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Mandela and Iraq - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It is a clear paradox that at the end of last week when South Africa and many others around the world were celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, Iraq was mired in controversy over the exclusion of electoral candidates from participating in the elections and over the Debathification concept. How great a difference [between these two events] and how saddening is the comparison! For here is the case of a man who was freed from a prison of one of the worst regimes ever known to mankind, and this is the apartheid regime, after spending more than a quarter of a century in prison. When Mandela was released from prison, he could have avenged himself and his people if he desired, but he chose the path of forgiveness and tolerance in order to heal the wounds of the past and rebuild his homeland and its citizens. This is how Mandela became a political and humanitarian symbol, and his comportment has become a model that people wish to see everywhere. It is thanks to Mandela that South Africa passed an important turning point and managed to avoid a possible civil war, assassinations and violence, and succeed in establishing a stable regime based upon tolerance and coexistence between different races, colors, and creeds.

On the other hand there is Iraq, which did not find a leader like Mandela, and so is drowning in a sea of sectarianism, racism, and violence, which take place under various names and banners. Although seven years have passed since the invasion, Iraq has been unable to break the cycle of violence, and the majority of its politicians have been unable to overcome the inclination towards revenge, retaliation, and violence [in Iraq]. As a result of this the Iraqis have not tasted stability, and anybody hearing their comments recognizes their lack of confidence in their situation and in the majority of their politicians. Even the elections, which represent a golden opportunity to break the deadlock as political parties appeal to the public who are making their decisions via the ballot box regarding who they want to elect, have become the scene of controversy and disagreement, particularly as a result of the statement issued by many political forces casting doubts on the preparations and procedures surrounding the elections. This is something which practically defeats the very purpose of elections.

Over a period of several months, the electoral controversy has continued to focus on the issue of Debathification and the prohibition of a number of electoral candidates from standing at the elections under the pretext of their affiliation to the Baathist party, to the extent that the living conditions in Iraq and security, education, health, and other concerns of the Iraqi citizen appear very low on the list of [electoral] priorities. The overwhelming and dominant subject has become the statements issued by those who have been excluded from participating in the elections, and the justifications of the officials responsible for this, as well as the exchange of accusations between different political powers, to the point that we have heard intimations that this issue will be transferred to the UN Security Council. There has also been talk about foreign interference and Iranian influence on the electoral process, and head of the Accountability and Justice Commission, Ahmed Chalabi, has said that the US is putting pressure [on Iraq] to allow Baathists to stand at the elections. Whilst in remarks made a few days ago, Chalabi said that “no foreign party has any jurisdiction on Iraq’s sovereignty” and this is something that makes one wonder “Has Chalabi forgotten his role in the invasion of Iraq?”

In this battle which is raging over Debathification, some people cite Article VII of the Iraqi Constitution which says that this applies to “any entity or program that adopts, incites, facilitates, glorifies, promotes, or justifies racism or terrorism or accusations of being an infidel (takfir) or ethnic cleaning, especially the Saddamist Baath in Iraq and its symbols.” However this mentions the Saddamist Baathists by name, and therefore does not apply to all Baathists, and this is the crux of the matter. If this article is implemented strictly and objectively, it would include numerous politicians, and perhaps some of the [political] entities that utilize sectarianism in one way or another.

This is not a defense of the Baathist ideology or the Baathists in Iraq, which along with the former regime are tied to many crimes and evils. The purpose of this article is to say that Iraq today needs to start reconciliation and promote the spirit of tolerance and put an end to violence and retaliation in order to protect the unity of the country from narrow political scores and sectarianism which is something that is present in its social structure and which opens the door to foreign interference. A number of high-ranking Baathist symbols and figures associated with the previous regime were tried and executed, and there is an opportunity for future trials to take place for anybody suspected of committing crimes against his own people. And so Iraq is in dire need to learn a lesson from a man named Nelson Mandela.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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