After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The failure of the Iraqi Secular Parties

To understand why the secular parties failed so spectacularly and why they had such high hopes in the first place,one must go back (at least) to 1958.

Here, in the true spirit of blogging is a brief, poorly informed, and one-sided view. To be refined in the comments section.

What America and the secular parties that supported America had been believing in all along was a repeat of the 1958 revolution - but this time with a pro-American government.

In 1958 a group of military officers brought down the monarchy and so doing started a revolution in which the whole government of Iraq was rebuilt from the ground up. Much like the aftermath of this war. The significance lies with the broad response of the parties and the people. Without any foreign intervention the people did not start destroying their country or killing each other in a civil war. The parties formed a new government, agreed a new constitution and nationalised the oil industry to create a truly independent Iraq. The people, in their masses backed the Communist party - not the religious parties or the tribal parties or the nationalists.

And there lies the seeds of the fantasy that the pro-American secularists have built around themselves. They believe simply by being secular the people will once again flock around them.

The other problem is that certain elite Iraqi secular politicians have always felt the need to be a client for a more powerful state. After 1958, the Communist leaders returned to Iraq from exile in the USSR and were given power on a plate. They never had to earn it from the people - never really understood what power was about or why they earned it. The Communists could have taken control of Iraq in 1963 but, after an order from the Soviet Union, they did not. Following the coup which brought the Saddam's Baathists into power, the Communist party agreed, again at the behest of the Soviet Union, to serve in Saddam's government. When Saddam had finished with them of them he had them rounded up and executed. With the fall of the USSR the Communists simply transferred allegiance to America.

Many exiled Iraqis became increasingly cut off from Iraq. I remember that during the height of military industrialisation of Iraq in the 80's there were some groups still arguing that Iraq could not produce screws! While in reality Iraq was designing and manufacturing rockets that could hit Tehran. They developed ideas that were completely disconnected from needs of the Iraqi people. Some would go as far to argue that Iraq should have been bombed even more by the Americans during the Kuwait war!

The last big delusion was what I call the WWII factor. The exiles believed that America was seeking to create a new Germany or Japan out of the wreckage of Iraq. This is quite obviously false. America allowed and industrial society to grow in Japan because Japan was too small and isolated to ever be a challenge to American power and America needed Japan as a buffer against China. America needed Germany industrialised because Germany was the front line against the USSR. All America needs from Iraq is a military base and cheep oil. The Iraqi people don't even show on their radar. Further, an industrialised Iraq sitting at the heart of the oil producing region and at the centre of Asia would create a power that would rival America and Europe.

Now to the failure:

Inside Iraq, any opposition or even political dissent was brutally repressed and enforced with a very effective network of informers. A whole generation grew up not allowed to discuss politics or even to understand their history. One friend from Iraq did not have a clue what happened in 1958. This cut a whole generation off from party politics. The only organisation outside the government were the mosques.

The secular parties came to a blank slate but one which the religious parties had a head start. Given their uncritical support for the occupier and the complete lack of a support base or even any idea how to earn a new base not even the biggest advertising budget could win you any votes.

The pro-American secular parties are offering Iraq more occupation and nothing in return because America is offering Iraqis nothing. To offer Iraqis something concrete would mean to take control of the oil and use its money to reindustrialise Iraq. But that would also mean to cut your ties with the Americans. You can't have it both ways.


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