Iraqi Intellectuals and the Occupation

The following interview is part of our continuing effort to provide a voice for Iraqis in regards to the American occupation. Dr. Saad Jawad is a prominent political scientist at Baghdad University. Baghdad University, once one of the finest academic institutions in the Arab world, has suffered tremendously under the US occupation, not to mention the twelve year long sanctions that preceded it. Dr. Jawad and I discussed the continued assassination of Iraqi intellectuals, a phenomenon largely ignored by the western media. Over one thousand Iraqi academics, intellectuals and scientists have been assassinated since the American invasion-most of them opposed to the occupation.

LAITH AL-SAUD: As a political scientist what is your assessment of the economic future of Iraq, particularly in relation to the supposed rebuilding undertaken by the Americans.

Dr. Saad Jawad: The Iraqi economy has suffered heavily under the occupation or more correct under the American domination. Most of the money allocated for reconstruction, as is now well known, has either been looted or spent on the security of the American forces and personnel. American writers now speak about the squandering of (looting) more the 25 billion dollars from the Iraqi economy. Such a situation will never help in building a new strong economy, or at least salvage the weak Iraqi economy. The amount of destruction incurred by the American invasion added to that made by the war, invasion and the long sanctions (12 years).

LA: Similarly what is your assessment of the possibilities of civil war in Iraq? It is often said that if America withdraws Iraq will plunge into civil war, what is your analysis?

SJ: The possibility of civil war does exist but it is very much a remote one. Judging by how Iraqis have reacted to attempts to ignite such a war currently and the old social history of inter-marriage and fraternity I strongly believe the possibility is very remote. As I said, we have wide spread evidence that outside forces are attempting to instigate a civil war here and Iraqis are conscious of that and have made a determined effort not to respond to it. The Iraqi reaction to these different attempts to trigger a civil war substantiates my argument.

LA: The resistance in Iraq has no doubt been persistent and intrepid:
as of yet, however, we have not seen (or at least it has not received
much attention) an intellectual resistance that ties the occupation to
larger and more general themes of history, nationalism and Islam. For
example why should people resist this occupation intellectually?

SJ: The intellectuals were genuinely divided between their hatred of the old regime and the hope of building a new democratic Iraq with American assistance. Unfortunately the Americans proved to be of no help at all. The hatred of the old regime drove a fair number of the intellectuals, especially in the first year of the occupation, to voice their opinions along sectarian lines. Only recently after their disappointment with the occupation policy have they realized how misled they were. That is why their movement to form an intellectual resistance was late. But it is progressing following their disappointment with the occupation policy and that of those so-called Iraqis who came with them.

LA: How much influence does the Iraqi intelligentsia have around the country and to what extent was their expertise made use of in providing Iraq stability?

SJ: To my knowledge no Iraqi academic body was consulted for example in drafting the constitution. This ignorance was very obvious and clear. That is why the constitution was drafted according to American wishes and narrow sectarian and ethnic lines. Most of the political movements now, however, are resorting to the advice of the intellectuals. Most movements and organizations are including intellectuals now. It is true that their role is mostly small, but they are there.

LA: It is well known to those who care that Iraqi intellectuals are being targeted in unbelievable numbers, who is responsible for this targeting and why?

SJ: Iraqi intellectuals and scientists are targeted by many elements. [When we analyze who is targeted and by what methods it is clear that] the Israelis and the Americans are after one part of them. Iran and the sectarian parties are after some others. The Baathists liquidated some of their old comrades when they noticed that they were cooperating with the Americans, and the local mafias kidnapped and assassinated others after making them pay ransoms. The problem of security, or the lack of it, is the main reason why intellectuals have become such easy targets for any act. Yet, precisely because of the chaos, the systematized assassinations of Iraqi intellectuals have gone largely unnoticed in the outside world. Iraq is being drained of its most able thinkers, thus an important component to any true Iraqi independence is being eliminated.

LA: What do you think of the demand made at the Cairo conference for an American timetable for withdrawal?

SJ: I believe the request put forth at the Cairo conference for a timetable scheduling the withdrawal of American forces (which was later approved) was a pre-condition put forward by the opposition to attend the meeting. Until that time the American administration refused to speak or allow anyone else to speak about this issue. The Americans wanted to make their presence as permanent and long as possible. To me a sudden withdrawal is not advisable, however. I believe before taking such a step the American administration should re-instate the bulk of the Iraqi army, security and police forces. This is the institution that could bring back security and order into the country. Of course when I say re-instate I mean fully re-instate, i.e. furnished with all the necessary arms and equipment to carry out its duty. Otherwise we will continue to live in the current up-side-down situation in which all of the professionals and experts were forced out of duty and all the amateurs placed on duty. In addition those forced out of the army are oppressed, under paid, humiliated and constantly threatened with liquidation. Meanwhile those who have found themselves within the new American circle are generously paid and protected despite their old tarnished history. Does anybody blame members of the old army when the join the resistance and defy the attempts to finish them? Once the military and security apparatus is established, and this should not take long because the members of this institution are very well trained and capable of switching to duty soon, then the American forces should start withdrawing.

LAITH AL-SAUD is a college lecturer in the social sciences and a member of the People’s Struggle Movement-an organization politically opposed to the occupation of Iraq.