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Turning Iraq Into Iran
October 25, 2002
Paul Kienitz

One question that has received some limited discussion lately is, if the United States invades Iraq and overthrows Saddam Hussein, who will replace him? This is usually treated as an imponderable question for which no one has yet come up with an answer. But we can stop worrying, because George W. Bush has an answer already. He's got opposition groups picked out and has already given the order to start supplying and training them for fighting to take Iraq. Can you guess what opposition group that might be?

Most of us have heard of only one significant organized anti-Saddam group in Iraq: the Kurds, an ethnic minority mostly living near the border with Turkey. But even those advocating this war know that we can't just prop up a puppet regime that doesn't at least have the appearance of being home-grown, and that the Iraqi people will never accept a regime in which a minority ethnic group is put in power over the majority, especially when one major use they have already said they would make of any increased power would be to grab a big share of oil revenue for themselves. And that means that any new, popular, and accepted regime in Iraq will probably have to come from one particular group:

The Islamists.

Saddam Hussein is many things, but one thing he is not is an Islamist. He has no ideological common ground with those who base their politics on fundamentalist Moslem religion -- the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Ayatollahs of Iran, the Saudi Arabian factions that provided most of the manpower for the September 11 attack, and most of the Middle East's major terrorist groups. In Iraq, the Islamist faction is, as far as we can tell, the one major organized force opposing Saddam Hussein for reasons other than ethnic division.

The Bush administration has allowed itself to indulge in a Bay of Pigs fantasy in which the Iraqi people, somehow prompted by an outside invasion and yet more bombing, spontaneously rise up to throw off the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. This fantasy has, of course, gotten us in trouble many times before. At present, the signs point much more toward bitter resistance by the Iraqi people to any American incursion. But if there is any chance of such an uprising being successful, then a revolt under the banner of Islamism probably maximizes its chances. Not despite, but because of, the fact that typical Islamists tend to be more anti-Western than the current Iraqi regime is.

Saddam Hussein is not anti-American for any profound and unchanging philosophical reasons. He is strongly anti-American solely because we have attacked his country and caused so much destruction there. He was happy enough to accept our help in his war against Iran before we went to war against him. The average Iraqi may have suspected back then, and with good reason, that the U.S. might have been helping both sides, and working to lengthen that war instead of shortening it... but there was no pre-existing grounds for Iraqis to be particularly anti-American, other than the usual issue of Israel., which has not stopped cordial relations between the U.S. and many Arab governments. That attribute was primarily seen on the Iranian side, where the uprising against the Shah, a U.S. puppet probably worse than Saddam and certainly far more unpopular, created the first highly visible and successful modern Islamist regime. Iran has since become more free and democratic than it was at first, but it is still friendly soil for those who hold to the kind of absolutist and intolerant religious politics that produced the regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Iraq's largest opposition group is the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. It is based in Iran. It is probably not the only such group. We have every reason to suppose that the people in these groups are sympathetic to Iran's style of Islamism. They would probably get Iranian backing for a war against Saddam, since there is no doubt still some bad blood remaining from the Iran-Iraq war in some quarters. We can therefore expect that if they come to power after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, they will institute a regime that is friendly to Iran and more, not less, hostile to Western culture and Western values -- such as rights for women -- than Saddam Hussein is. We have every reason to expect that the new regime will be more, not less, friendly to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

Despite some faltering administration efforts to draw a connection, there is not much common ground between Saddam Hussein's Baathists and the Islamists, like Osama bin Laden, who make up the major terrorist groups in the Middle East. Osama bin Laden is not much at home in present-day Iraq, despite their common enemy. An Islamist regime in Iraq would quite likely increase the support available to Osama bin Laden and others like him, not reduce it.

If you imagine that we couldn't possibly commit such a blunder, look at how the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. We've already made the same mistake once.

Paul Kienitz's Enron watch page is at

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