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Jewish World Review March. 11, 2003 / 7 Adar II, 5763

Bill Schneider

William
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Hussein and hope

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Saddam Hussein is ousted. What happens next? Is there an opposition capable of governing Iraq?

A three-day meeting of opposition leaders in northern Iraq ende in confusion. With no opposition leader or group able to claim broad legitimacy, experts fear Iraq may split into warring factions. Many groups have scores to settle with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

The truth is, once Hussein is gone, no one can predict what will happen. But there are reasons to be hopeful. Political scientist Laith Kubbah leads the Iraq National Group, an organization of Iraqi-Americans and Iraqi exiles that met in Washington last month. The group's purpose: to make sure a post-Saddam Iraq succeeds.

They insist that Iraq is not Afghanistan. Or Lebanon. "Iraq has not seen any communal conflicts or violence, neither between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims nor between Arabs and Kurds,'' Kubbah said in an interview. The violence in Iraq has come from Saddam Hussein, who has persecuted and murdered hundreds of thousands of minorities and dissidents. Most recently, murderous rampages against the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south after the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

Both groups now live under the protection of the American and British no-fly zones. But the two groups have different ambitions. The Kurds are Sunnis, but they're not Arabs. They want as much autonomy as possible from Iraq Iraqi Shi'ites are Arabs but they're not Sunnis. They want to claim their rightful place in Iraq.

Many Kurds dream of separation from Iraq. But that seems unlikely. A Kurdish state would be immensely threatening to Turkey, which has a rebellious Kurdish minority of its own. And the United States is determined to stop it. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has said repeatedly, "We are opposed to a separate state in northern Iraq.''

Rubar Sandi, a Kurdish-American member of the Iraq National Group who recently visited northern Iraq, says the Kurds have accepted that reality, at least for now. He described the prevailing Kurdish view as, "We want to be part of Iraq. We feel we are Iraqi. We are not strangers.''

What concerns the Kurds is the prospect of a Turkisharmy presence in northern Iraq. Columnist Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer also visited Iraq recently. In her view, "People of northern Iraq are terrified that Turkish troops are going to come in and repress the democratic institutions that the Kurds have built'' under the protection of the no-fly zone.

The U.S. indicated its willingness to allow tens of thousands of Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq as a concession to secure Turkey's support for the war. But last Saturday, the Turkish parliament narrowly rejected a measure to allow U.S. deployment from Turkish bases. That reduces the likelihood of a Turkish incursion, at least for now.

In Rubin's view, "If the Turks move in, they will inspire the kind of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq that is now dormant.'' So a reduced role for Turkey could mean a reduced threat of Kurdish separatism. Still, the Turkish military is unlikely to stand by and allow another refugee crisis like the one during the Gulf war, when half a million Kurdish refugees fled over the border.

What can the United States do to keep its allies from fighting? Rubin says, "The Americans somehow have to get the Turks and Kurds together to understand that both sides are interested in one Iraq, and the Turks do not have to fear that the Kurds will break out into independence. The Americans will assure that.''

Shi'ites fought for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. But their loyalty was always suspect. Could Iraqi Shi'ites be longing to join with the much larger Shi'ite population of neighboring Iran? That worries the United States as well.

But it may not be a problem. "The Shi'ites don't have much in common with Iran,'' Kubbah says. "They come from a different culture. They are Arabs, not Persians. They see their roots and identity in Iraq.''

Some Shi'ites dream of an Islamic revolution in Iraq. But that is also unlikely. Iraq is too diverse and too secular. The Shi'ites appear to have accepted that reality. "Their agenda is very simple,'' Kubbah says. "Just give us a fair and open system where we can participate and have our normal and natural share of power.''

If the two most dangerous threats to Iraq after Saddam, Kurdish separatism and Islamic revolution, don't seem very likely, there is still a serious problem, namely, a vacuum of leadership. In Kubbah's view, "Iraqis share the same dream, but at the moment they don't have a leadership and they don't have a group with an agenda showing them how to get there.''

That's why the U.S. doesn't want to turn power over to a provisional government too quickly. Sandi argues, "Give Iraqis a chance to think about their future, to come to some kind of consensus, rather than impose it on them ahead of time and then have the whole thing unravel.'' The plan is for the U.S. to run Iraq for a while, just like it ran Germany and Japan after World War II.

And then what? How do you build a national consensus in Iraq after Saddam? Possibly from the desire to stop foreign influence in Iraq. By Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia. And by the United States as well.

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© 2002, William Schneider