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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BLUNDERS IN IRAQ AND THE BIRTH OF ISIS A way out of extremism

After the exhaustive de-Baathification process, disbandment of 300,000 Saddam's Sunni army, and imprisonment of many Sunni leaders, the occupying power, mainly the United States of America, flared up hatred and revenge among the Sunni group that governed Iraq since the Ottoman Empire. Sensing a power shift in favour of Shias and Kurds, the Sunnis went on the offensive. The ensued inferno of sectarian conflicts, among other factors, destroyed an enormous possibility of a country which contains the second largest oil reserve in the world.
Much of these could be avoided if some visionary steps were taken, such as setting up a power-sharing arrangement among the three ethnic groups: Shia [60 percent], Sunni [18 percent] and Kurds [21 percent]. Each of these groups, with long regional connections, is indispensable in keeping Iraq as one united nation. If power-sharing arrangements and national reconciliation processes have turned arch enemies into partners in governance in places like South Africa, Kosovo, El Salvador, and now in Afghanistan, why wasn't something like this even tried in Iraq?
These steps, difficult in other times, could have been done relatively easily in the primordial period when there was a total power vacuum - except the occupying power [mainly America] - after Saddam Hussain was executed, and the Iraqi political factors and forces were just beginning to take shape. This is the way America's occupation created a total shift in the direction for Japan and Germany over half a century ago. Some of those steps were not democratic at all, but the initiatives helped turn these societies into democratic and successful nations in the long run. How did America fail to implement such a Marshall Plan for Iraq?
Extremism does not rise where good governance and stability prevail. Al-Qaeda, Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia and ISIS in Iraq and Syria all originated in utter chaos, turmoil, repression and subjugation of certain groups, and due to poor or lack of governance.
 In Iraq, under pressures from Shia and Kurdish groups and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who - in order to attain the Shia dominance - played on America's democratic ideology, America was compelled to announce a premature election in 2005. America complied and the American neo-conservatives, who wanted to influence Iraq through Shia rule, were happy. Consequently, the constituent assembly that the election produced consisted of 60 percent of Shias; however, the constitutional body framed was not acceptable by the Sunnis. Realising early on that this was a game they would invariably be made to lose, Sunnis boycotted the election and went on the offensive. Both Iraqi and American people paid a heavy price for this blunder.
Therefore, a step in the right direction could entail proper rehabilitation and integration of the Sunnis into the society. Similar integrating processes were undertaken for the Nazis and Japanese after World War II and later for South African whites. The integration of Sunnis would have saved Iraq from the horrendously destructive and bloody episodes following the Iraq War. America invaded Iraq, and so it was America's responsibility to take the right course of action and rebuild Iraq using a Marshall Plan.
The Muslim world, along with others, have been paying a high price for Western follies from a long time. The long reign and exploitation of colonial powers, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 and the post World War II period resulted in a conflict-ridden Middle East. Puppet governments and consequent repressions during the Cold War, the propagation of neo-imperialism and later globalisation by the West have also caused immeasurable injustice and trouble for this region. A vast number of the young generation – 65 to 70 percent of the population of the Muslim world is 35 years or younger – is frustrated and angry about what was done to their societies and their gloomy future. The breeding grounds for trouble and extremism loom large. In the name of security and national interest, the West has also done tremendous disservice to its own people. Western powers in general, and America in particular, should now be seen as part of the solution and not a part of the problem. After being the cause of all these misfortunes, they cannot now conveniently excuse themselves by stating that they “don't want to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.” 
No matter how wrong and oppressive a group was in the past, a substantial part of that can always be reclaimed and reintegrated into the society through a visionary process. In doing so, a win-win state of affairs ensues and the society becomes victorious. South Africa after the Apartheid, Europe after World War II, America after the Civil War in 1864, and many other examples in history remain a testament to this truth. Troubles ensue when these groups - the menaces of the past - are rejected and cornered.
One does not need reconciliation where there are no serious disagreements or a difficult past. Nelson Mandela realised that after seeing the consequences of Zimbabwe's failure to integrate. Right after he got out of prison in 1994, he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through which he punished only a handful of perpetrators but the rest were integrated into the society. This process of integration helped South Africa to become the 'rainbow' nation that it is now, and helped triple its GDP within twenty years. On the other hand, Sri Lanka and Nepal were on the right track but now they seem to be stumbling because they have still failed to completely incorporate a power-sharing system. Tunisia, on the contrary, is becoming a success story of our time by marginalising the lurking extremism through inclusive politics and power-sharing via proportional representation. A lion's share of the credit goes to the visionary leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi.   
As for Iraq, America, in collaboration with the international community, can still exert enough pressure to help bring about inclusive politics and power-sharing arrangements.

One way inter-dependency could be achieved is by setting two legislatures, the lower house elected on the basis of universal suffrage and the upper one consisting of equal number of elected members from each group, and striking a balance between the two houses under a presidential form of government. Furthermore, all important posts including that of the president, the Supreme Court judges, and army heads could be assigned to leaders from each of these three groups on a rotating basis or some other preset formula as was done in Lebanon in the past. Striking a delicate balance between the national and provincial governments is also imperative. The army should consist of all three groups with specific quotas assigned to each group to ensure inclusiveness. Only then can groups like ISIS be subdued and transformed. 

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