Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The roots of the Iraqi malaise

December 30, 2006: Saddam Hussein’s execution was seen as a collective vengeance for the Shiites. Despite the weird wishes made by Western politicians, Iraq’s real problem still lies on its territory. Obviously, the fault lines between the Shiites and the Sunnis are deeply rooted into History.

Before this antagonism appeared, the former Mesopotamia that contains the Tigris and the Euphrates (actually Iraq) was under the Ottoman rule since the 16th century. Three centuries later, this region will be divided in three vilayets (provinces) around Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. When the Turkish ruled Iraq, a fair playing field was provided to Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in the economy, the military ranks and the provincial bureaucracies.

However, in the bloody turmoil of “the war to end all wars”, the British will strive to repel the Turkish out of Iraq between 1914 and 1918. These acts of war from the British were meant to make sure that other European superpowers didn’t cultivate their lust for oil because of the improvement of engines back then. In 1919, Great Britain went on to receive a mandate of tutelage from the League of Nations, the ancestor of the United Nations, on Iraq.

Two visions of tutelage were proposed. The “Anglo-Indians”, who believed in the “superiority of the white people”, thought that the “indigenous people” (i.e. Iraqis) must remain under a total colonial guardianship. On the other hand, the “Anglo-Egyptians” wanted Great Britain to control most of the Eastern Arabic countries (including Egypt and some parts of Libya) with flexible and indirect management methods accompanied by the quick establishment of local governments.

The British Ministry of Colonies preferred the “Anglo-Egyptians”, but there was one problem: it was the “Anglo-Indians” who fought against the Turkish in Iraq. In fact, these people, besides staunchly refusing to leave Iraq to their counterparts, were facing an enormous difficulty to control it because of the upheavals.

Winston Churchill, the Minister of Colonies, will confer Iraq to the “Anglo-Egyptian” team in 1921. Obviously, the opposition to the British domination will draw gradually, albeit slowly, the fault lines between the Shiites and the Sunnis. All in all, the “Anglo-Egyptians” will show another facet of their colonial program: they wanted to create local governments (fully controlled by Iraqis), but the latter was controlled like puppets.

The military Arabic Sunni officers were mostly inspired by a secular pan-Arabic nationalism. Moreover, they were profoundly influenced by the experience of the Young Turks and the Kemalists. Their objective was also to transform Iraq into a strong and centralized country that will be the primary tool of the global unification of all the Arabic countries. Nevertheless, between 1922 and 1924, the Shiites will be cut by the Sunnis from the political ranks (and eliminated) with the blind approval of the British. However, at certain conditions, the Sunnis could accept Shiites only if these people endorsed the political program aiming to unite all Arabic countries.

As for the Shiites, their claims were centred on religious beliefs. In fact, they envisioned Iraq as a totally independent country constitutionally governed by Islamic laws. Obviously, the origin of such claims can be found in a 19th century political tradition related to different forms of Muslim reformist thoughts. That tradition also encompasses liberal parliamentary principles.

In 1932, Iraq became relatively independent and also a member of the League of Nations. The Shiites will tend to perceive the Iraqi state as their enemy, because they didn’t have the right to have their voice in politics. In 1941, a Sunni military and political coalition will be at the helm of Iraq and it was willing to rid their country from the British control. Besides, the Iraqi Sunni nationalists were allied with the Nazi Germany. Evidently, Great Britain will occupy Iraq by the use of strength.

The previously mentioned intervention helped the Iraqi monarchy (which was dependent to the British) to seize the power. Afterwards, when a coup d’État occurred on the 14th of July 1958, the general Abdel Karim Kassem proclaimed the republic of Iraq. Five years later, the members of the Baas party will kill Kassem and replace him by Abdel Salam Aref. However, the Baas party will get its place in Iraq with a new coup d’État on the 17th of July 1968. Eventually Saddam Hussein will lead this republic. Moreover, the massacre of 148 Shiites in the city of Dujail in 1982 will enlarge the chasm between them and the Sunnis.

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