating its plans and policies to the Iraqi people. It could not respond to general Iraqi fears that the “real” U.S. goal was to dominate Iraq unilaterally and steal its oil. Several U.S. officials repeated their commitment to Iraqi democracy, but the contours of a possible timeline for institutional change in Iraq followed by U.S. withdrawal remained imprecise all over the summer and into the fall of 2003. In mid-November, nevertheless, the CPA agreed to mark out clear indications toward the transfer of sovereign powers to Iraqis, culminating in elections for a new permanent Iraqi government by the end of 2005. This should do much to quell Iraqi concern about U.S. intentions.
“Iraqi Resistance”: An Analysis
At the same time as the situation in Iraq gives rise to much alarm, it is not by any stretch of the imagination desperate. Many analysts, conceivably focusing too closely on daily media coverage, seem unable to shift their attention from the security situation to other developments in the country, many of which give grounds for optimism.
Most of the attacks on coalition forces in fact have taken place in an area that is geographically and demographically narrow. The study of U.S. casualties since the beginning of the occupation shows that more than four out of five U.S. deaths inflicted by hostile action took place in the areas that cover parts of Baghdad and the territory to its north and west. If one looks at the total numbers of attacks, one sees that more than 75 percent of them have occurred in the towns north and west of Baghdad and on the roads linking them, while fewer than 2 percent have taken place in Basra, the heavily Shi’ite southern city with a population of 1.75 million. Taken together, all these Sunni towns (including Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Baquba, Balad, Taji, and Dhuluiya) contain no more than 1.5 million people, or about 6 percent of Iraq’s total population. More than three times as many coalition soldiers have been killed in the area populated by this segment of the population.
On the other hand, the Shi’ites, for their part, do register more enthusiasm to see the occupation end and full Iraqi sovereignty return, however they have been adamant that the path to this goal should be a peaceful one. They generally have been willing to give the United States the benefit of the doubt, waiting for the CPA to make good on its promises to stabilize Iraq, set it on the path of economic and political development, and then leave. The community’s senior clerical leaders (known as the four marjas, they are Ali al-Sistani, Muhammad Ishaq Fayadh, Muhamed Said al-Hakim, and Bashir al-Najafi) have constantly supported against confronting coalition forces. (See for example, al-Hayat (London), 2003; al-Zaman (Baghdad), 2003). Sistani, the most senior cleric with the largest following, has issued a fatwa (religious opinion) that permits cooperation with the occupation forces (Al-Quds al-Arabi, 2003). Even the young clerical firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr has stopped short of advocating violence in his anticoalition sermons (Al-Hayat, 2003; al-Hayat, 2003; al-Quds al-Arabi, 2003; al-Zaman, 2003.
Two reasons explain this moderation. First, the Shi’ites—who were marginalized, and even persecuted by the old regime—feel grateful to the occupying forces for ending Saddam’s regime. Second, the Shi’ites know that a quick exit by coalition forces would in all probability introduce the Ba’athists back into power. The Shi’ites, who make up as much as 60 percent of the population, also feel that it is in their own best interest to wait until their majority status is confirmed by a census. After such a census, the start of electoral politics will bestow political and institutional legitimation on Shi’ite demographic preponderance, and the time will then be ripe for foreign forces to withdraw.
As far as from opinion polling conducted by Gallup, Zogby International, and the Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies, the majority of Iraqis are holding themselves distant from any anticoalition activities. This is not that far from CPA thinking, as should be apparent from the coalition’s ongoing “Iraqification” approach to security, which revolves around the transfer of responsibility for public order to local police who are being enrolled, trained, and organized with coalition help. As of December 2003, more than 120,000 Iraqi police and other security officers had deployed in Baghdad and other major cities, putting a more and more Iraqi face on the mission of protecting the public against terrorists and other criminals. Between May and November, more than 100 Iraqi police and security officers were killed in the line of duty. While the transition has been held back by early delays and has sometimes been rough. Thousands more new police officers are being trained, and coalition officials are also working to form a new-model Iraqi army of about 40,000 highly mobile troops. All this promises for the gradual stabilization of the security situation.
