October 18, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 108

Post-Saddam Iraq: Perspectives of Iraqis in Exile

October 18, 2002 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 108

As the debate about the future of Saddam Hussein's regime intensifies there has been a plethora of articles in the Arab press on the pros and cons of an outside intervention to bring about its downfall, and the implications of such an event on Iraqi, regional and international order. The following is a review of the Iraqi opposition in exile, specifically their perceptions of the American role in Iraq and, more significantly, their vision of Iraq in the post-Saddam era.

The Key Principles of the Iraqi Opposition
In an interview with the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress (the umbrella organization for various Iraqi opposition groups in exile) summarized the four principal objectives of the Iraqi opposition:

  1. Establishment of a democratic parliamentary government that protects human rights and supports a federal regime
  2. Setting up of a regime that outlaws the use of force to solve national and communal conflicts in Iraq
  3. Repudiating the use of arms and aggression in dealing with neighboring countries
  4. Endorsing a policy of non-acquisition of weapons of mass destruction

For Chalabi, the role of the U.S. in Iraq should be akin to that which it played in Germany and Japan after WWII. Accordingly, that role should lead to "de-Saddamization" of the country and the creation of democratic institutions.[1]

The Fate of the Military Establishment after a Regime Change
The nature, role and organization of the military establishment in post-Saddam Iraq draws the attention of many authors. Abd Al-Halim Al-Ruhaimi, an Iraqi writer residing in London, wrote an analytical piece from the perspective of a non-military person titled "The Iraqi Military Establishment after the Change of Regime." The paper was discussed at the meeting in London last July of the Iraqi opposition military leaders. Al-Ruhaimi distinguishes between the role of the military in the transitional stage and in the subsequent, long-term strategic stage.

The first stage, the transitional one, will be very much influenced by the methods by which the regime would be changed. The author considers the following possibilities: a palace revolt (which he discards as a remote possibility); a military coup or mutiny supported by a popular uprising; and a popular uprising supported by mutinous units from the army or even the Republican Guard and some security agencies, and backed by the U.S. The government that would follow these forces of change would be less inclined to consider a role for the military establishment, let alone to reform it. The author speculates, however, that internal and external pressures could force a transitional government to reform the military establishment and to commence the transition toward a democratic regime.

In the second stage, the strategic one, reform should focus on the maintenance of a defense force to protect the country. The author recommends a constitutional provision that would outlaw the development and use of weapons of mass destruction. He acknowledges, however, that given the prevailing "military culture" instituted by Saddam, these reforms would not be easily accomplished without external pressure.[2]

A hopeful sign for the future is a military code of honor adopted by Iraqi army officers in exile during their two-day meeting in London in July of this year. It contains 10 clauses which reflect much of what Chalabi has said in the interview cited above. The only significant additions to Chalabi's key objectives are the officers' commitment to abide by the people's decision on the nature of the new regime, meaning the termination of the role of the military in politics as soon as a civilian regime is erected. It also calls for a foreign policy in which Iraq plays its role as a stabilizing force for peace in the region and acts as a good neighbor.[3] It is noteworthy that the Iraqi opposition systematically avoids any reference to Israel by name in their calculus for change.

The Internationalization of the Conflict and the U.S.'s Role
As expected, the U.S. role, particularly its declared policy to bring about a regime change through a pre-emptive strike, is a much debated topic. While there is much support for military intervention by the U.S. due to the opposition's inability to affect a regime change on its own, there are also the skeptics who question the sincerity of the U.S. and its long-term commitment for democratic reforms and nation-building in the post-Saddam Iraq.

