Friday, May 09, 2003

Iraq: The latest Smithsonian has a brief look at British-controlled Iraq following the first world war. It is, if nothing else, a bleak cautionary tale. The British relied too much on educated Sunnis, who came to dominate the bureaucracy and, later, the Ba'ath Party. Colonial-style administrators showed and exemplary tin ear for the feelings of the minority Shi'ites and Kurds, who resented the Sunni Faisal and vented their frustrations on the ostensibly pro-British Iraqi Jews. In 1917, when the British marched into Baghdad, British General Stanley Maude declared:
Our armies
do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators.
Familiar refrain. The British proceeded to dominate Iraq, militarily or by proxy, until the Qassem coup of 1958, which removed the Faisal line and engendered the Ba'athist counter-coup ten years later. Fascinating stuff and, hopefully, forefront in the minds of Jay Garner and Paul Bremer.

I don't foresee similar American plans, mainly because out country won't tolerate colonialism the way the British did for so many years. In addition, I'm enough of an idealist to think that a federalist-style republic will go a long way toward pacifying the fractionalism and vying nationalisms of Iraq, while a British-installed Sunni monarchy -- even when it flirted with anti-British sentiment -- merely continued the need for British interference.

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