Role of The Iraqi Governing Council and the Cabinet
The CPA’s path through Iraq’s difficult political terrain has resembled its movement toward transferring security responsibilities to Iraqis. After a dangerous delay of more than three months, the CPA appointed a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) with sweeping decision-making authority. After much deliberation, the IGC named a 25-member Cabinet of well-regarded technocrats and specialists to manage the central-government ministries. Despite the fact that CPA chief Bremer holds veto power over the IGC, he had not used it, and has seemed cautious about taking any steps that would put the CPA into an adversarial relationship with the IGC.
The critics of the IGC and Cabinet have three main objections. First, many officials and journalists from other countries, joined by some Iraqis, claim that the IGC lacks legitimacy as its members were named by foreigners. For a time after the IGC’s appointment, requests by its members to make official visits to Arab capitals met cold receptions. For more than a month, the secretary-general of the Arab League—not one of whose 22 member states is a democracy—vowed that “Iraq’s seat would remain unfilled until the formation of an elected government.” (Al-Zaman, 2003; see also al-Hayat, 2003). The rest of the international community seems willing to accord the IGC functional recognition as Iraq’s representative in the international arena.
The second line of criticism focuses on the ethnic and sectarian considerations that governed the choice of personnel to serve on the IGC and in the Cabinet. Each 25-member body comprises 13 Shi’ites, 5 Sunni Arabs, 5 Sunni Kurds, and 2 individuals from smaller minorities such as the Turkoman or the Chaldeans. In some quarters of Iraq and in a number of Arab countries, the CPA and the IGC have been criticized for supposedly promoting particular and particularly sectarian loyalties over national unity. Such a practice, the critics warn, will tend to promoted and establishment of affinities and could worsen divisions among the different Iraqi communities.
The critics may have an argument here. Indeed, it would not be good for the coalition to allow the present ethnic and sectarian allocations to be written into the new constitution, for instance. After 35 years of Saddam Hussein’s policies, the CPA had to try and give as many groups as possible a place at the table. More than half the members of the IGC, in addition, are affiliated with secular parties and organizations. One of the “Shi’ite” members, for example, is in fact the secretary-general of the Iraqi Communist Party. Obviously the permanent electoral system should be devoid of ethnic or sectarian considerations, but in the early days after Saddam Hussein, it was on balance desirable to take such considerations into account as part of a special effort at comprehensiveness.
The third assessment, heard generally in the Arab world, dismisses the IGC and the Cabinet as U.S. puppets. Despite the fact that it would be naive to think that the CPA will allow the IGC and the Cabinet to make major decisions deemed hostile to fundamental U.S. goals, to label the IGC and the Cabinet as puppets is an accurate depiction of their evolving relationship with the CPA. Specifically, Bremer and the CPA seemed particularly frustrated by the IGC’s declared inability to comply with a UN demand to set by December 15 a timetable for drafting an Iraqi constitution. In fact, the CPA ended up accepting the IGC’s position and agreeing on a political process of democratic transition and constitutional design that was almost wholly in tune with IGC thinking.
The Emergence of Civil Society in Iraq
Perhaps the most encouraging development in Iraq for coalition forces has been the surge of activity at the level of local self-government and civil society. Most Iraqi towns and cities including the major conurbations of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and Kirkuk now have governing councils that have been chosen through consensual processes, often involving elections. In most cases these councils have run the affairs of their towns either in cooperation with, or independently of, coalition forces (Al-Hayat, 2003). The case of so called “grassroots democracy” in Baghdad is particularly interesting. Suffering from widespread lawlessness, the city was still able in the fall of 2003 to form 88 neighborhood councils, which then in turn elected a 37-member council for the whole city (Friedman, 2003).
Certainly, the growing of local self-government councils has been one of the major success stories of the occupation forces. Even those councils that have not been elected have been selected through relatively consensual means, in more than a few cases with initial advice and assistance from coalition military officers, and are providing scope for unique measure of open debate and citizen participation. As such, these appointed councils too represent strong signs of progress, and will, one may reasonably hope, eventually be brought under the electoral principle without fundamental disruption. Nationally, a flood of political parties has sprung up, indeed, that precise numbers are hard to find. There are at least twenty, and by some estimates more than a hundred. They run the ideological range from left to right, and represent secular in addition to religious concerns. Organizationally, some are developing a national reach with offices in more than one city, while others are focused on building support on narrower ethnic or tribal bases. Many of these parties have also begun to build alliances, combining around a common policy or political demand. One example is the coordination among leftist parties in highlighting the plight of the unemployed. Another is the Wafd coalition, which was created in September by parties and other groupings that oppose the IGC. These groups quickly formed a 30-member committee to explain to Arab and European countries the group’s concerns.