Muhammad Al-Rab'i, who describes himself as "an independent democrat" and a professor at the University of Birmingham, attributes the reliance on the U.S. to the failure of local forces to get rid of Saddam. The Iraqi people, he writes, have tried everything but failed. As a result of the failures, they have brought upon themselves disasters and oppression. What is needed is not a war that destroys Iraq's economic infrastructure, but a war against Saddam's instruments of suppression and his intelligence apparatus.[4]

Another writer, Dr. Abd Al-Khaleq Hussein, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Britain, refutes the argument that the Iraqi opposition has brought about the internationalization of the Iraqi conflict. It is not the opposition, he argues, but Saddam's actions which brought Iraq under international tutelage. As a result, the opposition forces are compelled to accept the external support which has proved effective in the liberation of Kuwait, in the Balkans and in East Timor.[5]

A different perspective is provided by the Iraqi analyst Salem Mashkoor. In a symposium on the change of the Iraqi regime by force, organized by the Saudi daily, Al-Okkaz, Mashkoor begins with the premise that the Iraqi case has been internationalized and the Iraqi opposition no longer has any role in it. The opposition is divided into two elements: the first believes in the inevitability of change with help from outside, specifically American. The second is still viewing the situation from the sidelines. It is not against change, even in the hands of the Americans, but has adopted an attitude of waiting to see how things eventually fall.[6]

Islamic Views
Perhaps the most significant support for the reliance on the U.S. to bring down Saddam in Baghdad has come from the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shi'ite community, Imam Muhammad Hussein Fadhlallah. In a special Fatwa [religious edict] the Imam justifies "a transitional alliance" with foreign powers if there is no other means to bring victory to "oppressed Muslims." "Muslim parties," he decreed, "are permitted to join secular, nationalist and liberal political parties to bring down the oppressive regime."[7]

A similar Fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Sayyid Sadeq Al-Husseini Al-Shirazi from his exile in Qum (Iran's center of religious orthodoxy). He called on the believers to "mobilize all their efforts and take advantage of all opportunities…at all levels to save the believing but suppressed Iraqi people from this pro-longed oppression…" He concluded by invoking the help of Allah "for the removal of tyrants and the building of an independent unified Iraq on the principles of legitimate [political] competitiveness, consultation, justice and liberty."[8]

The Declaration of the Shi'ites of Iraq
The Shi'ite perspectives on the future of Iraq and the necessary changes that should take place are encapsulated in a document signed by a broad range of Shi'a academics, professionals, religious leaders and others. The document states, inter alia, that "…the Iraqi Shi'a problem is now a globally recognized fault-line and is no longer restricted to the confines of Iraq's territory… The sectarian issue has now emerged into the light of day in spite of the attempts by the Iraqi authorities to cover it up… The Shi'a's opposition to the state in Iraq is based on political rather than sectarian considerations and has evolved as a consequence of a prolonged process of continuing sectarian discrimination and cruel oppression by the state. Any policy that calls for the division of powers on the basis of sectarian percentages-such as the situation in Lebanon-is not workable in the context of Iraq… The unavoidable reality is that there are two sects in Iraq… the imposition of an enforced and artificial homogeneity on this reality only serves to compound the problem…[at the same time] the sectarian issue in Iraq will not be solved by the imposition of vengeful Shi'a sectarianism on the state and society…"[9]

The Iraqi Street
One of the unknowns is the Iraqi street's reaction to an American led invasion of Iraq. Brig. General Tawfiq Al-Yasiri points out that, for decades, the Iraqi mind was led to believe that the American presence was characterized by imperialism and a leaning towards the enemies of the nation. Suddenly, he says, the Iraqis will find themselves confronting the Americans as "loyal and saviors." This contradiction would need "coordinated, concerted and large public relations efforts" to consider the direct American, and perhaps British, intervention as the deciding force for change. Such efforts should:

  • Help Iraqi society accept the collaboration with external forces to change the regime.
  • Convince the regional surroundings that there is a need for external military help and the foreign military presence will be temporary.
  • Unify the opposition forces for the sake of change [of the regime].
  • Stress the capacity of the new opposition administration to impose its authority and to provide tranquility to the average citizen.
  • Prepare the Iraqi society for post-change era.

