Global Policy Forum

Fortress Iraq


By Abdul-Ilah Al-Bayaty and Hana Al-Bayaty*

December 2004

The United States has been multiplying plans and proposals to divide up Iraq and destroy its unifying Arab-Muslim identity. The latest of these plans is to organise elections based on ethnical and confessional affiliations. The US clearly also wants to use the country in order to attack neighbouring states. In what way does this strategy coincide with the interests of the Iraqi people?

The attempt to define the Iraqi people along ethnic and confessional lines simply ignores the geographical, historical and cultural situation of the country. This heritage, together with its natural resources and its need to develop, implies that Iraq should rather defend its Arab identity, and work towards the best possible cooperation with its neighbours Turkey and Iran.

Iraqi government policy on relations with its neighbours should be determined by the search for security, stability and cooperation across the region, rather than by subjective, a priori or foreign interests. In order to do this, it will be necessary to promote the exchange of potentials by favouring the movement of capital, goods, services, skills, ideas and individuals.

Their mutual bilateral interests dictate openness and cooperation between Iraq and each of its neighbouring states. In addition, the median geographical position of Iraq is a decisive factor in multilateral relations. Indeed, the slightest deterioration in relations between Iraq and any of its neighbours is automatically a setback for cooperation throughout the whole region.

Iraq is a crossroads. Its land provides the necessary route for Iran to access Syria, Jordan and the Mediterranean, and for Syria and Jordan as they look towards Iran and the Arabian gulf basin. It is also the natural path from Turkey to the Gulf, and vice versa. Consequently, the security, stability and unity of Iraq are an absolute necessity for all these countries. Besides, if Iraq were to break off relations with any neighbouring state, this would reduce its own ability to benefit from its median position, and thus from regional cooperation and development of infrastructure. It would penalise its industry and its agriculture, and cut it off from the regional trade necessary to its growth and progress.

A wise policy should therefore start from an adequate comprehension of these realities and of the geopolitical relations that flow from them. Certain parties have long believed that Iraq should be turned into a fortress and surrounded with an iron curtain, and that its destiny is to lead wars against its neighbours on all sides in order to prove its greatness. Such an idea is based on partisan assumptions and can only serve personal interests. Iraq's greatness consists in the freedom of its children, their happiness and their prosperity through the establishment of a democratic, stable, peaceful and unified state, which cares about the development of its economy, and the flourishing of science and culture. A state which stands in solidarity with its brothers, and defends the rights and interests of its people and its nation.

The myth that the economic, social and political development of Turkey and Iran might constitute a danger for Iraq rests on a superficial and ignorant analysis of the relations between these states, and of the laws governing neighbouring states' development. In actual fact, the more Iran and Turkey develop and the richer they become, the more they will need a stable, prosperous and unified Iraq. For such an Iraq would represent both purchasing power for their goods, and a source of production factors.

We refute the claim that Arabs, Persians and Turks are necessarily enemies. This conception ignores the fact that these peoples were first united by Muslim brotherhood, and went on to build a civilisation together. The Arabs and Persians worked together to create the Abbasid State, while the unity of the Seljuks and the Arabs led the Arab Mashrek to victory over the Crusaders. Iraq's interest does not lie in taking sides in any conflict or dispute which might oppose Iran and Turkey. On the contrary, it should work to promote good understanding between them. Equally, problems concerning these countries' minorities, be they Kurdish, Turkmen or Arab, should not be allowed to become a source of clashes. The best way forward is for each of these three states to guarantee the cultural and democratic rights of their own minorities, rather than pretending to defend the rights of minorities in neighbouring states.

It is evident that there are latent conflicts lurking between Iran and Iraq, and between Iraq and Turkey. But these conflicts can only be resolved through dialogue and negotiation, that is, through peaceful and civilised exchange.

Geographically, historically, culturally, and strategically, Iraq belongs to its Arab-Muslim context. This affiliation is neither ethnic nor religious, but rather cultural and geopolitical. It stems from ties of history, culture, language and interests with other Arab states, and from the fact that all these states share a common future. Iraq is not an Arab state because all its people are Arabs (they are not); nor does the fact that Iraq is an Arab state necessarily imply that its government should be exclusively composed of Arabs. And, of course, the Arab affiliation of Iraq can in no way justify the least animosity towards other nationalities, whether inside Iraq or in neighbouring states. Nor does it mean that the Arabs of Iraq can be forced to submit to another state, even if their would-be dominator is itself an Arab state. Neither does it confer on the people of Iraq any legitimacy in leading or annexing other Arab states.