At the level of civil society, many important professional consortium—these are groups that respectively represent journalists, physicians, engineers, lawyers, writers, and university professors, pharmacists, and so on—have ousted the old leaders elected new ones in their place. These new-modeled syndicates have not only called for the institution of a democratic political system, but have also shown eagerness to take an active part in public life after Saddam regime. On the preparatory committee of the physicians’ syndicate, for example, sit doctors who also hold memberships in 14 of the new political parties (Al-Wifaq, 2003). In some cases, this new journey on the democratic path has proved less than smooth. Recriminations—the bitterest have occurred among the journalists, whose field Saddam regime so intensely politicized—have often centered on the expected division between exiles and those who remained behind (Al-Hayat, 2003; al-Quds al-Arabi, 2003; al-Zaman, 2003).
The uproar in the journalistic profession also reflects what can probably be described as the most spectacular change in political culture that has taken place in Iraq. Saddam’s Iraq had just five daily newspapers, and the robotic rendition of governmental ideas and policies defined them all. As of late 2003, a reader can find more than 150 dailies and weeklies being energetically sold—and enthusiastically bought—on the streets of Iraq’s cities. These papers speak for all kinds of organizations and shades of opinion, including those given to vigorous attacks on the CPA and the IGC.
Building Democratic Institutions in Iraq
The rapidly increasing of political parties, syndicates, and newspapers signals an emerging political pluralism upon which democracy can be built. While the success of the democratic experiment will depend on whether the constitutional and political arrangements introduced can adapt to the country’s social and communal imperatives. Conceivably the most talked about and intensely debated topics are the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq. Many see these as obstacles to western type democracy. Over the long term, however, the interest of these communities in being able to place checks on each other’s powers is likely to promote democracy without regard for communal particularism. The question is what set of institutional arrangements is most likely to bring this about.
As seen, one method, which the CPA adopted, is to allocate decision-making and administrative positions on account of the demographic ratios of the various communities. This practice, which governed the selection of IGC and Cabinet membership, was extended to district and council elections in communally heterogeneous Iraqi cities and towns. The CPA would decide the “fair” number of representatives for each community and then invite members of that community to vote for their representatives. Kirkuk is an instance, with an elected city council assigned among Kurds, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Turkoman, and Christian Assyrians.
It seemed proper for the CPA to give a political role to representatives from as many communities as possible. Yet institutionalizing such a policy—by writing it into the new constitution, for example—would be bad for Iraq’s future, since it would establish and legitimize particularistic identities, creating philosophy of “exclusiveness” that certainly would intensify the divisions among the country’s different communities. In fact, the much-touted ethnosectarian democratic experiment in Kirkuk is already beginning to fail. The Kurdish mayor has demanded the transfer of hundreds of thousands of Kurds to the city, prompting the Arab deputy mayor to demand a new city council. Turkoman council members, in the meantime, have warned to boycott meetings owing to the appearance of Kurdish flags in the city, an issue that has led to armed clashes. Christians have complained that they feel underrepresented, and Arab Shi’ite clerics have arrived in Kirkuk to “protect” the small Turkoman Shi’ite community, which is not represented on the council.
All this shows that a far better alternative for the country would be the creation of a federal system that is decentralized on the strength of territory, not ethnicity or sect. Creating territorially based federalism allows local governments to have responsibility for all citizens in their areas, not just ethnic or sectarian co-nationals. Therefore creating a federal state consisting of a Kurdish north, a Sunni central portion, and a Shi’ite south would establish ethnic and sectarian attitudes, leading to a series of highly adverse outcomes ranging from ethnic cleansing to inflexibility in political bargaining among the federal units and between them and the center. It is far more promising to divide Iraq administratively into more than three units, perhaps even to keep the present 18-governorate structure. Such an arrangement would still serve the interests of the different communities, however could do so while shifting political and social attitudes away from obvious ethnic and sectarian concerns to more secular and political priorities that would spring from the expected competitions over resources. Each of Iraq’s larger communities might even see some such competitions arising within itself, which would reduce the chance of large conflicts.
