Friday, October 12, 2007

Did political opposition to Saddam make Iraqis 'traitors'?

It amazes me how many people (mostly Arabs) believed and still believe that Iraqis who opposed Saddam's regime were traitors to Iraq. To me they are heroes.  From Regrets Only?

2. By the time the American invasion began in the spring of 2003, the toppling of Saddam Hussein appeared to be one of those rare historic moments when the men of force and the men of hope could stand together. For here, in Hussein, was one of the world's indisputably evil men: he murdered as many as a million of his people, many with poison gas. He tortured, maimed and imprisoned countless more. His unprovoked invasion of Iran is estimated to have left another million people dead. His seizure of Kuwait threw the Middle East into crisis. More insidious, arguably, was the psychological damage he inflicted on his own land. Hussein created a nation of informants — friends on friends, circles within circles — making an entire population complicit in his rule.

Yet for all of that, through the 1980s, the depth and scale of Hussein's atrocities went largely unnoticed by the wider world. [including the Arab world] Then, in 1989, came the publication of "Republic of Fear," written under the name of Samir al-Khalil. In exile circles, the story is well known: Al-Khalil was actually Makiya, who, while working as an architect for his father in London, began researching his book in secret. At first, "Republic of Fear" landed without notice, scarcely moving from the shelves — until August 1990, when Hussein sent his tanks rolling into Kuwait. Overnight, "Republic of Fear" became a sensation, essential to understanding Hussein, and Makiya shortly thereafter revealed his identity. Along the way, he met Ahmad Chalabi, the exile leader, who, without knowing the identity of the author and never having heard of Makiya, had bought hundreds of copies of the book and distributed them across the Iraqi exile community. Makiya and Chalabi became united in their obsession.

Following the end of the first gulf war, Makiya became the intellectual force behind the Iraqi opposition. In 1991, he made the first of more than a dozen trips into Iraq's Kurdish region, then under American protection, documenting the genocidal campaign against the Kurds that Hussein waged in the 1980s. Makiya carried out a suitcase of documents, the first of millions of files on Hussein's regime that he would assemble over the years. Those formed the basis for what later became the Iraq Memory Foundation, dedicated to preserving the record of Hussein's crimes.

As Hussein's end grew near, Makiya pressed harder, presiding over the drafting of a prototype Iraqi constitution, which called for a secular and democratic state. He drew up the initial list of 45 senior Iraqi leaders to be prosecuted for war crimes, a forerunner to the Americans' famous "deck of cards" with Hussein as the ace of spades.  And, overcoming stiff resistance from the leaders of the Iraqi National Congress — the opposition group assembled by Chalabi — Makiya secured a promise of a nationwide amnesty for all Iraqis outside of the highest levels of Hussein's regime.

It was the amnesty, Makiya says now, that was to be the essence of the new Iraq that he imagined, and that he imagined was possible. The idea was that, under Hussein, nearly all Iraqis had suffered — not just the Kurds and the Shiites, but even the Sunnis, the minority from which Hussein had come. For that reason, Makiya argued, revenge in a post-Hussein Iraq would not only be pointless but impossible if the country were to survive. To Makiya, it seemed obvious that a totalitarian regime so pervasive in its reach had left no corner of the country untouched.

"Under Saddam, the overwhelming majority of people had been brutalized, and this brutalization had led to a very deep atomization of the society — of the destruction of the Iraqi identity," Makiya told me during one of the conversations I had with him over the summer. "And so I asked myself: how can I find hope in this darkness? Upon what do you hang a new Iraqi sense of identity?"

He answered his own question: "I am saying, we are going to remember the pain. Let us find, in that pain, common ground. We are going to say that we are Iraqis, and we are held together by this."

Makiya was betting that Iraq would turn out like South Africa or the former East Germany, where widespread reprisals were avoided. Makiya even toured the old headquarters of the Stasi, the secret police of the defunct East German state, which has since been converted to an archival center. There, the former citizens of East Germany can view their files to see what their old government did to spy on them. Makiya envisioned similar things for Iraq, including a South African-style truth commission, where the functionaries of Hussein's regime could confess their crimes without fear of prosecution.

The fact that both South Africa and East Germany were exceptions to the rule that revolutions are bloody affairs was not lost on Makiya. Yes, he says, he considered the possibility that Iraq could turn out like Yugoslavia, that it could implode or come apart. But that possibility did not dissuade him. The Iraqis were ready for democracy, Makiya believed, they were ready to forgive.

And — this is the crucial point — even if the Iraqis were not ready, Makiya argued, the regime in Baghdad was so wrecked that destroying it was worth the gamble anyway. "I think there's a less than 5 percent chance that what I'd like to see happen actually happens," Makiya told The Boston Globe in the autumn of 2002. "But it seems to me an obligation, even if it's a 5 percent chance, to try to make it happen. You could call it a triumph of hope over experience. But what else is politics if not that?"

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