From Saddam to Soleimani | Pakistan Today

From Saddam to Soleimani

  • Pakistan should put its interests first in case of any escalation

Iraq for quite some time acted as a geographical barrier that clamped both political and military encroachment of Iran deep inside Middle East. With the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to the execution of its Sunni Leader Saddam Hussein, that buffer between Iran & its Shia allies for instance Syria and Lebanon initially faded and eventually evaporated.

Iraq despite being a Shia majority country had a Sunni leader for decades (1979-2003). During his rule which lasted for 24 years, Shia majority and Sunni Kurds were greatly marginalized and suppressed. When the US invaded Iraq, its state apparatus including Civil and Military bureaucracy disappeared and that security vacuum was filled by Allied forces and a make shift Iraqi Governing Council which was installed to facilitate Allied forces to achieve their imperialist agendas in an unfriendly region, that too under a democratic garb which is typical of west.

Execution of Saddam Hussein in 2005 was followed by what is called ‘Sunni rejectionism’. Disenfranchised Baathists and Zarqawists led a campaign to convince Sunnis to not participate in the elections of 2005. As a consequence less than 1% of Sunnis voted in the province of Anbar.

Immediately after the drone strike, the world was brought to the brink of a ‘Third World War’. Fuel prices rose 4% followed by uncertainty in the global market.

Sudden evaporation of State apparatus after the US invasion indicated two things. One, that Saddam Hussein lacked political legitimacy and second that Saddam didn’t expect a foreign invasion hence he didn’t prepare for it.

He feared either a Shia insurgency that were in majority or a Kurd rebellion. Both of these factions have risen in the past at the beginning of first gulf war (1990-1991) only to be slaughtered at the hands of the regime of the time.

To deal with the question of domestic rebellion, Saddam had spread a vast network of Mukhabrat (Intelligence). Praetorian divisions such as ‘Fiddayeen Saddam’ were consolidated while giving a go ahead to creation of proxy militias.

The problem with proxy militias is that they can’t be equipped with high tech weaponry that State Institutions have, otherwise the cover will blow up hence directly linking the proxy with the State. They can be used to silence domestic dissidents but in front of a foreign invasion that too by a world’s greatest military machine, they are of no use.

However, elections in January 2005 led to a Shia majority government with Ibrahim al Jafari who was a candidate of Dawa Party becoming Prime Minister of Iraq. Iraq basically constitutes 20 percent Sunnis and 65 percent Shia Arabs among other smaller demographics of Kurds, Christians and Yazidis among others.

Paul Bremer who was appointed head of ‘Coalition Provision Authority’ by the Bush administration, with the blink of an eye, disbanded the Iraqi army which rendered thousands of military men unemployed. Paul Bremer was a great proponent of ‘de-baathification’ and the aforementioned act was a step towards his ideals.

Baathist’s regime had a secular edifice till first Gulf War, after which Saddam deliberately changed its political make up. For that ‘hamla imaan’ (Faith Campaign) was launched. The Phrase ‘Allahu-Akbar’ was added to the Iraqi flag followed by the incorporation of medieval Sharia laws.

The Gulf War took a toll on the economy of the country. To tackle with the already grim economic situation owing to International Sanctions and to deflect criticism Saddam played the religion card.

Prime Minister Imran Khan more recently and Zia in the seventies also recklessly played the religion card for aforementioned reasons where changing the political make up is concerned. The MQM is an apt example of it in Pakistan. After Altaf Hussain’s speech of 22 August (2018), MQM’s leadership in Pakistan deliberately changed its political make up from a sub-nationalist to an anti-establishment party to a hyper nationalist pro-establishment party overnight. All these political strategies are aimed at gaining time and surviving politically.

Anyways, coming back to Iraq. Ban on women employment was put in place by Saddam’s regime to artificially reduce the unemployment numbers and to please the far right of the country.

A pretty interesting phenomenon which Colonel Raybun, a US Military Intelligence Officer, observed was that Saddam Hussein assumed that the Baathists he was sending to Islamic Schools would stay loyal to the Baathist regime and he would be able to not only curtail but also control the Islamic movement which he feared could unsettle his regime. What he couldn’t foresee was that these Salafi Schools and teachings would supersede their secular Baathist convictions. They became more loyal to Salafism than to Baathism.

The faith campaign in the 90s followed by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially its CPA head’s policy of de-baathification led to the creation of a monster called ‘ISIS’. US then started fighting the same monster it created while presenting itself as a force of good residing on a higher moral pedestal.

In the context of Pakistan we have observed the inorganic inversion of class hierarchy in the ‘Pakhtun belt’ while in Iraq through an interventionist apparatus through Sunni supremacy was reversed overnight. This may have represented a demographic reality of Iraq but also a foreign hand intervening to impose a change can only make matters worse. Democracy is not a law that can be imposed.

Iran’s foreign Military arm provided the supportive role when Saddam Hussein was being executed by the US. This is the same ‘Al-Quds’ force whose leader was mercilessly murdered in a US drone strike on 3rd January. Be it Saddam or Soleimani, in the context of the Middle East it is not a question of individual’s morality but a question of flagrant violation of diplomatic norms and international laws.

The US claimed in the Security Council that their drone strike was in line with article 51 of UN Charter where Iran employed the same article to justify their counter strikes on American bases in Iraq which were meant more to provide face saving to an already unpopular Iranian regime than to inflict damage on imperialist forces.

Immediately after the drone strike, the world was brought to the brink of a ‘Third World War’. Fuel prices rose 4% followed by uncertainty in the global market.

Anything which is not organic from vegetables to a political movement is harmful and has unintended consequences. US interventionist policy is the perfect recipe for disaster and should be at all cost resisted but at the same time the international community doesn’t afford to turn a blind eye towards the illegitimate and tyrannical regimes in the Middle East and beyond.

US presence in the Middle East clamps down Iran’s influence in the Arab states which fear domestic rebellion more than a foreign invasion. This anxiety comes from political illegitimacy which a Kingdom rears and provided that the region is democratized on secular grounds, this insecurity will fade away leaving little or no room for Iran to push its sectarian agendas that would contradict the justification for US presence to remain at a bare minimum.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, it finds itself as always in a very precarious situation owing to its geostrategic location and economic dependency. Pakistan shares a border with Iran and despite everything, the country has provided buffer to Pakistan against the mess in the Middle East. We wouldn’t want that buffer to fade away where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provides Pakistan economic life support in a direct and indirect manner while it also employs hundreds and thousands of Pakistani labor.

Pakistan must seek to diversify placement of its labor overseas on war footing. This doesn’t provide immediate remedy even if it is done on war footing, it will take years of planning and implementation. So if the crisis were to flare up in the Middle East, Pakistan’s best bet is to play up its nationalist fervor with an inclusive & secular bent.

To survive the storm neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran but Pakistan solely has to be our Mimbar (pulpit), Musaf (book) and Imaan (faith).

Kamil Ahmed

Kamil Ahmed is a political activist and a research analyst based in Lahore. He can be contacted at [email protected] His Twitter handle is: @beingkamil