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Dilemmas of reform in Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In Henry Kissinger”s latest article in the Washington Post dated 12 August 2005, he spoke of the declaration of a presumed semi-withdrawal of American forces from Iraq as soon as a constitutional government is established by next December. The former Secretary of State believes that this expected withdrawal could represent a horrible political and strategic defeat for the United States in its war against terrorism within the Middle East.

After quite a lengthy comparison between the Iraqi situation and the Vietnamese one of the 1960s, Kissinger assumed that the American military victory is contingent upon the existence of two factors, which are internal support on one hand, and creating a friendly international environment that would recognize the new Iraq on the other hand.

Yet the biggest dilemma that impedes on the success of the American project for the reconstruction of Iraq, in Kissinger”s opinion, is the failure of the American occupation forces in creating a unified Iraqi army that represents the identity of Iraq with all its national and factional diversities, thus inciting the possibility of a civil war between these various sects.

Considering that part of the justification for the American invasion of Iraq was to contain the problem of religious extremism, the biggest danger would be for Baghdad or any other part of Iraq to establish a religious government.

As a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, Kissinger in his article expresses frustration at the growing problems and difficulties in Iraq. This happens while the transitional political route is at risk, as there are many aspects related to the shape of the new country such as the issue of federalism, the state”s relationship with religion, the country”s identity or the role of Shia religious authorities.

In the light of all these difficult challenges, it is obvious that the American ambition had dwindled from creating a balanced democratic model to set an example to the rest of the region, to barely maintaining the unity of Iraq besides securing the minimum share of the United State”s vital interests in this rather focal country of the Middle East.

The American project in Iraq was created for the sake of establishing a fresh comprehensive approach to reform in the whole region. This approach was expressed by members of the American administration headed by President Bush with numerous phrases that all focused upon three main objectives, which are;

* Comprehensive religious and cultural reform that aims at demolishing ideological and spiritual roots of extremism and terrorism, in addition to enabling Arab and Islamic culture to digest the principles of modernization.

* Political reform that aims at eliminating dictatorships and tyrannies, paving the way for opposition parties and civil society”s institutions in the course of establishing multiparty systems and real democracies in the region.

* Economic and financial reform that achieves the merging of oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, in the great context of globalization through effective partnerships, with the United States. Such partnerships will allow for the enhancement of the technical infrastructure for the Middle Eastern economies, in addition to making the most of the opportunities of the international market.

The logic behind the Iraqi model was creating a ground in which these three main objectives could be tested in the light of the comprehensive regional perspective. The attempt of applying this model was based on speculations such as the role of modern secular elite who are reconciled with the religious authorities and their united efforts to endorse moderate Islamic ideological reforms. In addition, these speculations included ones connected to the role of civil and political organizations in creating a multiparty democratic model that insures political freedoms along with securing national and religious diversity. Assumptions also relied upon the great economic capacities that could create a flourishing economy that in turn would allow for a systemic base merged with the American experience.

The American ideological and strategic circles regarded the approach to Iraq as one that would have a decisive role in dealing with central dilemmas between the United States and the Arab and Islamic world after the 11 September attacks, the most important of these dilemmas are:

1) What is the most effective method of confronting &#34religious terrorism?&#34 Is it by encouraging the concepts of modernization and globalization, as according to the liberal faction that is present in the Democratic Party and the elites of the traditional conservatives” party? Is it by transferring this struggle to the Islamic dialogue itself so that self-reform attempts would proceed and differentiation between moderate parties and radical extremist ones would be realized?

2) What is the best way to proceed with the aspired democratic alteration? Is it through supporting the overthrow of current regimes as long as they are incapable, even if they were former allies and even if the price will be total chaos, or as secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has described it, a &#34creative chaos&#34? Should a gradual and realistic shift be sought through political and economic reform to create locally and internationally acceptable fronts that would be a unique step in the course of achieving a real multiparty democracy?

What is clear is that Iraq”s severe difficulties have obstructed the goals mentioned above. Consequently, the Bush administration has had to swing between zealous speech that calls for imposing globalization, religious reform in the Islamic world, spreading democracy and coercive protection of human rights on one hand, and a realistic low toned speech that merely calls for political and ideological reform without setting rules or contents for this reform.

This unstable position of the American administration in dealing with crises and troublesome issues in the region is represented in America”s encouragement for reform in Egypt, yet it maintains a fear for the repercussions of reform upon America”s vital interests and upon the nature of the societal models that countries of the region seek. It is also clear when the United States encourages political reform in Palestine, yet it fears the emergence and appearance of Islamic resistance that it calls terrorism. Further examples are abundant in Sudan, Lebanon and Syria.

The Iraqi experience has proved that gambling on external intervention to solve internal problems and eliminate political congestion is a losing bet. This is because it leads to clashes between the requirements of national liberation and political liberation, especially concerning areas that are home to cultural and ethnic diversities where possibilities of disputing parties resort to external powers so as to gain support from them. This is the main root of the problem and this is exactly what causes the spreading of a generalized sedition and complete civil conflict.

The main defect in the American project of reforming the region is transforming the call for reform, which is a vital need, into a disputable issue that is governed by assumptions and anticipations of the complicated Arab-American relationships that have never been focused upon political or cultural reform.