September 15, 2003


Who'll help us? We ourselves, mostly (The Economist, Sep 11th 2003)

Much of the continuing bad feeling is of the Americans' own making. Suspected Baathists are still being expelled from their jobs, creating a fertile ground from which the resistance can recruit. In Kirkuk, 500 civil servants were dismissed from the education department; another 1,300 were fired from the oil ministry. None has been put on trial -- the promised tribunal has yet to open -- and some sackings appear motivated at least in part by revenge.

The Americans say that their widespread public works are soaking up excess labour, and will reduce unemployment from 60% to 20% by the end of next year. But technocrats do not want broomsticks, says an oil ministry clerk, they want responsibility. Some of his colleagues were so angered, he said, that they were directing the resistance to key junctions on the pipeline.

The current security problems, however, could pale compared with those that loom. The carving of Iraq's political map according to its matrix of sects (Sunni, Shia and Christian) and ethnicities (Arab, Kurd and Turkomen) seemed a relief after years of Sunni supremacy. But for many Iraqis, America has sown the seeds of future sectarianism, much as the French did in Lebanon after the first world war. For the first time that most Iraqis can remember, the term ta'ifi, or sectarian, is no longer taboo. Iraqis who want to climb the political ladder now expect to do it through their sect or ethnic grouping.

There is of course no such thing as an average Iraqi, and Iraq's bumpy assumption of its Arab League seat this week awakened conflicting emotions. Sunnis saw the readiness of that supposed bastion of Arabism to accept a “quisling” foreign minister appointed by the American occupier as a sell-out (all the more so, since the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zabari, is a Kurd), while Shias said that the Arab League's dithering showed contempt for the Shia majority in Iraq. But where differences were repressed under Saddam, they are now becoming official.

Sometimes it's most helpful to read a column by imagining that whoever is being criticized did everything they were being asked to do instead. In this case that would mean leaving Ba'athists in control of the bureaucracy, giving them authority to spend the rebuilding funds, and setting up a political system where one of the three major "sects" would be in charge of the other two. Does that sound like a recipe for less or more sectarianism? Iraq isn't a real country and nothing we can do will make it one. The sooner we recognize Kurdistan the better and then the Sunni can decide whether to leave Shiastan or be governed by the majority Shi'a who they long oppressed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2003 9:03 AM

In some ways, The Economist is the least British of magazines, but this advice is straight from the Raj.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 15, 2003 9:44 AM

Sometimes you spare the rod and spoil the child.

If there is someone the Iraqis hate as much as Saddam it might be the United Nations.

GW talks directly to the Iraqi people: "Work with us, or you will be dealing with France and Germany!"

Posted by: john at September 15, 2003 10:41 AM

If they had really wanted to take responsibility, they'd have been rebels against Saddam.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2003 3:08 PM