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The Iraqi Dilemma: Lessons from Algerian Reconciliation - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In the 1990s, both Iraq and Algeria were viewed as the two Arab countries that were most likely to emerge from the dilemma of underdevelopment and join the industrialized nations. They were also relied upon in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict in view of their military, economic and human capabilities. In spite of the unmistakable difference between both countries by virtue of location, historical background and the nature of their respective political experiences, there are several similarities between the two states, including being the only densely populated, oil-rich Arab states that have economic capabilities beyond the oil.

Another key factor was the army’s role in the emergence of both countries, whether the modern Iraqi state that took its shape in the early 1920s where the military institutions assumed a main role before it was governed by partisan militia regimes or, on the other hand, the independent Algerian state that inherited the borders of the former French colony where military resistance was the pivot of the political regime to the extent that one could say that Algeria is the only country in the world where the army preexisted the state.

If the Baathist regime that ruled Iraq for approximately four decades is a form of unilateral military-ideological organization, the Algerian model did not differ qualitatively from this course from independence in 1962 to the end of the office of former President Chadli Bendjedid in 1992.

Just as Houari Boumédienne’s Algeria adopted the line of heavy industrialization and investment of the oil wealth in technological modernization projects and military spending, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq followed the same path.

Both regimes had similar strategic orientation and both aspired to lead the Non-Alignment Movement. Both were allies of the Soviet Union. They both shared similar positions towards Arab issues and together led the anti-Egypt front that originated from the 1978 Baghdad summit to isolate and boycott Egypt as it unilaterally signed a peace treaty with Israel. Another clear similarity between the Iraqi and Algerian experiences is the diverse population structure even if this contrast is less severe in Algeria. At the same time, in the early 1990s, both countries entered a dark tunnel, although for different reasons and against different backdrops. While Iraq paid dearly for the stupidity of occupying Kuwait, which resulted in a fatal siege on the major Arab country before its regime was ousted eventually by the American-led invasion, Algeria experienced the bloody civil conflict against the backdrop of a bloody political conflict that spiraled out of control as the previously-promising democratic transition came to an end.

The violent conflict in Algeria was not a civil war as we know it, nor can it be reduced to a police hunt of terrorist groups. Rather, it was the manifestation of a severe political and societal crisis that revealed the failure of the Algerian modernization model to achieve the desired transition to the level of industrialized countries by the end of the last century at the latest.

At that time, a book by Marxist economist Samir Amin stated that the Algerian Socialist model would set an example for the region and that Algeria would serve as the locomotive for economic development in the wider region.

Events have proven that the country of the one million martyrs lagged behind its neighbors, Tunisia and Morocco, which both gambled on investment in services, education and infrastructure. Meanwhile, the heavy industrial strategy failed in Algeria, ruining the economy through high levels of debt and neglect of other production sectors, particularly agriculture and tourism.

While Algeria has begun a slow course of political reconciliation since incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika assumed office, Iraq has entered a fiercer and more destructive tunnel of sedition since the American occupation and the fall of the Baathist regime in 2003, with signs of national accord – a joint demand both internally and internationally – yet to appear.

It is true that both cases vary widely in view of the occupation and the sectarian nature of the ongoing civil conflict; however, the Algerian experience provides an important lesson to contemplate. A reconciliatory approach requires two essential conditions: outlining a political framework to emerge from the crisis and outlining the legal frameworks to resolve the legacy of violence and conflict.

Algerian political reforms under Bouteflika, regardless of their shortcomings, allowed for the normalization of the internal situation and securing a minimum of participation for the members of the political spectrum and removed the military institution from the power front. At the same time, the amnesty and reconciliation law set militants free, including the historical leaders of FIS [Islamic Salvation Front].

What is needed in Iraq is, undoubtedly, greater and more complicated than the Algerian reconciliation model. Nevertheless, the first step has to be taken out of awareness of the failure of the present model, which was formulated by the American occupation project, to ensure the desired security of the afflicted country. Official democratic formulas that are protected by a foreign military presence cannot guarantee Iraqi national unity and peaceful coexistence between its national and sectarian components.