Ali Allawi: The attempt to refashion Iraq was doomed

My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:

The Iraq war has barely registered in this election campaign (except Murdoch cheerleader Andrew Bolt declaring last week that the battle has been “won”). Clearly Bolt must have missed the millions of displaced refugees both inside and outside the ravaged country during his visit to the Green Zone. Most Iraqi bloggers remain pessimistic.

John Howard’s stated reason for Australian troops to remain in Iraq is simply to support the Americans, while Kevin Rudd has pledged to remove our combat troops from the country. But in the real world, Iraq remains in turmoil and election campaigns are never the time for sensible policy discussion, let alone accountability for the over one million Iraqis killed since the 2003 invasion.

Ali Allawi, Iraq’s former defence and trade minister, is in Australia this week talking about his country’s prospects and his acclaimed book, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace. Unlike fellow former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who is currently angling to run the nation again, Allawi remains disillusioned with the American mission and deeply resents their numerous crimes since 2003.

“It was doomed”, he told the New York Times in October.

“What was doomed was the attempt to refashion Iraq in a sort of civilisational makeover, using American power in an alliance with a supposedly grateful Iraqi public, led by a Westernised middle class.”

Allawi told a packed audience at Sydney’s Lowy Institute last night that the Iraqi state had “collapsed” on 9 April, 2003. A nation that has had its sovereignty violated four times in the last century is unlikely to regain its national character anytime soon, he lamented.

Iraq no longer has any kind of central authority and currently operates, with tacit American backing, as a dominant Shiite state that both oppresses the Sunni minority and empowers tribal groups to merely worsen the fragmentation. Allawi argued that even the possibility of a centralised government was highly unlikely and federalism was an equally unlikely solution. He said that many in the West didn’t accept that secular parties only gathered tiny support throughout the country and the majority had consistently voted for politicians with strong religious affiliations.

His solution – though he acknowledged this was unlikely to happen anytime soon – consisted of establishing a semi-centralised government with a large degree of decentralisation among the ethnic regions of the country, including the Kurdish minority in the north. Simply put, despite the suggestion of some politicians and analysts in America, Allawi believed that Iraq should not be divided along ethnic lines.

He said withdrawal of Australian troops would make no difference to the security situation (something he agreed had slightly improved over the last months.)

Allawi reminded the audience that America was responsible for Iraq’s current crisis and therefore should institute a regional conference with all the major players to discuss the country’s future.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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