Political thinker Jacques Attali believes that the existing Iraqi situation is not similar to the American scenario in Vietnam in the past as widely believed; in fact, it is closer to the British experience in India in the 1940s.
The difference between the two situations is that the American war in Vietnam was in fact support of a national army against another national army, whilst in Iraq, there are conflicting factions and the war is aiming to prevent the disintegration of an occupied country that is on the brink of a civil war crisis.
In the final years of British occupation, India had encountered the same experience. Therefore, it had to pay a heavy price for the policy of sectarian division adopted by English imperialism that abolished centuries of peaceful coexistence between the components of the Indian subcontinent.
Attali believes that the American President George W Bush today faces the same dilemma that [Louis] Mountbatten did in India: either a humiliating withdrawal leaving the country to ethnic cleansing and fragmentation on one hand or a costly stay that would inevitably lead to defeat on the other hand. The British chose to withdraw after the internal transformation as a result of the elections that removed Conservative leader [Winston] Churchill from his post and ended with the victory of Labour candidate [Clement] Attlee. Yet, the civil war erupted, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. The country then split into three states and almost disintegrated into hundreds of small sectarian entities.
Will the same situation occur in Iraq after the 2008 elections that Democrats are most likely to win?
Attali suggests that American forces will withdraw from Iraq after the victory of the Democrats who do not hide their resentment towards the losing war. He considers that the impact of this would be sectarian conflict, and inevitable disintegration and all the regional and international devastation that it brings.
The indicators of the security and political Iraqi situation suggest that the scenario that Attali presents is a certain unavoidable reality; the American failure in Iraq is no longer a source of dispute. Moreover, signs of disintegration and division are clearly visible to all parties.
However, there are numerous differences between the Indian and Iraqi experiences; the most important of these are three differences that require consideration:
– During the pre-colonialism era, the Indian entity was not a harmonious and national state. In fact, it was a diverse space that was ruled by various empires and kingdoms that were characterized by flexible and volatile borders.
The dominant feature of this diversity is religious and ethnic multiplicity that was organized according to the balances that were structured by the imperial hierarchy. Thus it was only natural that such feature would explode with the collapse of the system. An opportunity was available in the form of the nation-state to affirm the country’s peculiarity and right of secession.
In other words, the British had sown the traditional seeds of disintegration by crystallizing the concept of the one homogeneous nation-state. Though it had performed an integrative function in unifying Europe, such concept had a completely adverse effect in eastern contexts. The Iraqi situation is in itself a result of the disintegration of the Ottoman Caliphate that was based on the same model of Indian imperialism.
– It is untrue that the Iraqi national entity is an artificial one and that it has no historical legitimacy. It is also wrong to be misled by erroneous information that claims that the Iraqi state is an English achievement that dates back to 1921. It goes without saying that the Iraqi national identity is deeply entrenched in history that precedes the formation of the modern national state that was based upon this historical legacy. In spite of the changes of time and the changes of state borders that had formed the land of Mesopotamia, with its diverse ethnic and religious framework, the region has maintained a unanimous and inclusive framework within fixed geographical frontiers that are the Taurus mountain peaks in the north, the Zagros mountains in the east as well as the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in the center.
When founding the modern state, British colonialism depended upon old Ottoman maps that dated back to the Middle Ages. They had not combined distinct and independent states and national or sectarian entities. The works of eminent historians who studied the emergence of the modern Iraqi state such as Hanna Batatu in his valuable encyclopedic work on social classes [entitled ‘The Old Social Classes and New Revolutionary Movements in Iraq’] and Majid Khadduri in his studies of the British mandate, conditions of independence and the formation of political systems, clarify this fact that goes without saying for the political class. At that time, the sectarian factor played no suspending or delaying role in the emergence of the inclusive national consciousness. Iraqi sociologist Ali al Wardi attempted at studying what he called the Iraqi personality through a socio-psychological study of Iraqi individual behavior and the value system, yet without successfully being able to verify qualitative differences between the components and segments of society.
– The Indian experience provides an important lesson that democracy that is based upon a national liberal project is protected from sedition and disintegration. India had maintained its threatened national unity through national democratic behavior. On the other hand, the strategy of democratization under occupation has demolished the elements of national unity in Iraq as it depended upon representation and a sectarian balance approach. Such approach only takes on the futile mechanism of elections from the democratic approach in decaying political communities.