Prepared Statement of Rend al-Rahim, Executive Director, Iraq Foundation, Washington, DC, Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

August 1, 2002

Iraq on the Day After

Three premises underlie this paper:

  1. That the U.S. will have a decisive role, unprecedented since World War II, to influence the outcome in Irag after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and has a correspondingly large responsibility to use its power for the good.

  2. That what we achieve or fail to achieve in Iraq will have a profound and enduring effect on the region.

  3. To the extent that the United States declares itself for democracy, and not merely change, in Iraq, it will gain the trust and cooperation of the Iraqi people.

Once the regime of Saddam Hussein is removed from power, there will be a historic opportunity to remake Iraq out of the ashes of 30 years of brutality, domestic and foreign wars, nightmare weapons, and economic collapse. But this requires a commitment from the United States and the international community to a process of nation-building in Iraq. The commitment should not be of a purely military nature–it is just as important civilian, institutional, and economic, but it must be sustained.

The situation on the day after:

It is impossible to predict with precision what will happen on the day after the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, what some are calling D-Day-plus-one. Nevertheless, certain factors will derive the situation in the country:

First, Iraqis will welcome the United States as the liberator, and many will join U.S. forces in dismantling the regime’s edifice. Iraqi military officers, once they are certain of the regime’s demise, will want to show that they too are on board, and will defect with their troops. But the welcome will be coupled with a sense of apprehension and expectation: What will the Americans do, and what do they intend for Iraq? It is essential to assure Iraqis that the United States come to Iraq as a liberator and friend, and not as occupying force, and that the United States bears the message of freedom and democracy.

Second, the humanitarian crisis will become acute, as the disruption of distribution systems, population displacements and destroyed infrastructure leave people without access to food, water, and medical resources. There will be civilian casualties to take care of at a time when hospitals, roads and electricity are unavailable. Oil production may be interrupted for weeks, causing shortages inside Iraq and affecting the international energy markets.

Third, the system of law and order will break down, endangering public safety and putting people at risk of personal reprisals. There will be no police force, no justice system, no civil service and no accountability. In this confusion, people will be inclined to take justice into their own hands.

Fourth, there will be a vacuum of authority and an intense jockeying for power. Senior officials who fear retribution will take flight or remain in hiding. Others, including military officers, clan leaders, mid-level civilian officials, and scattered remnants of the old regime will vie for positions, and will want to ingratiate themselves with the U.S. forces to obtain political recognition and secure a role in the aftermath.

Fifth, several of Iraq’s neighbors may attempt to influence the process of change and to pre-position themselves to take advantage of the outcome.

It is equally important to know what will not happen, and to dispel some common myths about Iraq. One myth is that Iraq will break apart into mini-states, that the Kurds and the Shi’a will secede, and that parts of Iraq will be taken over by, or join, Turkey and Iran.

This myth was spun in 1991 principally to keep Saddam Hussein in power and indeed Saddam may be the biggest perpetrator of this falsehood. Iraq will not split apart. Iraqi Kurds have spared no effort or words to reassure the world that they see themselves as part of Iraq and have no intention of seeking independence. The Shi’a identify themselves as quintessentially Iraqi, as Iraqis first and everything else second. All Iraqi groups have publicly committed themselves to the territorial unity and integrity of a future democratic Iraq.

A second myth that needs debunking is that Iraq will irrupt in civil war. Iraq has never had a civil war on the Balkan or Afghan model. With the exception of sporadic Kurdish conflict in the mid-1990s, inter-communal fighting among Iraqis is virtually non-existent in Iraqi history. The established pattern in Iraq is for the government to oppress communities and individuals, and for communities to retaliate against the government, and not against each other.

Furthermore, there is no tradition of warlords and armed private militias in Iraq’s history, as there was in Afghanistan or in Lebanon. To anticipate civil war in Iraq is to ignore or misrepresent modern Iraqi history.