Rather, the fact that Iraq is an Arab state implies that any policy designed to serve the interests of the Iraqi people will fundamentally depend on achieving the best cooperation possible with other Arab countries, and fostering their harmonious, reciprocal and complementary development. The fact that the Kurdish, Turkmen and Caldo-Assyrian minorities will be able to express their cultural rights will not change the country's Arab-Muslim affiliation, for this is a geopolitical reality which can neither be ignored, nor altered at will.

From this affiliation, and from the collective memory of its people, derive the principles of the unwritten constitution which constitutes the cement of Iraqi society, the basis for common life and the warranty of the nation's unity. These principles are written in the heart and soul of every Iraqi. And they are accepted by every essential cultural and political current within Iraqi society, whatever their ideology -- nationalist, Islamist or leftist.

First of all, our natural resources, our material heritage, and the riches of our culture and civilisation are the property of the totality of the Iraqi people in all its successive generations, both past and future. Ownership of this wealth, whether in whole or in part, cannot be alienated by any public or private entity. The general interest and public service are the justification and basis for the operation of the state. It is forbidden to use the state apparatus or its institutions for personal or sectarian ends.

Finally, responsibility for security, defence, justice, health, education, communication, water, energy and all main services, including the management of public finances, natural resources and the country's material and cultural heritage, belongs to the state. Every citizen has the right to enjoy these services, free from any form of discrimination. The Iraqi state should therefore adopt the following principles. The totality of the citizens constitutes the people of Iraq. The people is the sole source of sovereignty and of constitutional, political and judicial legitimacy. The government is responsible and accountable to all the citizens. Solidarity between citizens, between generations, between the different territories making up the country, and with the elderly, the ill, children and orphans, those in need, and every human being who finds himself in a state of weakness, should form the basis of the Iraqi government's social policy.

Only by consciously assuming its Arab-Muslim identity can the creation of a democratic Iraqi state be guaranteed, based upon the equality of all its citizens, men and women without discrimination. In other words, only a state of citizens, rather than a state of parties, nationalities, sects, or theocrats, can fulfil the requirements of democracy. To carve up the state and its institutions proportionately, on ethnic or confessional grounds, so as to place sectarian interests before the general interest, can only produce a state that is permanently vulnerable, paralysed and torn apart from within by conflicts. Such a state would abolish the notion of citizenship, and forbid its citizens to participate directly in public life. It would transform power into the practice of plunder shared between members of a courtier class, and reduce the state apparatus to a feudal tool serving its various clans.

Of course, there are also people who defend the idea of a pure Iraqi identity, who deny the Arab-Muslim affiliation of Iraq, and who seek to conceal the national and religious diversity of Iraqi society. Their only aim is to reduce Iraq to an oil well supplying the international capitalist market. They believe that Iraq is capable of building international relations with, for example, Russia, the United States or Israel, while bypassing its existing concrete involvement in the region. If they get their way, these people will find themselves with a republic deprived of a public -- a republic that will oppress the nationalist Arab current, fight with the Kurds, provoke the Muslims, and leave the demands of the left unsatisfied.

The United States' plans for Iraq have one main strategic aim: to destroy this Arab-Muslim affiliation. On the one hand, they treat Iraqis as a people of abstract "homo economicus", as if they had no surviving cultural ties to their society; while on the other, they promote secondary identities, such as Sunni, Kurdish or Shia, in an attempt to destroy the common identity of the people. This destruction of Iraq's Arab-Muslim identity can only lead to division, and to social and ethnic conflicts, which will make it impossible to build democracy, or even a state of any sort.

Only an Iraq whose government is chosen through free and fair elections will be able to guarantee security, peace, freedom and prosperity for its children. Only a peaceful Iraq, which clearly assumes its Arab-Muslim identity, and respects the values of common life, including the civil, political and human rights of its citizens, can enable its people to play their rightful role in the development of human civilisation alongside the other peoples of the world.

About the Authors: Abdul-Ilah Al-Bayaty is an Iraqi political analyst based in France. Hana Al-Bayaty is a member of the organising committee of the Brussels Tribunal (World Tribunal on Iraq), .

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