These days, a lot of confusion surrounds US policy and US political preferences in Iraq. In his address to the [US] Peace Institute, the US ambassador in Baghdad gave a succinct and diplomatic answer in which he succeeded in conveying several messages while crossing a minefield full of thorns, criticisms, and fears by all the parties: Sunni and Shiite, Arabs and Kurds, neighboring countries, the US press, and the US public. His address also included a courageous self-criticism of the kind that we rarely see in our region.
The influence of the past on the present was especially present in this criticism. The ambassador clarified that the history of US policy in Iraq, especially its effect on relations of authority, includes a deposit that stirs up concerns and unleashes conspiracy theories that we are hearing almost daily in the media and in remarks by politicians. The ambassador openly admits that in the 1960s, the United States contributed to the rise of the Baathists to power, which justifies the current suspicions in Baghdad, particularly as a result of the reserved US stand on the exclusion of candidates from the elections under the excuse of their association with the Baath Party. At this point, we should realize that the United States supported the Baath Party not out of deep love – while ignoring interests and the times – but because it was linked to a special strategic timing. After 1958, the Communists were the most organized and capable political force that could not only influence power but grab it as well. This was during the era of the Cold War when the fight against Communism was the cornerstone of US strategy in the world. This strategy took various forms, such as support for any current hostile to Communism regardless of whether it was ideologically in harmony with the West. (This was the same approach that drove Britain to overlook the rise of Hitler in Germany thinking that he would stop the Communist tide).
During the period marking the rise of pan-Arabism in the region, the Arab nationalists, led by the Baathists, represented the only organized force that could offset the rise of the Communists. So they were the US policy’s the better of two bad choices. This was the reason why the United States backed the Baathist coup in 1963. As for the second coup in 1968, it was backed by the United States for different reasons. One of these reasons was the 1967 defeat that led to crises in many Arab regimes and their fall became almost inevitable. Moreover, the regime of Abdul-Rahman al-Arif had provoked the Americans because he signed oil contracts with French firms. The Americans thus coordinated with the Baathists, particularly their rightist wing, through several channels. One of the most important of these channels was the group that was liquidated on 30 July, including Foreign Minister Nasser al-Hani after the coup of 17 July. Prior to the coup, Al-Hani was an important link with the Baath Party. He was later liquidated in an ugly manner and his body was thrown in one of the streets of Baghdad in order to conceal the role that he had played.
Thus it can be said that the US support for the Baath Party was linked to the nature of the phase and to the requirements of US interests rather than to a deep and strategic alliance. The overthrow of the Baathist regime in 2003 did not reflect an ingrained hatred of the Baath Party (that had already disintegrated from a political party and ideological organization into a structure of the ruling familial-tribal alliance since the rise of Saddam to power). It reflected a change in US interests that were no longer threatened by the Communist peril. This peril was largely replaced by the dangerous rise of Islamic fundamentalism that became the more powerful force among the peoples of the region. This makes us understand why the United States did not support the 1991 [Shiite] uprising in the south that had an Islamic texture and preferred to come itself to Iraq after 12 years to overthrow a regime that that resurgence was on the verge of overthrowing had it received international backing.
At present, there is no real force on the ground that is capable of broad mobilization called the Baath. The era of regimes created by coups and Communique No. 1 has disappeared along with the legacy of the Cold War. Even if the United States has preferences regarding the current political trends (just as all the countries in the region have preferences), on the strategic level it tilts toward an elected government with a broad popular mandate that represents the effective and true force on the ground. It also definitely wants this government to be its ally. Thus talking about a US-sponsored military coup is not logical, especially after the huge human and material price the United States paid to bring about the current frail stability. The United States is not prepared to support a government brought by a coup and that relies on a weak army whose loyalty is not guaranteed. This is especially true since the other forces can mobilize the street and easily overthrow the coupists. The loss will thus be more costly to the Americans because they will lose their credibility as the sponsors of a democratic process in a society where democracy has not yet taken root.
What the Americans want is to ensure that the next government will be a friendly one and in harmony with their essential interests. In return, they will give this government a strategic partnership and international backing that no other regional or international side can give to Iraq. What we Iraqis have to realize is that we need this partnership because it is the only way that can bring about the trinity of stability, democracy, and development. For the first time, it seems that these urgent demands of the Iraqis are compatible with US interests. We only have to be convinced how important it is to take the interests of the Americans into account. The United States is not a charitable society that came to overthrow the dictatorship and then leave the country to foes that are threatening it with what is worse.