For 30 years, Saddam Hussein’s regime has inflicted wounds on the Iraqi people. Saddam has been liberal and equitable in his oppression. It is not only the Kurds and the Shi’a who have been persecuted; Iraqis from all social and political groups have suffered injustice and disenfranchisement. Iraq’s urban middle classes, its professionals and intelligentsia, have been crushed, and no forms of civil society exist in Iraq. All these groups, and every individual Iraqi, seek restitution, recognition and participation in a new political order after the fall of Saddam Hussein. There is an overwhelming desire for freedom among Iraqis. They want justice, representation, accountable government, freedom from fear, freedom to speak out, and security for themselves and their families from the thugs of a lawless state. Iraqis want everything that is summed up in the single word democracy.

First priorities
Iraq will need everything in a post-Saddam period, and the United States must be willing to accept a nation-building role, assisted by other countries and national and international organizations. In some respects, Afghanistan is a case study in what not to do. The United
States cannot take the path of least resistance and regard Iraq exclusively as a military campaign, to be quickly wrapped up. For both Iraqis and the United States, this must be a fight not just against Iraq’s past, but also for its future.

The immediate, day one, priorities in Iraq will be:

(a) restoring law and order and preventing vigilantism,

(b) addressing humanitarian needs, and

(c) dismantling the old regime’s weapons of mass destruction.

In a slightly longer time-frame of no more than a few weeks, there will be additional priorities:

(a) eradicating the remnants of old regime institutions, including the several security and paramilitaly organizations created to safeguard the regime,

(b) ensuring the capture of leaders of the old regime, with the expectation of indictment and prosecution,

(c) restoring the infrastructure of vital economic sectors,

(d) training an Iraqi police force,

(e) restructuring the civil service, and

(f) kick-starting the economy.

These tasks will present formidable challenges of manpower, organization and command responsibility. With the collapse of the institutions of the old regime, the civil service and the police force necessary for dealing with emerging crises will be dysfunctional. For a country of 22 million, tens of thousands of people have to be mobilized to carry out the functions of distribution, communication, management and law enforcement.

The old security apparatus of Saddam’s regime must be neutralized and put out of commission. In its place, an adequate police force will have to be trained or re-trained. The old power structure that ran the country can no longer be allowed to continue, and the civil service will have to be reconstituted under new authority. There should be preparations of the prosecution of leaders of the old regime.

The Iraqi economy has been devastated, and Iraqis have lived in deprivation for the past 12 years. Per capita gross domestic product in Iraq is estimated between $1,500-2,500 per year, having dropped from over $15,000 in 1990. In moderately developed countries, this figure is $25,000. An important task for the U.S. from the start is to regenerate the Iraqi economy, create employment opportunities and provide a visible improvement in the standard of living as quickly as possible.

To this end, the United States should announce a Marshall Plan for Iraq even before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and proceed to put it in place once there is a change of regime as an inseparable part of the reconstruction of Iraq. This is the single most important gesture of good will that the United States can offer, and will win the trust of Iraqis desperate for economic relief.

The United States must take a major role in addressing these immediate and medium-term needs. The United States will have troops at hand, but will also need a large contingent of civilians both from the United States and other countries who are experienced in crisis situations and institution-building. With the passage of time it will be vitally important for Iraqis to perceive the United States as a benign presence, a problem-solver and guardian of their interests, rather than merely as a military police.

Still, no matter how many American and foreign troops and civilians enter Iraq, Iraqi participation will be indispensable and decisive. For political and practical considerations, the United States will need to work with an Iraqi structure of authority to meet public security and humanitarian emergencies effectively.

Therefore, the US should not allow an Iraqi vacuum of authority to endure, but must ensure that an Iraqi governing structure emerges rapidly. By necessity, the US will have to identify and deal with Iraqis who can step in to manage the country in partnership with the United States, its allies and international organizations. The sooner the United States identifies its Iraqi partners, the easier it will be to deal with the challenges of the day after. Who can the Unites States turn to in Iraq?

