Kanan Makiya, Iraqi architect and author of the “Republic of Fear” (1989), a best-selling book after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, described the Baathist regime in Iraq as “exceptional” in terms of totalitarian and authoritarian rule in the world.
Overthrowing Saddam’s regime in Iraq was a matter of “morality, not politics,” Makiya told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview on the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
In another book, “Cruelty and Silence” (1991), a critique of the Arab intelligentsia, he not only talked about how the Baathists established an intelligence state that led to Saddam’s takeover of power in 1979, but he also documented how the Baathists fought war after war, committed genocide and repressed a revolution brewing south of the country.
Makiya recounted details from the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, when he met with then-US President George W. Bush. Makiya also met Bush after the toppling of Saddam.
He also encountered Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior US officials before and after the invasion.
When asked about his lobbying for the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam, Makiya acknowledged that he did hold that political stance back in the 1990s based on the need to get rid of the Baathist regime, which he called an “anomaly.”
Makiya argued that the Baathists would have repeated their invasion of Kuwait and decimated Iraqi society if left in power.
He later admitted he was mistaken and even apologized for his thinking at the time.
“My big mistake was misjudging the Iraqi opposition that I worked with and supported after the 1991 war,” he said.
Recounting events from two decades ago, he confirmed that “the idea of completely overthrowing Saddam for the US administration crystallized after the September 11 attacks in 2001.”
On January 31, 2003, the White House summoned Makiya to a meeting with Bush.
Besides Makiya, another three independent Iraqi opposition figures were at the meeting. Cheney, Rice, and former US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were present from the US side.
Bush started the meeting by announcing that his administration had decided to overthrow Saddam.
He said, “not one army, but two will enter Iraq,” according to Makiya, who says he interrupted the president in surprise to ask what he had meant by two armies.
Makiya, quoting Bush, said that the US is deploying “an army to remove Saddam and an army to rebuild Iraq.”
Jay Garner, a retired US lieutenant general who in 2003 was appointed as Director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq, had contacted Makiya after the meeting with Bush.
Garner asked him if he would work with the US administration’s team to rebuild Iraq. Makiya declined. He told Garner he was an Iraqi academic and writer working with the opposition.
“I am neither a politician nor an administrator, and the Iraqi interest may not always coincide with US interests,” Makiya told Garner, thanking him regardless for the invitation.