Can Iraq be governed?

By Glenn M. Stewart

If you ask any of the Gulf Arabs they will tell you that there are only two men in history who successfully governed Iraq, Hajjaj Bin Yusuf and Saddam Hussein. This opinion is held by both Shia as well as Sunni Muslims. I would have to add to that list Hammurabi who ruled from 1792 BC  until 1750 BC and whose famous and justly harsh code of law was designed to order and control the people who lived and whose descendants still live in the Tigris- Euphrates valley. Little has changed in the intervening 37 centuries.

The core problem in governing Iraq is that the people are fractious and possess an inherent love of violence. As a senior member of the PLO once told me, “you must always remember that the Iraqis like to drink blood.” The general opinion in the Arab world is that the rest of the Arab world is better off when the Iraqis are fighting internally as when they unite they invariably cause trouble for their neighbors as occurred under the reign of Saddam Hussein.

It was Hajjaj bin Yusuf who pointed out this tendency to turbulence in what is perhaps the most famous speech in Arab political history. Hajjaj was appointed governor of Iraq by the  Caliph, Abd Al Malik ibn Marwan in 694 AD.  Hajjaj clove to the same theory of Arab political governance best exemplified by the 2nd Caliph, ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab. ‘Umar knew his constituency well and had once famously summed up his philosophy of how to rule the new empire he inherited, thusly: “The Arab is an unruly camel, but I will tame him with my whip.”

Hajjaj was sent to restore order to the garrison towns of Kufa and Basra and bring the local tribes to heel. After the sermon following Friday prayers he got up in the pulpit and made his speech which I paraphrase here. “O people of Iraq, O people of turbulence and hypocrisy, the Caliph has drawn me, the straightest arrow in his quiver and fired me amongst you. I see many beards and turbans here and soon they are going to be wet with blood. I see many heads resting on their shoulders like ripe melons and I will be the cutting of them. Let each man see to it that he keeps his own.”

Like Saddam Hussein, Hajjaj ruled by brute force but in doing so he brought order to the country. There is no disputing that Saddam and his regime were brutal beyond belief but the changes brought to Iraq through the war the US entered into against that country have not addressed the key issue of the internal political instability of that country. The complexities of the situation in Iraq have eluded all the policy makers in Washington who have instead merely fantasized that they have worked to create some sort of pluralistic society there.

Firstly, the Bush Administration managed, through a policy of extraordinary ignorance to shatter the structure of the Ba’athist state in Iraq and replace it with a pseudo democratic Shia majority run state. The net result of the regime change they effected in Iraq was to hand the Iranians additional political influence in the region on a silver platter. This is one of the greatest failures of recent American political meddling in fields in which we know next to nothing and our so called leadership even less.

Once the Obama administration completes the withdrawal of US forces from the country expect a large upsurge in violence as various factions begin vying for power once the restraint of the US police element is removed. For the last year or so many of the groups that want to remake Iraq have been waiting patiently for us to get out of the way before pursuing their agendas. There will be a return to a multi sided civil war and I very much have my doubts whether the current government can prevail in such a scenario. This will create a major opportunity for the Iranians further to expand their influence in the country. Already their proxy Muqtada As Sadr has stepped up his military activities. The current prime minister is dependent upon As Sadr to remain in power and is both unwilling and unable to reign him in.

There will be a lot of blood drunk in Iraq in the days to come. But then as a leading Kuwaiti banker once told me; “you have to remember that Iraq was the first nation on earth that Satan came to when he came to Babylon. There was a good reason he chose Iraq, as the human potential there was so great for him to work with.”
To be continued…
Glenn StewartGlenn M. Stewart is a renowned expert on Middle Eastern affairs and business. a graduate of Oxford University, Glenn M.Stewart holds an advanced degree in Islamic History and Arabic and lived in the Middle East for 27 years. A successful entrepreneur and businessman, Stewart has a unique insight into this critical and important area of the world.

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