Traditional options for succession
The United States will have the responsibility of determining which Iraqi partners it can work with, and who can best govern and administer the country through a transition period. The choices that the US makes will reflect several factors: how well the US understands Iraqi political society; what the US thinks about Iraq’s future and the future of the Middle East; how the US calculates its long term interests in the region; and how strong a commitment the US is prepared to make towards helping Iraqis build their future.

In the months following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the options for leadership within Iraq will be limited. After 30 years of repression, execution or flight of political figures, indeed the cessation of all political life in the country, there will be no political parties or prominent leaders outside the perimeter of the old regime. Inside Iraq today there are only two circles of power which see themselves as candidates for succession: the military/security complex and the provincial clans of central Iraq who supply manpower to this military/security complex and have been co-opted and exploited by Saddam Hussein for his own ends. The fact is that the extensive overlap between the two circles makes them almost identical. The Ba’th party is a hollow and compromised institution reviled by Iraqis. Without Saddam Hussein, it has no authority and no credible candidates can step forward from its ranks. As a result, in the immediate period after regime change, and for many months after, few visible and credible candidates for political leadership will emerge from within Iraq.

Once US forces enter Iraq with the explicit aim of removing the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi troops will defect and cooperate with the United States. In the ensuing confusion, it is probable that a general or group of generals will stage an 11th hour coup against Saddam Hussein, giving them an immediate claim to political leadership. At this point, the US can choose the easy and quick way out of Iraq by installing in power the group of generals, and consider its task done, more or less.

The United States must resist falling into this trap. Replacing the regime of Saddam Hussein with a military regime means a continuation of exclusionary politics and repression, a return to zero-sum game politics practiced by Saddam Hussein. A military government will be divisive for the country and lead to conflict, even to raising the specter of Iraq’s dismemberment.

For a start, most of the Iraqi generals who have achieved a degree of seniority will be vulnerable to charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, whether against the Kurds in the 80s, in Kuwait in 1990-91, or against the uprising in 1991. Moreover, the military is heavily dependent on the clans of central Iraq, and, absent Saddam Hussein and his family, these clans have no acknowledged hierarchy. Each believes it is the rightful heir to power in Iraq, and none is ready to grant loyalty to any other. Competition for supremacy will be fierce. With access to weaponry and a kinship network through Iraq’s armed forces, these clans may well become the future warlords of Iraq, setting in motion a string of successive military coups as they fight for political control.

Long disenfranchised Iraqis, hoping for representation and inclusion, will simply rebel against a military government, discontent will gather momentum and invite foreign intervention. To maintain control, a military government in Iraq will have to resort to the tactics of Saddam Hussein, using military means and repression to quell opposition and challenges. The inexorable logic of militarism and violence as a tool to gain and stay in power will take hold of Iraq yet again. This will not serve Iraq or the United States well, and the negative repercussions will resonate throughout the region.

Founding a new order in Iraq
The view, unfortunately popular in the West, that Iraq should be governed by military and tribal strongmen, is a regressive (not to say racist) view that takes us back to the 1920s and ignores political and social developments in Iraq over the past 80 years. It condemns Iraq to live under an authoritarian, militarist system that has brought Iraqis nothing but disaster. By extension it also condemns the whole Arab world to archaic political autocracies that have turned the Middle East into an economically and socially stagnant swamp. At a time when the U.S. is calling for accountable government and representation in other parts of the Middle East, there is no better place to start than in Iraq, where the US will have the best opportunity of showing that it will practice what it preaches.

Another common error is to look at Iraq solely through the prism of ethnicities and religion. From this perspective, Iraq is divided into Kurds, Sunnis, Shi’a, Turkomans and Assyrians, as if these groups were static, homogeneous and uni-dimensional. This is only half true. For within these broad and simplified categories is a richer reality of multiple constituencies within each of these groups, often determined by political, not primordial, definitions. Thus it is equally valid to say that Iraq is divided into pan-Arab nationalists and pan-Kurdish nationalists, Iraq-centered nationalists, Sunni Islamists and Shi’a Islamists, leftist and socialists, and increasingly, liberal democrats of a global outlook who span all ethnicities and religions.

