In Iraq, the Genie Has broken the Bottle
In Iraq, the Genie Has broken the Bottle
I take great pride in possessing a copy of ‘The Iraqi Directory 1936’. That year, 1936, coexistence and tolerance needed no proof, although Iraq with its present borders was less than two decades old.
It is true that the state’s political life had some tribal features here, sectarian dimension there, and class division in between; yet all these rarely stifled or discriminated between the Iraqis, nor tied the government to religious authorities. Indeed, soon after the discovery of oil, among the earliest occupants of Iraq’s vital post of Finance Minister were the Jewish Sassoon Eskell, the Chaldean Christian Yusuf Rizqallah Ghanimah, and the Lebanese-born Shiite Rustum Haidar!
That old Iraq had to go through several political, local, and regional shocks since it became linked to the nascent Arab identity emerging after decades – even centuries – of Ottoman rule and the regional reflections of European and global competitions. As the ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’ paved the way to partitioning the former Ottoman-controlled Arab lands, the ‘Balfour Declaration’ ushered the beginning of the Arab – Zionist confrontation before the creation of the state of Israel.
Experts on Iraqi history remember well the active role played by Nazi Germany’s influential diplomat Fritz Grubba, from his base in Baghdad, against the British who were behind drawing the borders of Iraq. Grubba worked on two fronts: the first, was involving Nazi Germany in the Palestinian Cause, and the second, was supporting young anti-British Iraqi officers in building a powerful political presence that influenced successive Iraqi governments until 1941.
However, British influence which was enhanced after 1945, began to gradually weaken following the launch of the pacts intended to contain the Soviet threat. Among these was ‘The Baghdad Pact’ which would later become ‘CENTO’ after 1958, when republican Iraq left it, supported by Moscow and Nasserist Cairo.
During the 1950s, namely after 1956, Washington and Moscow inherited the old colonialist powers, Great Britain and France. Inside Iraq, in the meantime, a power struggle erupted between the ‘Arabist’ Nasserists, Baathists, and Arab Nationalists on one side and the Communists on the other. This struggle only ended with the Baathist-organized ‘Arabist’ coup against pro-Communist Brigadier Abdul Karim Qasim in 1963. But the ‘Arabist’ façade did not last long, as Baathist officers deposed their former allies, and monopolized power until the US-led invasion of 2003.
Sectarian tensions increased in Iraq during the ‘Arabist’ and Baathist rule; and just as the Palestinian crisis contributed to the exit of Iraqi Jews – frequently against their free will – from the national equation; the sizable Kurdish minority – which gave the country many national leaders, politicians, and intellectuals – felt marginalized by the high-powered ‘Arabist’ rhetoric. Moreover, there was always a Kurdish undercurrent that sought to fulfill a ‘Kurdish nationalist’ dream whether through a federal Iraq or, if possible, an independent Kurdistan. Given the atmosphere of the Cold War and the Arab – Israeli Conflict, it was not difficult to finance any Arab civil war; let alone a war for self-determination fought by a large minority that lives in a sizable geographically contiguous territory with oil, water, and touristic resources.
Iraqi politics were also influenced by changes taking place in neighboring countries. Iran under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi blackmailed Iraqi governments for a long time; especially, when the Shah appointed himself ‘the policeman of the Gulf’, and became an ally of the West while the republican regime in Iraq was close to the Soviet Union. Then, after the fall of the Shah, the Mullahs’ regime launched its destructive campaign of ‘exporting the Revolution’, targeting Arab regimes, and provoking sectarian, seditionist, and expansionist crises whose terrible effects are for all to see.
Syria, on the other hand, followed a parallel path to Iraq. The Syrian Baathists also brought down their erstwhile Arab Nationalist and Nasserist allies in the 1966 coup; a few years after they together had brought down in 1963 the secessionist regime which governed the country after the breakup of the union with Egypt. However, the Syrian Baathists would soon turn against the Baathist Regional Command that ruled Iraq; and among the main reasons for the inter-Baath feud, in addition to personal disharmony, was the divergence of sectarian identities and loyalties. For a while, the Iraqi Baath was seen to reflect Sunni ascendancy, Syria’s non-Sunni minorities – and later the Alawis, in particular – formed the real power base of the Damascus regime.
Anyway, under the rule of the ‘two Baaths’, Syria and Iraq became political ‘enemies’ for decades. Syria even sided with Iran against its Arab neighbor during the Iran – Iraq War, and again stood against Iraq during the War of Liberating Kuwait. Unfortunately, the two brotherly Arab countries only came closer when both fell under Iranian hegemony.
This hegemony, or rather occupation, has not stopped in Iraq and Syria, but also extended to include Lebanon. The Tehran regime has managed, with Syrian help, to ideologically win over a large sector of Lebanon’s Shiites, mobilize and arm it under the excuse of ‘liberating’ Israeli-occupied south Lebanon. Iranian support has continued until now despite Israel’s withdrawal in 2000.
Still, the popular giant that rose in Iran in 2009 only to be brutally suppressed, rose again in Syria in 2011. Again, Iran suppressed it through its sectarian militias, including Lebanese and Iraqi militias; as well as international collusion influenced by the West’s and Russia’s keenness to protect the nuclear deal (JCPOA) with the Tehran regime.