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Iraq: The Dangers of a Political Vacuum - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The United States invasion of Iraq without a clear program in place for the aftermath of the war is a grave mistake that Iraq still continues to suffer from and will continue to suffer indefinitely, as the US is faced with another Vietnam for its lack of preplanning.

Entering Iraq was not a mistake since ousting Saddam and toppling his regime would not have been possible without firm external interference. The real mistake was emptying Iraq of all its former political institutions – especially the ruling party and the army – both swiftly and completely without offering any replacements. This created a vacuum that must be filled – and political life cannot tolerate a vacuum. The violent events and destruction taking place in Iraq are partially because of this vacuum but the main reason is the explosion of internal contradictions that had long been suppressed during the totalitarian eras.

Whether or not we agree on the issue of America’s entry into Iraq, whether or not it was a mistake from the start and whether the matter is relative to other considerations – the issue today is about the withdrawal of the American forces. The US had entered Iraq and the rest has become part of a history that cannot be changed. However, the withdrawal of the American forces is a contemporary political issue today and it’s therefore still possible to take control of its course of action before it becomes history that is beyond our control.

Today, there are voices calling for a US pull-out from Iraq; some of these voices belong to American politicians overwhelmed with bids and promises, especially in light of the recent elections but the pledges soon disappear when policies are put to action. Other voices are heard from the Arab ‘munadeleen’ [secular fighters] or by the ‘mujahideen’ [Islamic jihadis] who yearn for the moment when they can be let out of their cages for many reasons that have nothing to do with religion as much as politics –interests are the master of such behavior. Whether we are referring to the politicians, both the American and the non-American, or to the fighters or pacifists or even to the jihadis, the drive and stance that calls for the American withdrawal is a rhetorical one, and is often times a sentimental one that has nothing to do with what’s really happening in Iraq, or with what is in the best interest of the Iraqis – not to mention the interests of the region as a whole. And inasmuch as the American invasion executed without a plan was a serious error, an American pull-out now before the condition stabilizes can only result in a disaster, in fact we can even venture to call it the mother of all disasters.

If the United States were to exit Iraq today, the first thing that will happen would be a brutal and sectarian civil war that will not abate. Internal sectarian conflicts that were fueled by the old system and manipulated and exploited for its political ends, also relying upon it for survival, will transform into a wildfire that will not cease until it finds something to consume. It goes without saying that American presence in Iraq will not resolve these contradictions but it would limit the scale and the strength of these clashes, which would allow for the building of institutions that can absorb this conflict, which would restore Iraqi peace once again.

It’s true that occupation is a demeaning and painful experience as well as a slap in the face of self-pride, however when this self is lost, unable to determine the direction the wind blows, then occupation is the lesser of two evils in this case.

The American occupation of Japan, Korea and Germany turned out to be in their best interest in the end, this follows the assumption that you might hate something that is best for you in the end. National pride emerged from the war ruins and as a grudge borne against the occupation. Neither Japan nor Korea or Germany possess a strong military force, however they have become the world’s leaders today in terms of their economies, cultures and their reverence of humanity which they have emphasized to broaden the horizons of human freedom. They obliterated the illusion that power and force can only be fulfilled through soldiers – which is an illusion Arabs are still enslaved by.

North Korea now owns the atomic bomb, but its southern neighbor owns the capital, labor and technology, as well as enjoying balanced and close relations with the contemporary world – which makes it the stronger in the end. North Korea’s despotic regime will be overthrown whereas in the south, people will live with the dignity of work despite the presence of the occupation, which no matter how long it lasts is ultimately only a temporary situation.

The former Soviet Union was America’s sole adversary from a military perspective, but Japan was the strongest notwithstanding its military deprivation; the Soviet Union crumbled and Japan survived. The Berlin Wall collapsed and Germany regained its pride through this union. Sure, no one enjoys occupation or the demoralization that comes with it, however when the situation arises one must use it to the advantage of building, which is the best form of resistance, just as Korea, Germany and Japan did.

From a regional standpoint, the American withdrawal from Iraq today before the situation stabilizes will transform Iraq into a battleground for opponents from the neighboring countries. Each of them will recruit their internal supporters to achieve their own personal goals, and in the end the victim will be Iraq itself. Iraq would become a chaotic seat for these movements which would threaten its security and stability and eventually affect the prosperity of the region as a whole. This is the same situation that happened in Afghanistan during the days of the mujahideen and following the days of the Taliban.

When social and eventually political relationships become tense, and when there are multiple affiliations and loyalties, as well as a weak or practically nonexistent central government, add to that a huge institutional vacuum that followed absolute totalitarianism – it all amounts to an incredibly volatile mix. That is not to mention that all these factors are surrounded by countries and groups that try to take advantage of the situation through their representatives in the country.

In America’s case regarding Iraq, leaving would be worse than staying. America today is the real demon in the eyes of many and if it pulls out now, Iraq will become a springboard for these hostile groups to attack the US, as well as other western and eastern countries, too. This is exactly how the plotting from September 11th came from emerged from Afghanistan.

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad is a distinguished Saudi Arabian political analyst, journalist and novelist. Mr. Al-Hamad was educated in Saudi Arabia and the United States, where he obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California, later returning to Riyadh to teach political science. He retired in 1995 to take up writing full time.

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