Saddam Hussein and his regime thrived on a paradigm of Iraq as an ungovernable society torn by ethnic and religious differences, which requires the brute force of a powerful ruler to hold it together. It would be fatal if the United States went into Iraq with the intention of perpetuating this sick model of Iraq.

We have to look for a different political paradigm in Iraq, one that takes into account the diversity of political interests brought about by social, educational and political developments over the past 80 years. Once Saddam’s regime is overturned, Iraqis need to see that the old order is truly swept away, that a new beginning is made, and that the United States is a partner and a nurturer of this new beginning. Regime change in Iraq has to be change to democracy, and a transitional government supported by the United States has to demonstrate that it represents the new Iraq, and that is responsive to the political demands of Iraqis as citizens, and not merely to their religious and ethnic identities. The United States will be uniquely placed, and will have the power, to be the midwife for a new order in Iraq that will succeed Saddam Hussein.

The transitional government most likely to hold Iraq together and gain credibility and support is a national coalition that is inclusive and pluralist, and reflects Iraq social and political diversity. It alone will be able to draw the country together, give the various Iraqi constituencies, including the military establishment, a stake in the center, and ease anxieties about the future. The national coalition should not stop at ethnic and religious diversity, the regressive paradigm of Iraqi politics, but must tap into more contemporary systems of social and political identification, and include urban professionals and Iraq’s intelligentsia. Such a coalition may not produce the strongest type of government in traditional Middle Eastern terms, but it will derive its strength from the political balance, rely on consent rather than coercion, and minimize distrust. The national transitional government should be held to a high standard of conduct by the United States and the international community, not to mention Iraqis themselves.

The time to start assembling this national unity government and planning operating mechanisms is right now, before the bombs start falling. For the past 12 years, the US government has been dealing with a vibrant and determined, if often fractious, Iraqi opposition in northern Iraq and in the Diaspora. This opposition encompasses many segments of Iraqi political society, including traditional and modernizing elements. The Kurdish parties, for example, represent a majority of the Kurdish population in a very tangible sense. For the others, they stand for political currents in Iraq, such as Shi’a Islamists, Arab nationalists, and liberal democrats.

Relations between these groups have not always been easy, yet to a remarkable degree, they all agree on the fundamental need for democracy, rule of law, representation and pluralism. And all of them have sought the assistance and support of the United States in changing the regime in Iraq. To date, it is they who have sought a partnership, and it is the United States that has withheld it.

The United States should aim to forge the nucleus of a transitional government in Iraq with the help of this opposition. Clearly, any opposition outside Iraq cannot be the full story: on the contrary, it will have to be augmented by individuals and groups from within the country as these emerge to the foreground. For the present, it provides a base to build on, and should only form an “open circle,” to be completed once change occurs and as the internal situation develops.

Such a project presupposes close work with the Iraqi opposition in the period leading up to regime change. Prior planning is particularly important for the purpose of providing a framework for civil administration, management of vital sectors, and policing.

U.S. partnership with Iraqis
The mandate and duration of the transitional unity government should be clearly defined. It should work closely with the United States and other countries to achieve the common objectives of training a police force to ensure public safety, attending to humanitarian needs, and rebuilding Iraq’s civil service and administrative structure. Once these conditions are satisfied, it should have the further responsibility of preparing for its own dissolution and the establishment of a permanent, elected government. It must therefore:

(a) address the issue of accountability for the previous regime’s crimes,

(b) establish mechanisms for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons,

(c) convene a constitutional assembly to draft a permanent constitution,

(d) prepare for a constitutional referendum,

(e) prepare for national elections, and

(f) negotiate with the UN and Iraq’s creditors for relief of financial obligations.

This is a tall order, and throughout the period of transition, Iraq will need United States and international assistance and support. Again, Afghanistan should not be the model. The issue should not be merely ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein, but rebuilding Iraq as a modern, democratic state that redefines the standards of political conduct in Iraq, and set an example for the Middle East region as a whole.