General Al-Yasiri warns that after 30 years of repression there is danger that in the case of war, the masses would engage in lawless activities leading to real disturbances. To prevent this, he recommends effective preparations, including civil administration and rapid economic relief.[1]0

In an interview with the Saudi daily Al-Okkaz, Mish'an Al-Jabouri gives an interesting perspective on a possible American invasion of Iraq and whether an American-led government would alienate the Arab world. Al-Jabouri says:

"…I do not believe there is any link that ties me with Algeria, Morocco or Libya. There is a difference in features, culture, and point of view. We support cultural unity… but culture is one thing and racial affiliation is another. It would be a mistake for the Arabs to believe that we [Iraqis] have to pay because we are part of the Arab nation and the Arab race. We are not. Half of the Iraqi people, if not more, is not part of the Arab nation. We are people of mixed civilizations. The Assyrian culture is not an Arabic culture but it has played a great role in the history of Iraq. I cannot tell the Assyrians this is not your country. The Arabs came to Iraq 600 years ago, and why should we impose our national will and national affiliation on the others having become ourselves a part of this cultural and social fabric. We the Iraqis will emerge from this crisis under the banner: Iraq first, Iraq second and Iraq tenth."[11]

Skepticism about the American Commitment or Involvement
Among the opposition elements in exile there are those who remain skeptical of an American commitment for a democratic Iraq. Most of them dwell on the American call in 1991 to the Iraqi masses to revolt, only to find themselves victimized and murdered by Saddam's troops. What assurances exist, these writers ask, that the United States would not forsake the Iraqi people if American national interests dictate it. Writing in Al-Hayat, Muhammad Bahr-Al-Ulum expresses his concern that a change of regime, much as it is hoped for by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people, may be subjected to three international constraints that could influence the outcome:

First, the concern that the change in Iraq will be limited to the head of the regime who could be replaced by his son, Qusai. The son will quickly restore the traditional methods of oppression and violence; second, the change might take the form of "an American configuration" which would act in accordance with American interests at the expense of the popular will; and third, the U.S. might object to free and democratic elections if the resulting outcome would be inconsistent with its interests.[12]

In an article titled "The Crisis in Iraq and the Merits of the Next Step," D. Sa'd Al-Obeidi addresses the objections, particularly those of the Arabs (both Iraqis and non-Iraqis) to the American invasion of Iraq. They include:

  • Those who fear the inevitable losses to their Iraqi brethrens in a war with a regime which does not care about human losses.
  • Propagandists and intermediaries who fear the loss of bribes and commissions they have enjoyed.
  • Rulers, mostly tyrannical, who are afraid that a transformation in Iraq might awaken their peoples from a deep slumber.
  • A small minority with a revolutionary mentality and hostility toward the West.
  • Religious streams which are afraid that [secular] changes in Iraq would weaken their authority.
  • Members of the military and remnants of the Ba'th party who fear the loss of the sectarian system in the army which benefited them the most.
  • Islamic countries, and Iran in particular, which is afraid that under a new Iraq, religious authority will shift again from Qum to the holy city of Najaf [the burial ground of Khalif Ali's two murdered sons: Hassan and Hussein.][13]

Writing from London, Ghassan Al-Attiyya expresses the concern that some elements of the opposition are already regrouping themselves as the opposition in the post-Saddam regime, assuming such a regime will be established by the Americans. One of these groupings is "The Union of Islamic Forces" which is made up primarily of Shi'ite Muslims who refuse to cooperate with the U.S. and reject the new government that it would bring to Iraq. Instead, these Iraqi Muslims advocate Shari'a as the foundation for the new way of life and the government that would follow. [14]

