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Iraq Deja Vu

by ISSAM NAHASHIBI And ABDELATIF RAYAN

By all US media accounts, Saddam Hussein’s days are numbered. Moreover, Pentagon pundits predict a massive US victory over Saddam’s rusty military machine.

Will Bush’s Iraq policy bring a real victory to crown America’s hegemony in the Middle East and elsewhere? Could history be our guidance.

Bush’s Iraq policy is reminiscent to the 1930s British “re-occupation” of Iraq. By March 1921, almost four years after they invaded Mesopotamia, the British created Iraq as a new entity managed by “a suitable Arab” who was a member of the Hashemite clan, King Faisal I. In addition, the British supported and promoted narrowly based groups–such as tribal leaders–over the growing, urban-based nationalist movement.

In pursuing this policy, the British were attempting to achieve their military objectives of securing their route to India and controlling strategic oil sources. By the mid-1930s, Iraq exported oil via a pipeline to refineries in Haifa, Palestine.

Palestine, at that time, was in turmoil. Palestinian Arabs were rioting against the Zionist-promoted Jewish immigration to Palestine. Faisal was alarmed about Jewish immigration and expected that “bloodshed would certainly result” from such a demographic change. However, his concern was mostly centered on the negative effect of any bloodshed in Palestine on Iraqi-British relations as confirmed by the August 1936 British Foreign Office’s “Report on the Repercussions in Iraq of the Creation of a National Home for the Jews in Palestine.”

Although public sentiment supported Arab Palestinians against such foreign encroachment, Iraqi governments were careful not to shatter Iraqi-British relations while repeatedly warning Britain about the destabilizing effect of Iraqi public opinion’s pro-Palestinian sentiments. Their official policy on Jewish immigration to Palestine resembled walking a tight rope: it avoided offending British sensibilities without inflaming public opinion.

To mollify public sentiments, Iraqi governments fostered unofficial support for the Arab cause in Palestine. As a result, Iraq became the center of pan-Arab anti-British activities and a mecca for Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian nationalists.

Despite these strong nationalistic anti-British public sentiments, the British managed to coerce the Iraqi government into entering WWII in support of Britain. The immediate effect of this British political pressure was riots in Baghdad and the killing of several hundred people, mostly Jewish Iraqis.

Perceived as a threat to their interest, the riots were countered by British military intervention and the resignation of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Rashid Ali, in favor of a new “suitable Arab”. With British blessing, martial law was established and the new government started to act against the “subversive” nationalist forces that dominated Iraqi public life.

Thus started what the nationalists described as the “second British occupation of Iraq,” which also included efforts of “re-structuring” Iraq with complete British and American supervision as reported by The New York Times. The British resumed full control of the education system while the Americans dominated the media. All nationalist and militaristic materials were banned and deleted from textbooks. In addition, the army was purged or neglected.

Clearly, there is nothing new in the current U.S. military scenarios to invade Iraq especially what Administration officials allude to in their post Saddam plans. Such policies confirm the Administration’s intention to conquer and occupy Iraq. They also call for disarming Iraq and “downsizing” its armed forces while getting Iraq ready for a “democratic transition” and the removal of senior officials of the governing Ba’ath Party. “Much of the bureaucracy would carry on under new management,” a US official added.

These officials were silent about their quest for a “suitable Arab” to implement their post Saddam plans; perhaps another member of the Hashemite clan currently ruling Jordan. They also concealed their intention to pull Iraq from its Arab roots and make it a NATO member by altering nationalist and religious forces in Iraqi society.

Iraqi opposition groups have signed on to the Administration’s plans and are fully cooperating with their Washington handlers to create a “federal, non-Arab demilitarized Iraq” as Kanan Makiya, the group’s ideologist, envisioned post Saddam Iraq in his speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) symposium two weeks ago.

Makiya further detailed the thinking of “some Iraqi circles” that are “working closely with some agencies of the [US] government” in planning for post Saddam rule. He argued for a “federal” Iraqi government, which “cannot be thought of any longer, in any politically meaningful sense of the word, as an Arab entity.” He went on to say that a democratic Iraq has to be “a non-Arab Iraq.”

That is the Iraq that “can bring Western civilization” and “values” into the Middle East added Serif Egali, of the Turkish-USA Business Council, another participant of the AEI symposium.

For President Bush, who has not conveyed any convincing argument to justify waging war against Iraq, the success of his Iraqi adventure must be more than eliminating Saddam and his cronies. It is nothing less than crafting a new Iraq that is divorced form any Arab concern, especially the Palestinian cause. For him and his hard-line advisors, removing Saddam presents the US “with a historic opportunity” that is “as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the entry of British troops into Iraq in 1917,” expounded Makiya.

It is an opportunity to create Middle East realities where newly re-constructed “entities” will have neither basis for shared political culture, unity of emotions and aims; nor shared sufferings and hopes.

If history is our guide, the Iraqi people will defy this plan just as they resisted the British 1930s plans that failed to maintain a “suitable Arab regime” because the original British sin, creating the Palestine problem, is still with us.

Issam Nashashibi, an Arab-American political activist, is a US-based Director of Deir Yassin Remembered. He can be reached at inashashibi@hotmail.com.

Abdelatif Rayan is a Washington-based Middle East consultant and journalist. he can be reached at rayan22124@yahoo.com.

 

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