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imperialism & war

US plans ignore Iraq's clans

Iraq is a manufactured state, which only came into existence in 1920, as a British mandate, although Iraqi (or Mesopotamian) society itself has existed since the beginnings of civilization.

Saddam Hussein is a Ba'ath ruler. The Ba'ath idea is of a secular Arab nation (which is why Christians originated it and support it today), rather than one defined by Islamic religion.
U.S. plans ignore Iraq's clans

William Pfaff IHT
Saturday, February 15, 2003
 http://www.iht.com/articles/86775.html

Occupational hazards

PARIS Last week I was on a platform with Gudrun Harrer, the foreign affairs editor of the Vienna daily Der Standard and a Middle East specialist. She had just returned from the region and was asked her expectations about the war that seems about to take place.

She said that until recently she had thought U.S. forces would probably overrun Iraq relatively easily but that she'd changed her mind when Saddam Hussein declared he would hold the tribal or clan leaders of the country responsible for defending their own regions and was arming them accordingly. This made a serious difference, she said, particularly as the Iraqi dictator would undoubtedly have any of the leaders who faltered killed, as an example to others.

To talk seriously about societies such as Iraq, it is essential to appreciate the family or clan structure that provides most of its members with their fundamental social attachment, and which is the basis of their political and military commitments.

Iraq is a manufactured state, which only came into existence in 1920, as a British mandate, although Iraqi (or Mesopotamian) society itself has existed since the beginnings of civilization.

Before 1920, the people had been members of three Ottoman Empire provinces. No doubt they would have identified themselves first as Muslims and then as subjects of the distant Sultan.

Real authority in most matters was exercised by "more or less self-sufficient communities ruled by their own forces, authorities and hierarchies, with the Ottoman state as a remote imposition with a predominantly fiscal concern," according to the British scholar Sami Zubaida, writing in the May 2000 issue of The International Journal of Middle East Studies.

The state collected taxes, not always successfully, and imposed military conscription, "a particularly detested and resisted practice."

After World War I destroyed the Ottoman state, the fractious communities of what became Iraq were pulled together by a British-imposed monarchy. It controlled resources and their allocation, state employment and education, which provided the qualifications for employment and imposed a standardization of language. Out of this emerged a "national" intelligentsia and political class.

However the fundamental components of Iraq remained communal or clan, regional and religious. Clan or family was the one solid and secure relationship people possessed. Family gave protection against rivals and the arbitrary power of the state. Careers, state commissions, business investments, contracts and jobs came mainly through through family members well placed in society or in government.

Wealth and possessions were also held by the family group. This encouraged consanguineous marriage among cousins and related families. It intensified the bonds of family and the webs of advantage, and kept clan wealth concentrated.

On the other hand, secular political forces affecting the new Iraqi state included Arab nationalism - the idea of an independent Arab state made up of all the Arabs. This idea was launched in Lebanese Christian circles in the 1920s and inspired the Ba'ath parties of both Syria and Iraq.

Saddam Hussein is a Ba'ath ruler. The Ba'ath idea is of a secular Arab nation (which is why Christians originated it and support it today), rather than one defined by Islamic religion.

Today's Islamic fundamentalists and the Saudi Arabians and other theocratic Muslims condemn the Ba'ath idea. In Iraq's early years, the political dividing line was between the pan-Arab idea and the emerging notion of an Iraqi nation, dominated by the Sunni minority, which is what Iraq is today.

Zubaida nonetheless warns that to say the Iraqi nation is a reality "is not to imply that this reality is one of solidarity or loyalty." The vital forces remain its component ethnic or religious groups, and its clans and families.

Last week representatives of the Bush administration explained to a Senate committee its sketchy plans for rebuilding Iraq as a democracy. There will be revised laws and a constitution. There will be "advisory committees" made up of returned Iraqi exiles, bureaucrats, professionals and local leaders to advise General Tommy Franks during the military occupation. The officials differed on whether the occupation would last two years or more.

There was no discussion of the relationship of laws and advisory committees to Iraq's real social structure. A critic might say they sounded like babes in the woods discussing the gingerbread house they are going to rebuild after knocking it down. They were also talking about all this with a confidence that suggested they just might be tempting fate.
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