The Drive for Federalism
One of the oft repeated arguments by the regime is that the destruction of the Saddam regime would result in the division of Iraq into three parts/states: Kurdish in the north, Shi'ite in the south, and Sunni in the middle. This argument has been raised by Arab leaders who profess to oppose an American invasion of Iraq. This was the argument made by the Saudi P.R. chief in Washington, Dr. 'Adel al-Jubair, on CNN and elsewhere. Writing from Washington, Haidar Al-Hamdani reminds Al-Jubair that it was Saudi Arabia that intervened with the Americans to let Saddam suppress the Iraqi uprising in 1991. The Saudis were, and perhaps still are, concerned about Iran stretching its border toward Saudi Arabia with the help of a surrogate state in southern Iraq.[15]

As a matter of fact, the two largest ethnic communities in Iraq, the Shi'a in the south (approximately 60% of the Iraqi population) and the Kurds in the north (representing another 15-20% of the population) are calling not for the division of Iraq but for the creation of a federal form of government that would ensure a degree of autonomy for them and, simultaneously, reduce the power of the center which has traditionally been held by the Sunni minority.

Most Kurdish authors prefer a federalist form of government after the removal of the Saddam regime. One finds a typical argument for this form of government in an article by Nuri Talabani, who describes himself as a jurist residing in Britain: While Iraqi Kurdistan was recognized as part of the Iraqi state in the 1958 constitution, Talabani argues that this part of Kurdistan is not part of the Arab world as fraudulently suggested by the Iraqi Ba'th leaders and their "mercenary historians" who have rewritten history and made the Arab borders extend to Hamadan and southern Tabriz (both in Iran) and Dair al-Bakr (Turkey). Kurdistan has been recognized by most historians, the author insists, as a geographically autonomous region and should remain so to avoid further conflicts and bloodshed.[16]

In an interview with Al Hayat, Mas'ud Barazani, the head of Kurdistan Democratic Party, reiterated his demand for "a democratic federal system" as an alternative to dividing Iraq.[17]

On the other hand, the Turcoman Front, supported by Turkey, rejects a federal structure that would subordinate the Turcoman to the Kurds. There are also the Assyrians who seek autonomy in the Nainawa district in northern Iraq. If, the author asks, the various elements of the opposition cannot agree on a course of action while Saddam is still in power, what guarantee is there that will be any more compromising in the post-Saddam era?[18]

The Return of the Monarchy
One of the scenarios for a post-Saddam regime is the restoration of monarchy which ruled Iraq in the years 1922-1958. Using Afghanistan as an example, some argue that even a symbolic monarchy will serve as an integrative force among the feuding religious and racial factions in Iraq. One self-declared monarchical candidate is Sharif Ali bin Al-Hussein, whose mother, Princess Badi'a, was the aunt of Iraq's last monarch, King Feisal II, and the daughter of King Ali bin Al-Hussein who was expelled from Hijaz after W.W.I by the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. One should also mention the undeclared candidacy of Prince Hassan, the former Crown Prince of Jordan who is from the same family.[19]

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

[1] Al-Hayat, July 13, 2002.

[2] Al-Hayat, July 19, 2002.

[3] Al-Hayat, July 15, 2002.

[4] Al-Mu'tamar, August 23-29, 2002.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, August 30, 2002.

[6] Okaz, July 30, 2002.

[7] Al-Mu'tamar, August 16-22, 2002.

[8] Al-Watan (Kuwait), September 28, 2002.

[9] (Iraqi opposition) July 7, 2002.

[10] Al-Mu'tamar, September 13-19, 2002.

[11] Al-Okaz, July 26, 2002.

[12] Al-Hayat, August 1, 2002.

[13] Al-Mu'tamar, September 20-26, 2002.

[14] Al-Hayat, July 1, 2002.

[15] Al-Mu'atamar, September 13-19, 2002.

[16] Al-Hayat, August 28, 02

[17] Al-Hayat, October 8, 2002.

[18] Al-Hayat, July 1, 2002

[19] Al-Hayat, August 24, 2002.See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis report No. 106, Iraq Opposition Officers Connect with a Hashemite Prince to Replace Saddam August 10, 2002.

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