Iraq's Future: New Polity or Pandora's Box?

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Posted by andreas from ( on Sunday, September 29, 2002 at 6:05PM :

The New York Times
September 29, 2002

The World;
Iraq's Future: New Polity or Pandora's Box?


THERE are, without question, scores to be settled in Iraq. The Kurds
have not forgotten the chemical attack that Saddam Hussein visited
upon them 14 years ago -- an indiscriminate assault that killed
thousands and left thousands more maimed and ailing. The Shiite
majority -- nearly 65 percent of the population -- has long resented
its historical persecution and exclusion from the highest ranks of
power by the Sunni minority. And the wide chasm between those of
means and those who are poor adds the burden of class-envy to a
society that could be facing a power vacuum.

Throw in rich oil fields, stores of chemical and biological agents,
and double-edged relationships with nearly all of its neighbors --
each of which is home to thousands of Iraqi refugees -- and the
possibility of post-Saddam disorder, at least in the short term,
seems quite real. Any American incursion into the country will
require not just military muscle, but a willingness to remain and see
it through, according to Judith Yaphe, a senior research fellow at
National Defense University in Washington. "We have to make this
commitment," she said. "Everyone will be watching to see what we do.
Neighbors like Iran will call it an occupation, of course, but they
will also say 'You did this, and it is your responsibility to stay
and ensure the security and territorial integrity of the region."'

But even with an American or multinational presence, the removal of
Mr. Hussein's iron grip on Iraqi society will almost certainly
unleash old grievances and passions that, depending on how deftly a
new political order is established, will either provide seeds for
democracy or tinder for revolt.

"The temptation to settle accounts would be great," writes the Middle
East scholar, Amatzia Baram, in an essay published on Friday by the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy. What follows is an
overview of some of the principal sites where such accounting might
unfold. TOM ZELLER


1. BAGHDAD -- The Control Center
The capital city is a melting pot of Sunni Muslims, secular Kurds,
religious and secular Arab Shiites, Arab Sunnis, Christians, Turkmen,
Armenians and other minorities, but socioeconomic inequality may
cause tensions.

Nasiriya has been a locus of discontent in the past. During and after
the gulf war, army deserters, dissidents and other opponents hid in
the marshes surrounding the city, prompting Mr. Hussein to drain
them. This was also the site of a rebellion against the British by
Shiite Muslims 80 years ago and against Saddam in 1991.

Located in the oil-rich southeast, Basra is almost wholly Arab and
Shiite. The Shiite population harbors deep resentment against the
Sunni Muslim-dominated regime, and a Shiite uprising began here after
the gulf war. It was brutally repressed.

Tikrit is a modern city well-protected by the regime and well-fed by
storehouses that hold embargoed goods unavailable to most Iraqis.
This city's Sunni Arab population of approximately 25,000 to 35,000
fills the ranks of Mr. Hussein's elite security force, the Republican

These cities, predominantly Shiite, have had strong religious ties to
Iran, which had high hopes of taking them back during its war with
Iraq. The cities are still centers of Shiite Muslim education,
scholarship and law. Najaf houses the tomb of the Imam Ali,
son-in-law and successor to the Prophet Muhammad; Karbala contains
the shrine of his martyred son Hussein, one of the most important
figures in the Shiite branch of Islam. After the gulf war, these
cities were part of the Shiite uprising against Mr. Hussein.

Controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party, Dohuk has received
millions of dollars in tolls from trucks that carry supplies in and
out of Iraq. These revenues were supposed to be shared with the
party's rival faction, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, but that has
not happened.

Thousands of Kurds were killed here in a chemical weapon attack by
Mr. Hussein in 1988. The area is dominated by Kurdish religious
parties, some supported by Iran, others linked to the Muslim
Brotherhood, a Sunni activist group. Another group, Ansar al Islam,
opposes the Kurdish parties in the north and may have links to Al

The center of Iraq's oil industry in the north, Kirkuk is claimed by
Kurds, Turkmen (an Iraqi Turkish-speaking minority) and Arabs. In the
event of an American invasion of Iraq, the two main Kurdish factions
could fight for control. Turkey opposes any kind of Kurdish autonomy
in Iraq, for fear of stirring its own Kurdish population -- some 20
million strong -- to seek independence as well. Mr. Hussein has
settled Arabs in the city and pressured the Kurdish and Turkmen
groups to change their legal ethnic identity to Arab. The Arab
majority will certainly try to keep control of the region if Mr.
Hussein is removed.

This town, the center of the "Arab-Sunni triangle," with Baghdad,
Mosul and the Jordan border as points, is the home of powerful Sunni
Arab clans, including the Dulaimi clan. Members of the Dulaimi clan
make up much of the regime's security and intelligence personnel, but
they have also led civil unrest and coup attempts against Saddam
Hussein. In 1995, the regime arrested and executed as many as 150
soldiers and officers who revolted in response to the execution of a
Dulaimi air force general accused of planning to kill Mr. Hussein.

(Sources: Judith S. Yaphe, Ph.D., National Defense University; "How
to Build a New Iraq After Saddam" 2002 , edited by Patrick Clawson,
Washington Institute for Near East Policy; International Petroleum
Encyclopedia, 2001)

Map of Iraq highlighting above cities.

-- andreas
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