Allan Topol is a partner in a large Washington-based international law firm. He has a science and engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, and a law degree from Yale University. For almost 40 years, he has been involved in issues at the height of the Washington power structure.
He is also a national bestselling novelist, using the thriller genre to explore international geopolitical and military issues. His 2001 novel, SPY DANCE, is about a former CIA agent on the run and Saudi Arabian oil. His 2003 novel, DARK AMBITION, deals with the corruption of power in Washington and China's threatening posture toward Taiwan. In January 2004, his new novel CONSPIRACY was released dealing with a foreign leader's attempt to influence an American presidential election and the possibility of renewed militarism in Japan.
[Have an opinion about the issues discussed in this column? Sound
Two facts about Iraq are beyond dispute. The war went far better than even the most optimistic military analysts expected. The occupation has gone worse. Only by focusing on why the latter has occurred and what lies ahead can we hope to remedy the situation.
The goal of creating a democratic Iraq which could be a model for other nations in the Middle East was admirable. Personally, I was doubtful from the beginning that it could ever succeed, as one of my previous columns explains. I am now convinced that it is doomed to fail.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that Iraq is not a single nation historically. Rather, it is at best a loose amalgam of numerous tribal and ethnic groups. The most predominate of which are the Sunnis, the Shiia and the Kurds.
Iraq's borders were artificially drawn by European colonial powers. With superior force, exercised first by the British, then by a monarchy, and most recently by Saddam Hussein, national cohesion was maintained with the barrel of a gun.
Our policymakers read the history books on Iraq, but missed its critical lesson. We had the experience of Lebanon and Yugoslavia to guide us, but we rejected those as well. Naively, but with good intentions, we had hoped to fuse Sunnis, Shiia and Kurds into this new "democratic Iraq," our poster child for the Arab world. A June 30 deadline was set, though there was no one to whom power could be transferred. "Build it and they will come," was our guiding motto."
The first hint of serious trouble came with the Shiite position on the provisional constitution. With a sixty percent majority, the Shiia had the most to gain from a unified democratic Iraq. But their respected clerics had no intention of accepting the secular, equal rights for all, including women, liberal democracy the U.S. was contemplating. They insisted on having the new government on their own terms which means a theocracy, not unlike that in Iran. To underscore their point, Shiite rebels in the south and in Baghdad launched bloody attacks on the U.S.
The Sunnis, for their part, have no desire to participate in "a democratic Iraq," run by the Shiia, who will have the votes to dictate policy. Hence the attacks and battles in Falluja and the Sunni triangle.
Grasping for straws to untie this Gordian knot, the U.S. reached out for help from the U.N., regardless of how distasteful that was. After about two weeks, it is now clear that U.N. envoy Brahimi has no more chance of fulfilling the U.S. objective of a unified democratic Iraq than Paul Bremer.
Against this background, the U.S. occupation forces have now taken a radically different course of action. They have begun reconstituting the Iraqi army and turning it over to former Sunni generals under Saddam Hussein. The return of the Baathists is under way big time. It is these Iraqi generals who will be charged with creating stability in Iraq before the situation spins totally out of control.
The Iraqi officers being appointed have supposedly been vetted to establish their non participation in Saddam Hussein's reign of terror. When their backgrounds are examined closely, this appears to be a mere fig leaf. To emphasize the point, when General Amer Bakr al-Hashimi, selected to be the commander of Iraq's new army, was asked by a reporter what he thought of having served under Saddam Hussein, he responded: "I feel proud."
Of course, we know that any general in the Iraqi army had to be a loyal supporter of Saddam Hussein. In the interests of achieving stability in Iraq, we're willing to look the other way. After all, the argument goes, we accepted former German leaders from the Nazi era as part of the governmental structure to run the new Germany after the war. And the same for Japan.
The difference is that Germany and Japan were single nations, willing to work with the United States in the post war effort. Iraq is not.
Turning military control over to Saddam's former generals, even members of the hated Republican Guard, may achieve stability in the north. But at an expensive price.
The Shiia in the south, victims of Saddam's military, will now be even more opposed to forging the unified democratic Iraq the U.S. hopes for. And do we dare send this Sunni Iraqi army into the south to quell Shiia uprisings? I dobut that we'll risk the certain bloodbath that will ensue.
Looking over the horizon, it appears that our resort to the old Iraqi generals will inexorably lead to the fragmentation of Iraq. The most we can realistically hope for is a federation of three states: Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish cooperating on oil revenues and other matters. This won't be all bad if it leads to relative stability within the borders of the old Iraq. It will still be a lot better than the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
The federation may not be what we wanted; but it's the best we will be able to obtain. Once we realize the inevitability of this result, we can move toward it expeditiously and with a minimum loss of American lives.