A division of executive functions between a head of state and a head of government would be a better bet for those who hope to sustain democracy in Iraq, since a prime minister chosen by a parliamentary majority would be a support against presidential abuse. Such a system could feature a president chosen by the legislature’s upper house. An arrangement of this kind would be less open to the abuse of power, less likely to slide into authoritarianism, less susceptible to military coups, and therefore more responsible to endure as a foundation for consent-based government. It would also be adjusted to rewarding leadership based on technical and administrative competence rather than fiery rhetoric and nationalist appeals.
As for electoral systems and modalities, the issue is whether to give voice to local minority interests by having multimember districts (MMDs) or to encourage the materialization of sole local representatives through the institution of single-member districts (SMDs). There are several advantages to MMDs in the Iraqi context. They should 1) increase the representation of professional and middle-class opinion; 2) allow tribal elements to enter parliament without becoming the exclusive channel for a region’s representation; and 3) provide a better chance for smaller ethnic and religious minorities from the big cities to gain a voice in parliament.
Lastly, the ethnosectarian nature of Iraq makes it beneficial to adopt a mixed electoral system, where half the seats are determined by district elections and the other half by proportional representation (PR). This system gives voters more chances for direct and personal contact with representatives from their locales, and also promotes the development of national parties with programs that rise above narrowly regional, ethnic, or sectarian concerns. Normally, so as to field PR candidates, parties need to have large numbers of registered members spread across most electoral districts. This provides incentives for outreach and discourages efforts to build parties on ethnic and sectarian bases. The Kurds, for instance, will need to cooperate with other groups in forming a national party or else face the prospect that their only representatives in parliament will come from those districts that have mainly Kurdish populations.
The introduction of a new constitution that reflects the political institutions discussed above together with a demonstrated commitment of the new order to democratic transition should also help to free Iraq’s large middle class from the indifference that plagues it. Extensive research has shown that an independent and self-sustaining middle class is essential for democratic civil life. The bulk of Iraq’s middle class, nevertheless, has been directly dependent on the state, mostly through employment in the civil bureaucracy, state-owned industries, and military or security agencies. Even the “independent” Iraqi private sector has shown little liking to promote democracy. As long as there was money to be made, state dictates to leave politics alone fell on ready ears. And to add to this paralysis, the 13 years of UN-mandated economic sanctions had a devastating impact on society as a whole, the middle class included. World Bank figures show that the country’s economy contracted by 22 percent in 2003, following contractions of 21 percent in 2002 and 12 percent in 2001. Annual per-capita income, $3,600 in 1980, now stands at just $450. Half the workforce is out of work, and three-fifths of all Iraqis depend totally on the food-rationing system.
It is thus essential that as many Iraqi businesses as possible be contracted to participate in the rebuilding process. Already many in Iraq have protested that corporations such as Bechtel and Halliburton have awarded too many contracts to Saudi, Kuwaiti, Jordanian, Egyptian, and other non-Iraqi companies for work that Iraqis could do just as well and for less. No matter what the merits of these complaints, if the aid package is to be an agent not just for economic prosperity but also for political reform, then a large portion needs to go to local businesses.
Given all the problems that have afflicted Iraq since the fall of Saddam’s regime, the casual observer may be excused for thinking that all talk of promoting liberal ideals and building democratic structures is simply unsustainable or at best unbelievably untimely. Moreover the appreciable increase in guerrilla activity and military hostilities toward the end of the year could only cement such uncertainties. On balance, no one expect Iraqis to think about the ways of democracy amid such violence.
Indeed, the most encouraging sign for the long haul is the sheer frequency with which Iraqis are using such key democratic terms as elections, parliament, human rights, press freedom, minority rights, and the like as debates over the country’s future proceed. In the extensive discussion now being heard both publicly and privately in Iraq, the need for an elected legislature and government has become almost an inevitable conclusion. When it comes to the electoral process, there may be debates over timing as well as the exact methods and institutions to be adopted, but a clear majority entertains no doubt that election is the necessary path to authority. Even the Muslim clergy insists on elections as essential to the legitimacy of any governmental or constitutional arrangement. Consequently while the CPA was planning to appoint the members of a constitution-drafting convention, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most senior Shi’ite cleric, insisted that any such body must itself be chosen by Iraqi voters (Al-Quds al-Arabi, 2003). In another case, the Najaf Hawza comprising Sistani and the three other most senior ayatollahs rejected a new nationality law on the grounds that only “constitutional government and parliament, elected by the people, can take such strategic decisions” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 2003). Sunni leaders too have advocated the institution of democracy and have called for “general elections” (Al-Hayat, 2003; al-Quds al-Arabi, 2003; al-Hayat, 2003).
