21 March 2004

Can Iraq embrace democracy?

The man most likely to be Iraq's first Shiite president, the bespectacled and scholarly looking Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, has taken over the riverfront mansion that was home to Tariq Aziz, the man who was Saddam's deputy and who now languishes in a US-run prison. One of his key advisers is Dr Hamid al-Bayati, a recently returned exile. In an interview, he offers a little more meat for the bones of an Iraqi democracy: 'We have to take Iraqi reality into account - we can't copy any one democratic system in the world and apply it here.'

But, unlike some here, he is not shy about stating what to Shiites is obvious: 'I have to be frank and say that all the Iraqi minorities are worried about the Shiites having a majority - especially the Sunnis. But this is the reality and we can't change the make-up of the Iraqi people.

'It's obvious that the Shiite majority of the people will elect a Shiite majority in the assembly. They have tried to provoke us with the attack that killed our former leader and then with the attacks on our most emotional holy day (which killed close to 200 Shiite worshippers at mosques in Baghdad and Karbala on March 2). But so far we have not responded - we realise there is a conspiracy to provoke a civil war between us and the Sunnis. But it's not just up to the Shiites. It's up to all in the community to stop the push for war.'

However, despite all the Shiites' public anxiety about the draft constitution, Bayati claims that even if the Shiites fail to have it rewritten, they will accept the interim charter as it is written.

Many Iraqi leadership figures think 'tribe' and 'mosque' before thinking 'nation' of the land that lies within borders that Britain carved out in the time of Lawrence of Arabia.

Since occupying Iraq, the US has been reluctant to harness either of these dominant power structures to its own ends. Instead, it has attempted to thwart what seems like an inevitable majority Shiite rise to power and to sidestep the tribes, despite the fact that no regime, Saddam's included, has survived without their support.

The occupation of Iraq is not an especially new phenomenon. McGeough cites Panama and Grenada as the only democratic outcomes for 16 US military interventions this century. The present chaos in Haiti is at least in part the outcome of a US intervention.

We were always told Iraq would be different, but thus far the only difference has been the extraordinary reluctance of its promoters to accept responsibility for anything from the original casus belli to the present state of the country. The new constitution merely sets up a paralytocracy which will not even command its own forces or territory.

No comments: