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IRAQ - Rifts Will Come Into Play Post-Saddam.

According to most observers, whatever regime replaces Saddam will be more vulnerable to the ethnic and sectarian divisions within Iraqi society. Apart from the class divisions present in virtually every society, there is a big divide in Iraq between the members of the Baath Party and those who are not. The members of the party are a pampered elite, which knows that they will be the target of a violent public if the Baath structure is toppled. So they can be expected to do what is necessary to ensure that it is not. This division, however, will not play as significant a role in determining the post-Saddam situation as the differences that are based on ethnic and sectarian issues.

Such differences are reflected in the various components of the INC, which include: the Sunnis of the central region, the Shiites of the south, and the Kurds of the north. It is important to note that there are differences within each of these sects and among the Kurds as well.

There are also differences among the various political tendencies, as reflected by the former military officers who are now part of the INC or the Iraqi National Accord (INA) which was formed in 1990, as well as the nationalist, democratic and leftist forces. Consequently, if the Baathist regime is overthrown, the biggest challenge would be for the creation of a stable superstructure to replace it.

The INC was formed when the two main Kurdish militias-the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Massud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani decided to participate in a June 1992 meeting in Vienna of nearly 200 delegates from dozens of opposition groups. In October 1992, the major Shiite groups came into the coalition and the INC held a pivotal meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, choosing a three man Leadership Council and 26-member executive council. But since 1992, it has become obvious that the INC is far from being a coherent force.

On the broad level, the INC has not been able to agree on a form of government for the post-Saddam era. The Sunnis of Iraq do not want to lose their relative monopoly on power in the country, while the Shiites want to have the degree of power that is reflected by their numbers, which amounts to 60% of the total Iraqi population of about 22 million.

The Kurds, who form about 19% of the population, want a degree of autonomy that no power at the centre may be prepared to give. They have already set up the Kurdish Autonomous Region over which the PUK and KDP have almost total control.

The Shiites, if they do not get the share of power at the centre which they feel they deserve, may also demand strong autonomy. Represented by the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shiites have strong links with Iran. SAIRI has a large guerrilla network inside Iraq, estimated at between 7,000 and 15,000 fighters. SAIRI's main leaders are based in Tehran.

The level of animosity that can arise between the sectarian and ethnic groups if their demands are not met could easily descend into armed conflict. Hostilities have already broken out in the case of the Kurds in the mid-1990s, and at the time the US had learned first hand about the problems it may face in a post-Saddam Iraq.

In May 1994, the two main Kurdish parties began fighting with each other over territory, revenues obtained from duties levied at the Iraq-Turkey border, and control over the Kurdish regional government based in Irbil. To bolster their positions against each other, the two factions sought outside support. The KDP opted for backing from Saddam, and it continues to maintain links with the Baathist regime.

In late August 1996, the KDP asked Baghdad to provide armed support for its capture of Irbil from the rival PUK. Iraq took advantage of the request to strike against the INC base in Salahuddin, a city near Irbil in northern Iraq, as well as remaining INA operatives using northern Iraq as a base. In the campaign, two hundred oppositionists were executed and as many as 2,000 arrested. Six hundred fifty oppositionists (mostly INC) were evacuated and resettled in the US.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 17, 2002
Words:713
Previous Article:IRAQ - The Western Perspective.
Next Article:JORDAN - The Rifts Within Muslim States - Part 6.
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