Here’s what a stable Iraq really needs

IN cases of military intervention in politics, the military establishment in third world countries has played two kinds of roles. The first was the negative role of delaying the natural process of gradual democratisation by resorting to the actual use of, or threat of using, force to control political power. It was this practice that opened the door for coup d’etats and counter coups by aspiring army officers.

By Abdulaziz Sager

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Published: Sun 15 Jul 2007, 8:29 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:13 AM

The second role was more positive. In cases where the failure of politicians and the corruption of the ruling elite led to widespread chaos and political instability, putting the state on the brink of civil war, the military acted as a protector of the integrity of the state by serving as an institution not consumed by internal power struggles and fragmentation. The military would, as a result, step in to prevent further instability and instead ensure the continued well-being of its people. Cases in point include Turkey and Pakistan, and more recently, Mauritania. In all these and other instances, the military took up the role of protecting democracy, safeguarding the constitution and the basic civil rights against violations by the ruling elites.

In most cases, the military establishment in the developing world is a microcosm of the national identity of the nation in question. It is the melting pot for all forms of sub-national affiliations. It is also characterised by discipline and better organisation in comparison with other state institutions, a trait which makes the military more capable of decisive intervention at the right moment. In times of crises, its role has been quite effective in consolidating the sense of national belonging and reducing the side-effects of emergencies.

At the same time, a positive role during a crisis can only be played by a strong national military establishment, one which is capable of taking a proactive measure to save the country in question the horrible consequences of civil war and fragmentation. It is this positive role that is necessary in the case of the current quagmire facing the Iraqi people.

Iraq is a country that is on the verge of a complete breakdown. After four years of internal power struggle and illegal occupation, the question continues to linger about whether the Iraqi state will remain intact or possibly wither away. During this period, Iraq has experienced the horrendous effects of sectarian violence, daily humiliation of average Iraqi citizens by occupation forces, mass killing of innocent Iraqi civilians by terrorist groups, warring militias and criminal gangs. All these developments have led to the virtual collapse of the Iraqi state.

One fundamental cause for the current situation inside Iraq is the failure of the politicians to deliver on both their mandate and promises. Instead of opening the way for a political solution to the country’s troubles, their inaction has allowed sectarian divisions to deepen, institutionalised widespread corruption and left the state’s institutions in shambles. The result is that partisan and sectarian allegiances are deepening and the patriotic sense of belonging is waning. Flowery promises of democracy and economic well-being are being mocked as fantasies in the midst of bloodshed, human right violations and forced displacement of population groups. Iraqi politicians had the chance to prove their ability to rule the country in an effective manner, but they failed.

Iraq today needs a strong military establishment to rid the average citizen of the humiliation by the occupation forces. More importantly, Iraq requires a strong national military to provide a viable alternative for the failures and malpractices of the political leadership. Here, it should be noted that the Iraqi army was established by Great Britain in January 1921 – seven months before the accession of the royal family in Iraq – and that the first command and staff college in the Arab world was established by the Iraqi army in the 1940s.

The current problem is that while the occupation authorities disbanded the reputable Iraqi army, which paved the way for the current malaise, various groups now have a vested interest in maintaining the current situation.

They include the ruling elite, who lack the necessary legitimacy, and the armed militias of various groups, which could exist only in the absence of a strong national army, as well as terrorist groups, which came into existence in the vacuum of a national army. Even foreign powers have an agenda to prevent the existence of a strong national army because it would restrict their influence in the domestic affairs of the country. In all these instances, the biggest losers are the people of Iraq.

One of the major challenges for Iraq today is that the process of rebuilding the military establishment of the nation is being prevented by the continuous political rivalries between opposing factions, ever-growing influence of armed militias, raging sectarian violence, and regional powers that do not want to see a strong national Iraqi army protecting the destiny of its country. This is in addition to the lack of enthusiasm by the US administration to support the development of such a strong national military in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government, which is the one responsible for rebuilding a national army, is crippled by its own weaknesses.

As a result, its efforts at building a strong national military can only be characterised as weak and ineffective. In fact, the “new” Iraqi army is being criticised on the grounds of bearing sectarian allegiances and thus, far from being the truly patriotic national structure that is necessary at this juncture. Further, its role in maintaining law and order has been futile. In the absence of a strong national army in Iraq, the situation will remain open to all possible scenarios, chief amongst them is the fragmentation and ultimate breakdown of the Iraqi state. If this were to occur, the consensus is that it would have catastrophic results not only for Iraq, but for the region as a whole. So, the question that begs for an answer is: Who, but a strong national army, could enforce law and order, bring stability, assist in nation building, re-establish a powerful Iraqi state and save the country from the current tragedy?

Abdulaziz Sager is the Chairman of Gulf Research Center in Dubai

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