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Iraq Report: July 28, 2006

July 28, 2006, Volume 9, Number 27

LEARNING LESSONS FROM LEBANON. In 2003, Iraq observers warned that Iraq faced the danger of going down the same road as Lebanon, which fought a bitter civil war from 1975-90. Although relative stability eventually returned to Lebanon, the country remained under the thumb of Syrian occupation until last year, and continues to operate under an outdated political structure that is not representative of the realities on the ground.

The conflict that erupted between Lebanon and Israel two weeks ago illuminated the unresolved issues that have thwarted real democratic development in postwar Lebanon. Iraq faces similar challenges, and would be wise to take heed of Lebanon's experience, both past and present.

Ten lessons Iraq should take from Lebanon:

1. A Government Based On Sectarian Quotas Does Not Work

Although Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pledged to form a national unity cabinet based on the qualifications of its members, in reality, the cabinet was formed through political wrangling of various factions and trends that won seats in the parliamentary election. Ministers were appointed according to their party affiliation rather than their qualifications.

2. Do Not Allow Non-State Actors To Fill The Role Of Government

In postwar Iraq, as in Lebanon, Shi'ite militias in the south filled the vacuum left in the absence of central authority, providing much-needed aid on the local level to widows, orphans, and families in need.

Replicating Hizballah's experience in Lebanon, Iraq's Shi'ite militias -- namely cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Corps -- secured massive political support through their sponsorship of local communities, where they provide health care, jobs, food, and other forms of social welfare to the needy. That support continues to grow in the absence of a strong national welfare system.

3. Do Not Ignore Social Inequalities

Ethnic and sectarian tensions helped feed divisions in pre-civil-war Lebanon. In post-Hussein Iraq, much focus was placed on the injustices suffered by Shi'a under Saddam Hussein, and on taking away the "privileges" once held by Sunni Arabs because of their ties to the regime.

Such focus further alienated Sunni Arabs from the new political order, and contributed to sectarian tensions. While it was crucial for the post-Hussein government to ensure equal social rights for its long-oppressed majority Shi'ite population, it should have taken greater steps to support a cohesive social fabric.

4. Raise Economic Standards Across The Board

The post-civil-war Lebanese government failed to improve economic conditions in southern Lebanon; money didn't flow to the south because of continued unrest there, and infrastructure and services remained poor. As already noted, this failure contributed to local support for Hizballah, which filled the role of the state in its absence.

In Iraq's early postwar months, reconstruction projects focused on areas in and around Baghdad, largely neglecting Shi'ite-populated and relatively stable areas in the south, as was widely noted by British officials working with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003-04. Al-Maliki should take pains to avoid a repeat of this situation if and when he launches his planned international compact for Iraq later this year.

5. Disarm All Militias

Hizballah's power relative to that of the central government is immense, allowing it to operate as a state within a state. Iraqi militias are striving to establish a similar situation. In some areas of the country, militias police their areas in the absence of any real government security force.

6. Build A Military That Supports The State

In the opening days of the current Hizballah-Israel conflict, it became clear that the Lebanese army could not be relied upon to rein in Hizballah. According to Ephraim Inbar, director of Bar Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies: "A large percentage of the [Lebanese] population is sympathetic to Hizballah. The army is not a cohesive force, and there is no strong political will. It's more a symbol of sovereignty than an actual tool," "The Jerusalem Post" reported on July 16.

The same danger exists in Iraq, where post-Hussein military recruits have largely come from Kurdish peshmerga forces or Shi'ite militias loyal to their parties. Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated Interior Ministry forces have not taken steps to rein in violence, particularly in the capital, and have been accused of carrying out sectarian attacks on members of the Sunni Arab community.

7. Beware Of Neighboring States

Iraqis have been wise to raise concerns over the interference of neighboring states in their internal affairs. However, elements of the ruling Shi'ite coalition who have historically strong ties to Iran continue to defend their eastern neighbor's actions, which could ultimately leave Iraq vulnerable to the possibility of a broader regional conflict being played out on its territory.

Iran has a very specific agenda in Iraq: to expand its sphere of influence in the region. Likewise, Sunni Arab states bordering Iraq have their own agendas: containing the spread of Iran's Shi'ite theocracy, and more importantly, ensuring that the democratic experiment in Iraq does not get off the ground. Democracy in Iraq threatens to destabilize the regimes in the region, including Turkey, where a democratic Iraq with a powerful Kurdish regional government would be seen as a threat in that country to its attempts to control its own sizable Kurdish population.

8. And Curb Their Influence

Had Hizballah supporters Syria and Iran been dealt with years ago, Hizballah would arguably never have developed into the powerhouse that it is today, with a functioning and fully armed army, a savvy media machine, and significant financial resources at its disposal. Iraq would be wise to take steps to curb Syrian and Iranian influence over homegrown Iraqi groups as well.

9. Reconcile Competing Ideologies

Competing ideologies threaten to destabilize Iraq, as they did in Lebanon. Iraq's Sunni Arab population continues to hold fast to Arab nationalism, while the country's Shi'ite population, which despises the Arab nationalist agenda, focuses more on a Shi'a-centric ideology that places religion at the center of legal, social, and cultural life. As time passes, the cleavages between these ideologies grow wider, placing the country at further risk of civil war.

10. Promote A Country-First Program

In Iraq, as in Lebanon, sectarian and religious loyalties are placed above loyalty to the state. Such divisions threaten peace and stability and will erode any sense of a cohesive national identity for future generations of Iraqi youth. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on July 26.)

IRAQI KURDISH OFFICIAL DOWNPLAYS THREAT FROM TURKEY. Fu'ad Husayn, an adviser to Kurdistan Region President Mas'ud Barzani, told RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo in a July 27 telephone interview that Kurdish officials continue to push for a diplomatic resolution to Turkey's fight with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Turkey has threatened to take military action against PKK fighters holed up in the Qandil Mountain range along the Turkey-Iraq border unless the Iraqi and U.S. governments take steps to deal with them (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," July 21, 2006). Husayn said that while Kurdish officials view the Turkish threat as serious, they do not believe Turkey would launch a military incursion into Iraq.

RFE/RL: What is the situation now between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan? How does the government in Kurdistan view this threat from Turkey?

Fu'ad Husayn: We got some information [this week] that there is some movement on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, and it seems some Turkish soldiers entered Iraqi Kurdish villages near Zakho. It is obvious that since two or three weeks [ago], the Turkish army has brought large numbers of soldiers to the Iraqi Kurdistan border. In the Turkish media also, there is a clear threat to intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan.

As for these threats, we are not happy about it. We reject the intervention of any foreign [troops] especially Turkish troops, in Iraqi Kurdistan. [As to] the argument that has been used [by Turkey] regarding [the need to intervene against] the PKK in the area, it is well known for everybody, especially for the Turkish authority itself, that the PKK is more active inside Turkey...not in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Having said that, we would like to have a good relationship with the Turkish government, and we are not intervening in Turkish internal affairs. At the same time, we would not like to see others intervene in the internal affairs of [Iraqi] Kurdistan.

RFE/RL: Concerning the buildup of Turkish forces along the border and their brief entry into Iraq, have any of the Turkish troops remained inside Iraqi territory, for example, at Bamarni Airport, or have they remained on the other side of the border?

Husayn: Most of the Turkish forces are on the other side of the border, not inside [Iraqi] Kurdistan. But still, building the military power on the border is a threat, which has been published in the Turkish media. And some members of the Turkish government threatened intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan. Of course, we are taking that seriously, and we are not happy about it.

RFE/RL: We also saw media reports this week that Iran continues to bomb Kurdish villages inside Iraq.

Husayn: It seems that a few days ago, Iran bombed some places on the border area near's obvious that in these areas there's some activities of the PKK. But it's [taking place] on the border with Iran.

RFE/RL: It's inside Iran or inside Iraq?

Husayn: The area which has been bombed by Iran is inside Iraqi Kurdistan.

RFE/RL: Turkish media reported this week that trilateral meetings were being held between the United States, Iraq, and Turkey. Some of these meetings are reportedly taking place in Baghdad. Are any representatives of the Kurdistan Region government taking part in these meetings?

Husayn: No, according to my information, no representatives of Iraqi Kurdistan [are taking part]. Anyway, [if] there will be meetings between the Iraqi government, and Turkish and American [governments], then it will be clear that the Iraqi government also rejects this [proposed] intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is part of Iraq, and any intervention in Kurdistan means an intervention in Iraq.

