Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer who fled persecution by Saddam’s regime but who was also a powerful voice against the Anglo-American aggression against his country in 2003, exposes one of the many lies about Iraq that have infected both sides of the interventionist argument: that it is a land seething with ancient, irrepressible sectarian hatreds that can only be put right by separation. It’s an important piece, worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:
Tony Blair has been widely derided for his attempted justification of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and his claim last weekend that he’s blameless over the current turmoil. Unfortunately, though, many of his critics have also bought into a central plank of his argument: that Iraqi society is no more than a motley collection of religions and ethnicities which have been waiting for decades, if not centuries, to slaughter each other and plunge the place into a bloodbath.
Neither side, though, has yet produced historical evidence of significant communal fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities. … Despite popular myths, the majority of Ba’ath party founders were Shia. However, Iraqi Ba’athist ideology always had a racist dimension against the Kurdish people and non-Arabs – as well as a class orientation, when in power, that marginalised millions in the poorest sections of society, mostly in the south. Southern Iraq and some areas of Baghdad, populated by mostly Shia migrants from southern rural areas, have historically been home to the poorest people.
Iraq’s biggest mass organisation from the 1940s to the 60s was the Iraqi Communist party, founded in 1934 by activists from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. It was the strongest party even in Iraqi Kurdistan, and remained a mass party until its leadership decided to join Saddam’s regime in 1973 – against the wishes of most party members. Saddam launched a vicious campaign against the ICP in 1978-9, and the party lost its raison d’être after joining the Iraq Governing Council set up after the occupation in 2003….
One of the greatest testaments to the tolerance that exists between the various communities in Iraq is that Baghdad still has up to a million Kurds, who have never experienced communal violence by Arabs. Similarly, about 20% of Basra’s population is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, is home to two of the most sacred Shia shrines. Its Sunni clergy have been the custodians of the shrines for centuries.
Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes.
The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq’s modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam’s army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. ….
Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen. But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq’s regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners.
Once again, it is clear: the moral insanity of the American-led aggression in 2003 is the fountainhead of the current crisis, while the moral insanity of fomenting sectarian war in Syria is the immediate spate that has brought it to floodtide.
Yet it is also clear that many, if not most, in the Washington-London power elite are looking at the crisis as an opportunity to double down on the moral insanity of their militarism: an excuse to beef up support for the violent extremists in Syria, to “re-engage” militarily in Iraq — courses which will only lead to more insanity and bloodshed. Ramadani points to a better alternative — a “back to the future” scenario that draws on the more inclusive, secular nature of Iraq’s past. (The same past existed to a great degree in Afghanistan as well.) If we were not ruled by bipartisan war profiteers — if we only had ordinary, run-of-the-mill politicians trying gamely to muddle through to something better for their own people and others — we would find there are many, many positive elements that could be supported or encouraged in these “intractable, historic” conflicts.
But given the sinister poltroons who direct our affairs, one can only fear that these better alternatives will be squashed or discarded once again.