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Torn Maps and the Age of Factions

Torn Maps and the Age of Factions

Monday, 3 January, 2022 - 07:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Libyans are debating over when to hold elections, while the world tries to persuade them that they are the only remedy to their country's fragmentation. The journey will not be smooth, as it is not easy to rebuild maps that were torn between factions, ideologies, foreign media and mercenaries. The story begins with angry revolutionaries and ends with rifles striving to reach their interests and roles in the games of others.


There is no doubt that the dictator, who is obsessed with his own image, punishes his country twice: First, when he rules it, and second, when its remains slip from his grasp. We have no right to speak at length about Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Idi Amin and others, as we have known others who have been fiercer and most terrible than them.


Abdul Munim Huny was Moammar al-Gaddafi's partner in the Al-Fateh Revolution before they parted ways. I once asked him if Gaddafi believed himself to be a historic leader. He replied: "Definitely. More than that, he believes that he was sent by God. I am not exaggerating. This is how he thinks and his statements demonstrate this. He used to make a significant comparison. He used to say that the non-believers mocked Noah when he began to build his ark. He then noted how those who joined Noah on the Ark survived the flood and those who mocked him perished."


How difficult it is to piece back together torn maps! It is not enough to turn to ballot boxes to guarantee the rise of a normal state. Post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi is walking a tightrope, taking slow and worried steps because it may fall at any moment. The frequent return to the ballot boxes has not allowed it to declare the birth of a normal state that can, through its institutions, confront challenges on its own.


After the American invasion, Iraq was the victim of massive looting, with billions of dollars going missing. Along with the looting, the Iraqi fabric was torn apart by spiteful practices that at times took on a blatant sectarian nature that changed demographics, led to the displacement of people and allowed the forceful seizure of land.


The fragmentation that has befallen Iraq has proven to be fertile ground for various foreign and regional meddling. Iran has succeeded in occupying the top spot in controlling decisions in Iraq. Its power has grown so great that it can veto decisions that violate its interests and calculations and it can restructure balances of power.


The truth is that the fragility of its internal scene has turned Iraq into a testing ground for the tug of war between Washington and Tehran. Those following the developments in Baghdad realize that it is still paying the price of Washington's rash decision to launch a reckless disciplinary campaign in retaliation to the September 11 attacks.


The US invasion of Iraq was a criminal flagrant violation of international law. The developments that accompanied the invasion showed that the US, in spite of its massive intelligence machine and might army, failed in understanding the characteristics and makeup of the country that it invaded. Furthermore, America broke up the "Saddam state", but it did not facilitate the rise of a replacement, rather it did the opposite.


The American war uprooted the Saddam regime and at the same time, uprooted historic balances in the Iranian-Iraqi-Turkish triangle, which is weighed down by heavy memories. It was no secret that Iraq was the weakest link in the triangle. It was no secret that the Shah's Iran wanted to play the role of police officer in the region. Khomeini's Iran went further than that, believing it was its right to shape the new Iraq. Such is its power that Baghdad is being managed from Tehran. It is no secret that the key to entering the office of the prime minister in Iraq can be found in Tehran. It is obvious that those who had assumed that office after Saddam's ouster had received a permit from Qassem Soleimani.


When recalling its imperial past, Turkey too believes that its map is too tight to contain it. Its desire to meddle in Iraq definitely goes beyond its keenness on cracking down on the Kurdistan Workers' Party fighters.


The concern over the Iranian and Turkish neighbors deepened the Iraqi Baath's desire to build a large army to prepare for war or tests of power. The Shah of Iran never hesitated in manipulating the Kurdish card in Iraq or force Baghdad to make concessions that were reluctantly accepted by Saddam in the Algiers Agreement, which will be one of the sparks that ignited the Iraqi-Iranian war.


Gaddafi was sick and deluded into thinking he can change the world. All tragedies, however, cannot be blamed on Gaddafi. The same goes for Iraq and Saddam. Responsibility must be pinned on the current players. Armed factions must be held responsible. They place their trust more in bombs than the ballot boxes. They believe in might more than the law. The factions view the state as a feast that they have the right to loot and mercilessly empty its coffers. The factions are eager to divide the state and its institutions among themselves. They have no problem seizing the properties of the orphaned. The factions view the constitution as a piece of paper that they can use to deceive ambassadors and foreign visitors. The factions believe that change is a conspiracy that is best swiftly dealt with through silenced weapons and mysterious crimes that courts do not dare tackle.


How difficult it is to piece back together maps that have been torn apart! Lebanon has never known rulers like Gaddafi or Saddam. It has never lived under a ruler with no friend but history. But corruption, the failure to build a state and the hunger for power and weapons have torn up its map and pushed the Lebanese to hell. The Lebanese people are headed towards elections this year. Their past experience with such remedies is not encouraging. How difficult it is to piece back together maps during the age of factions!


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