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Executive Summary #1593 on Middle East

September 25, 2002

Executive Summary: Forging a Durable Post-War Political Settlement in Iraq

By and

One of the major byproducts of a campaign to rid the world of the grave threat posed by Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be the end of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. In the aftermath of such a campaign, the United States should help the Iraqi people establish a new federal system of governance that provides representation for all the people of Iraq and that poses no threat to America's national interests, its allies, or stability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.

Under no circumstances should the United States advocate the kind of top-down, highly centralized "nation-building" experiments that the Clinton Administration tried unsuccessfully in Haiti, Somalia, Kosovo, and Bosnia. That approach failed in those cases precisely because it ignored the unique political realities on the ground. To be effective, a new post-war Iraqi government must be pluralist, one that is inclusive of the three major sub-national groups in Iraq and that advances their interests. A decentralized federal political system offers the best means of assuring local autonomy, protection against the return of a tyrannical central government, a fair share in the political settlement in Iraq, and an equitable disbursement of Iraq's oil and tax revenues.

A good political model exists for such a successful post-war Iraqi federation--the so-called Great Compromise of 1787 that enabled the creation of America's constitutional arrangement among the states. In Iraq's case, this type of system would give each of the country's three major sub-groups equal representation in an upper house of the legislature in order to protect their own interests at the national level.

The United States must implement a clear political strategy for post-Saddam Iraq. It should stress that while the specific details of the ultimate political settlement will be determined by the Iraqi people, Washington will first lay out the broad contours of an acceptable accord for the post-war government. Iraq's post-war government must:

  • Pose no threat to its neighbors;
  • Cooperate in the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, in accordance with U.N. resolutions; and
  • Build an inclusive, broad-based ruling coalition sensitive to the interests of all the country's ethnic and religious groups, especially the interests of its three major groups, the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and Kurds.

Ideally, the post-Saddam Iraq will be one that espouses democratic and free-market principles, that is pro-Western and that cooperates extensively in the war against terrorism, and that supports a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, measuring the success of U.S. policy in Iraq should not be defined by these highly ambitious goals, but by how well more realistic war aims are achieved. Specifically, to help the Iraqi people build a stable, friendly, and non-threatening state, the Administration should:

  • Strengthen and help unify Iraq's political opposition. Iraq's long-suffering opposition movements, neglected by Washington in both prior Administrations, not only could play a helpful role in removing Saddam Hussein's regime from power, but also in forming the foundation for a stable post-Saddam government. The Administration should provide immediate enhanced economic aid, logistical assistance, organizational training, and technical advice to the widest possible variety of Iraqi opposition groups.
  • Encourage the formation of a provisional government-in-exile. The Administration should press rival Iraqi opposition groups to form a unified provisional government-in-exile as soon as possible. Six opposition groups sent representatives to Washington in early August for high-level meetings with Bush Administration officials, and they plan to convene a conference somewhere in Europe in the near future to discuss the formation of a provisional government. The Administration should work to help rival opposition leaders overcome political obstacles to the formation of an Iraqi government-in-exile. The establishment of such a body would raise the morale of the opposition groups, give wavering supporters of Saddam's dictatorship added incentive to defect, give the diffuse political opposition a single and more authoritative voice, and help make the case for liberating the Iraqi people to skeptical nations around the world.
  • Purge Iraq of Saddam's Ba'athist regime. After Saddam Hussein is ousted, his supporters in the security services, Republican Guard, government bureaucracies, and his radical pan-Arab socialist Ba'ath Party will continue to pose a long-term threat to the survival of a post-Saddam government. The United States should work with a post-war government to cleanse Iraq of Saddam's lieutenants both in his regime and in the Ba'ath Party.
  • Help Iraqis build a loose federation. The Administration should persuade the leaders of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and Kurds that a federal political system is the best means of assuring local autonomy, protecting against the return of a tyrannical central government, and assuring them an equitable share in the disbursement of Iraq's oil and tax revenues. A decentralized federal system that would best fit the political realities on the ground and meet the needs of Iraq's people should be constitutional.

It will be up to the Iraqis themselves to establish a state after Saddam Hussein's regime falls and its weapons of mass destruction are destroyed. They must build a new state that will protect and represent all the people of Iraq, that will not threaten U.S. interests or regional stability, and that ensures international access to its rich oil resources. In Iraq, the facts on the ground mean that the United States should push for the formation of a decentralized federal government, which would stand the best chance of ensuring stability and long-term peace. But it is ultimately up to the Iraqis themselves to flesh out the details of that political settlement. The United States should facilitate a positive outcome, suggest a course of action, and encourage the political and regional elites to reach agreement to put in place a political system that gives the various ethnic and religious groups a real stake in its success.

John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in European Affairs, and James Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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