RFE/RL: Who is representing the Iraqi government at these meetings in Baghdad?

Husayn: That I don't know.

RFE/RL: Are Kurdish officials concerned that talks are going on in Baghdad without their participation?

Husayn: Baghdad is the capital of Iraq and we [Kurds] are also in Baghdad. Baghdad is not far away from us. I think it would be good if any kind of conflict or misunderstanding would be solved through negotiations around a table. We will support negotiations, we will support any talks.

But of course, we must be informed about the talks and the agenda must not be against the Kurds. We are part of this country; we are part of the Iraqi system. If there is any negotiation in Baghdad about the intervention...the Kurds must be there, and the Kurds must be informed about it.

RFE/RL: But as of now, Kurdish officials are not taking part in these talks?

Husayn: I can't comment on that because I don't have that information. But I didn't hear that a meeting is going on in Baghdad.

RFE/RL: This was reported widely in the Turkish press. There are also unconfirmed reports in the Turkish press this week that the United States has agreed to take action by bombing the Qandil Mountain range.

Husayn: I don't think this information is correct.

RFE/RL: So, you're not worried that the United States would take unilateral steps against the PKK without consulting the Kurds.

Husayn: No, I think one must be realistic if one knows the area...and the relationship between the U.S. and the Kurdish authorities here. I think the information which has been published in the Turkish press is not right.

RFE/RL: Right now, is the Kurdistan Region government considering taking any action against the PKK?

Husayn: Where are the PKK? We are not going to have military action against anybody. There are refugees in Kurdistan; we accept refugees in our area. But we will not let, and we are not accepting, any activities [being launched] from the Kurdistan area against our neighboring countries. That is a principle for us.

But at the same time, we would not like [our neighbors] to intervene in our area. If the PKK are moving on the border between Iran and Turkey, and in areas that are not controlled by neither the Turkish side nor the Iraqi side, or the Iranian what can you do with them? It is a border area [and] it is more near the Turkish border than near the Kurdish [Iraqi] border, [more] near the Iranian border than near the Kurdish [Iraqi] border. It is just on the border.

RFE/RL: What will be the reaction of the Kurdistan Region government if Turkey launches a military campaign in the Qandil Mountain area.

Husayn: I think that's a theoretical question. We think that all these maneuvers and military [buildup] and the media campaign [by Turkey] in the end has to do with some tendency in the Turkish media and some tendency in the Turkish military to raise the question and especially [to compare it to] the situation in Lebanon, and the intervention of the Israelis in Lebanon.

I think the whole comparison is wrong, and the whole situation is different. Iraq is not at war with Turkey. The Kurds in Iraq want to have a good relationship with Turkey and with other neighboring countries. And we are not Hizballah, and Turkey is not Israel. So, the whole campaign I think is [related to] internal politics in Turkey.

RFE/RL: But the Turkish government raised this issue long before the current crisis in Lebanon erupted.

Husayn: But how can they enter [Iraqi] Kurdistan? What does it mean? Occupying the Kurdish cities? What does it mean, "intervention." It is not a realistic plan. I don't think they will do that.

RFE/RL: But as we've seen, they've already entered Kurdistan.

Husayn: They are not in Kurdish cities. They are not here. They are on the border with Turkey.

RFE/RL: Are you confident that the Kurdistan Region government and [the central government in] Baghdad are in agreement on how to address this issue, should some kind of Turkish military campaign begin?

Husayn: I think both sides, the Kurdistan Region government and the Iraqi federal government would reject this [incursion] if it happens.

RFE/RL: Is there any kind of prepared response, other than to say, "We reject this." Will the Kurdistan Region government send peshmerga forces to respond to any incursion? Is there an agreement now in place with Baghdad as to how to respond?

Husayn: We have peshmerga forces everywhere in Kurdistan. They are in our cities; they are everywhere. So, if there was to be an attack -- by the way, we are not expecting [an attack] -- from the Turkish side.... I don't know if they will bomb some areas on the border...but an intervention from Turkey is not expected. So, it is a theoretical question, that's why I'm not answering it.