This trend reveals itself in a number of recent opinion surveys. Taken together, the Gallup and Zogby International polls mentioned earlier cover Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Ramadi. On one key matter, the pollsters found that around 40 percent of those surveyed preferred a secular multiparty democracy, while only 10 percent said they wanted an Iranian-type clerical government (Al-Wifaq, 2003; Washington Times, 2003). The Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies has conducted more comprehensive surveys in Baghdad, the Shi’ite cities of Basra and Najaf, the Sunni cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniya. These polls show that more than half of those asked chose democracy.
As for the modalities of democracy, 58 percent favored a democratic system with powers shared between a president and a prime minister, 22 percent supported a strong presidential system, and 14 percent preferred a prime minister and cabinet alone (Al-Quds al-Arabi, 2003; al-Sharq al-Awsat, 2003). In addition, in a survey conducted by an Iraqi newspaper among law professors, lawyers, and judicial experts, 74 percent preferred a secular constitution, with 98 percent insisting on protections for civil liberties and 94 percent favoring separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers (Al-Zaman, 2003). What is encouraging about these figures is that they show a strong residue of prodemocratic sentiment at a time of extensive frustration with lawlessness, lack of public services, and unemployment—conditions that traditionally have made people long for strong centralizing institutions to keep order.
Any analysis of Iraq must acknowledge that security, political, and economic conditions have not developed in accordance with what might roughly be called “the best-case scenario, prewar.” unanticipated developments for which the coalition forces seemed unprepared combined with CPA political blunders to sidetrack plans for the rapid political and economic transformation of Iraq.
Conclusions & Recommendations
This study shows that despite the fact that ethnic and sectarian identities have been an important primary feature of the Iraqi polity in the past; the new political process is sharpening these sentiments by activating them for votes. Iraq under Saddam was a political monolith, with a huge inequity in power among ethnic and sectarian groups. Sunnis from the Triangle were in the majority, with almost no Kurds in power in the central government, and with Shi’ah significantly underrepresented. At present the ethnic and sectarian balance in power very closely represents the balance in the country. However the politicization of ethnic and sectarian divisions has never been so severe. The political groups expelled from power, mainly Sunni ex-Ba’thists, now joined by religious jihadists, have stirred a firm and destructive uprising, not just against the United States but against the new leadership too, which has bitterly divided communities. For the time being, in the race for power in the new electoral process, leaders of political parties have used appeal to ethnic and religious sentiments to mobilize mass constituencies, playing on communal identity to win elections. Nevertheless the process, and the disagreeing visions of these parties, makes it difficult to compromise once power is achieved, at the same time as the insurgency makes it even more difficult to bring ex-Ba’thists and Sunnis back into the process.
The intense focus on the political process has absorbed practically all the energy and attention of emerging new leaders, distracting them from focusing on other essential areas, such as economic development and delivery of services. This study indicate that these aims do not have a high value for the new national leaders, or they assume that such tasks will be left for “technocrats,” despite dissatisfaction of most constituents with their failure to deliver. Despite the fact that this may be producing a new set of leaders in the short term, it is expected to demand a high price for Iraq and Iraqis over the long term. Fragmentation and overpoliticization are likely to continue to slow down investment and economic development in Iraq, and with them the strengthening of Iraq’s educated middle class, on which the future of the country depends. In fact, economic development and a growing middle class are the factors most likely to challenge identity politics, by providing new avenues of mobility and new visions for the future.
The people of Iraq should be given wide options to choose the form of democracy suited to them as an independent country. This can be possible if the occupying forces are withdrawn immediately to let the Iraqis decide their course of actions. The problems and ways besetting Iraqis need to be addressed and confronted by Iraqis themselves before the situation becomes irreparable.
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