Friday, October 14, 2005

Not an end in itself

PV Vivekanand

WHEN the US planned and executed the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it thought it had to deal with only one foe — Saddam Hussein — and that removing him from power would mean a grateful people of Iraq who would rally behind American-dictated changes in the country. It would have been a cakewalk, the US thought, given that the people of Iraq were suffering for decades and paying a high price for the misadventures of their regimes and were clamouring for "liberation." Washington was convinced by Saddam's opponents in exile that they wielded so much of popularity, clout and influence in the Iraqi society that it was only a matter of days after the war that the people were pacified and the country could be rebuilt, with everything else, including law and order, smoothly falling into their rightful places.
Now, 30 months after Saddam was ousted, Washington's strategists have found that it was never as easy as that and they have to content with a multitude of groups with contrasting motivations and conflicting agendas.
What the American strategists had failed to grasp or appreciate as a ground reality was that the three major communities of Iraq — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — always harboured hostilities against each other. More fundamentally, the country was bound together in its modern shape by the colonial powers more than 110 years ago and the various components of the Iraqi society had always sought to strain free from the bindings while their regimes had always used whatever methods they deemed fit to keep the country from disintegrating along sectarian lines.
The bindings came off with the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and the various forces at work are seeking to implement their agendas. Gone in the wind are American hopes of an organised course of events leading to the installation of a US-friendly regime in Baghdad that is popular among the people and also subservient enough to serve American and allied interests in the region.
Saturday's referendum on the draft constitution for post-war Iraq holds out the last hope for the US to work out an orderly course of events leading to elections in December, and thus launching "democracy" in the country.
However, it is a double-edged sword. If the referendum produces a yes vote, then all the major Sunni groups — except the Iraqi Islamic Party which has struck a last-minute deal with the Shiites and Kurds — would only intensify their opposition to the US-designed changes in the country. If it produces a no vote, then the Shiites and Kurds would go against the Sunnis with a vengeance. Either way, Saturday's vote is not an end in itself, and, in all probability, it could be yet another turn for the worse for the suffering people of Iraq.