Four Years after Saddam: Iraq counts the cost


The idea of the invasion and its justification was built on the notion that the fall of Saddam Hussein would create a better Iraq. So after four years it is worth thinking about the consequences of that, the price that people have paid in Iraq and elsewhere and to see  whether the kind of Iraq that is emerging is something which justified the massive violence of the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a state.
Clearly if one counts the cost in human terms, it is a very terrible cost. According to the estimate in the Lancet Journal that was published last year there had been something like 600,000 violent civilian deaths in Iraq. Whether it is true of not is still difficult to tell. If it is true it means that more Iraqi civilians have died in the last four years than Iraqi soldiers died in the war with Iran.
Quite apart from the uncertainty about the figures and again there are different estimates – Iraqi government, the UN and organizations like Iraq body count – there has been a very high toll of civilian casualties in the last four years.
It is not disputed that there are two million internal refugees in Iraq: people forced out or fleeing from there live normally and finding refuge in other parts of the country. In addition to the two million refugees there are an estimated two million Iraqis who had fled Iraq altogether since 2003. Something like one million landing in Jordan, perhaps one million in Syria, creating the largest refugee problem since 1948.  This was not, one likes to think, the intention of those who overthrew Saddam but it certainly has been one of the by products of the kind of Iraq that emerged since then.
We have also witnessed the purging of neighbourhoods in Iraq, particularly in mixed cities like Baghdad, Basra,  Mosul, Kirkuk, Baquba. These are cities in which people who are thought to be of the wrong community are purged from the neighbourhood – often with great violence and often with threats of violence as well. A sectarian  cleansing and once the sectarian cleansing is over an ideological cleansing of the neighbourhood itself.
We have also seen the murders of hundreds of academic, doctors, professionals in Iraq itself. This is a very depressing, devastating human cost that the Iraqis have paid for the last four years.
I do not want to dwell of the horror of that only but to think about the human cost  as being in some sense  a symptom of other things going on in Iraq. So what I want to look at are in a sense the structural consequences of the occupation and invasion of Iraq. What kind of Iraq  is being brought into being over the last four years.  The civilian casualties, the refugees, the assassinations and the cleansings may be a symptom.
Iraqis are paying the price and Iraq is counting the cost not simply of the last four years but of the last thirty years as well. This is not just a cost of the last four years, though some of the violence and some of the features may come out of what happened before. There are in a sense deep legacies of Saddam Hussein’s regime but also legacies of the kind of Iraq that existed before Saddam Hussein, an Iraq of military government, security apparatuses  and of undemocratic power.
There are three aspects of that which I want to touch upon because they have to make some sense of what happened after 2003. The first is the emergence under Saddam Hussein but to some extent before Saddam Hussein of the dual state in Iraq. That is on the one hand a public state of public institutions, public spending, ministries, the armed forces – a state looking like many other states on the institutional pattern.
Under Saddam Hussein and accelerated under sanctions from 1990 was the effective degradation of this public state. The reduction in public space, the inability of Iraqis to organize publicaly without the close and often violent attention of the regime itself and the collapse of the ministries of health, housing,  education, indeed the armed forces and some might argue the Baath Party itself as a public institution.
So one sees that aspect of the state accelerated ironically by the sanctions regimes imposed on Iraq over 13 years. But there was not simply a public state in Iraq. There  was a state that stood behind the public state – what one might call the shadow state that existed in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. That deals less with public spaces  and more with hidden spaces. The networks of privilege, advantage, patronage, family, clans, tribal allies, long standing associates, opportunists, those at the heart of power.
This was in many sense the foundation of Saddam Hussein’s power and this formed the shadow state in Iraq. Ironically the sanctions far from weakening that state, strengthened it. So you had this paradoxical effect of 13 years of sanction on Iraq which on the one had degraded the public state and on the other reinforced the shadow state.
There has been evidence since 2003 that elements of that state still exist, still do very well, still in a sense are part of the insurgency and the violence. But there is also evidence that other kinds of shadow state are establishing themselves behind the public institutions in Iraq. That is something worrying for the future of Iraq itself.
The second feature which those who took over Iraq in 2003 also inherited is the political economy of oil. Oil is a powerful fuel for an authoritarian state based on unaccountable patronage. The use of oil revenues and oil funds by the central government was clearly part of Saddam Hussein’s apparatus of power and apparatus of co-option. He drew many Iraqis into the web of his particular kind of organization precisely because he had oil revenues at his disposal.
And one of the things one has to think about and clearly Iraq has had to think about for the future is how can one prevent oil revenues which flow unaccountably into the central government becoming the basis for a new patronage system in Iraq itself.
The third feature of Saddam Hussein’s  state, something that people inherited, was the use of armed force and  violence to maintain this kind of political order used demonstratively. Not simply used to kill opponents  and kill the terribly but to demonstrate the power of the centre, to deter people from thinking of opposition and to achieve therefore recognition of a terrible violence at the centre of power.
One could argue that under these circumstances the opposition was faced by two very grim choices: either flee the country and organize outside or organize underground by the same methods to combat the violence of state itself. Try to take on the violence of the state.  Of all the opposition groups in Iraq under Saddam Hussein only the Kurds because of the relative inaccessibility of their territories managed to organize effective counter violence to that of Saddam Hussein. But when as was the case in the intifada of 1991 when those in the southern cities tried to use similar kinds of force to dislodge the regime they were crushed at a terrible cost.
So what one saw emerging under this kind of Iraq was the securitization of  politics. The use of violence and the way in which politics became a question of security. I want to describe  how securitization which has taken the greatest toll in terms of numbers of Iraqis killed since 2003,  begun to create a shape for politics which again many Iraqis would find deeply concerning and wonder whether they are paying a very high cost not only in terms of human lives lost but also in terms of legacies for the future.
One can now see it in a number of aspects of Iraqi politics. The first is clearly the proliferation of official security forces in Iraq. There are now more men under arms in security apparatuses in one form or another than there were when Saddam Hussein fell. This is a very strange development and a very terrible one in some respects.
You have 160,000 American troops, 8 to 9 thousand UK and other foreign forces, the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi army which is being deliberately built up as an internal  policing force. For those who know the history of Iraq, this is a slightly worrying development in the sense that the old Iraqi army which was developed by the British, had an internal police force as an external army.  Again the notion of building up an internal Iraqi army for questions of internal security. This is understandable under the circumstances but it may leave a certain kind of legacy for the future. Accelerated recruitment, the drafting of the national guard, largely recruited along communal and regional  lines into the army.  This makes one wonder whether there is a national army in Iraq or whether there are units of an armed force which answer to different groups.
As well the relatively small internal security focus army of Iraq that has emerged since 2003, you have the proliferation of  security organizations outside the control of the Ministry of Defense in Iraq.
Under the Ministry of Interior, which is controlled by one political party SCIRI, you have the mechanized police battalion, the  police commando battalion, the public order battalions, the national  police emergency response unit. All of them in a sense developed in one form or another within the Ministry of Interior.
On top of that as well as the Ministry of Interior’s militarized forces you have the special operations forces, the counter terrorist forces and the commando battalions developed originally by Ayad Alawi and in some senses under the direct command of the prime minister. There is a constant struggle between the prime minister and the minister of defense for control of those organizations.
You have the special border police battalions which in a sense have the impossible  task of patrolling Iraq’s boundaries and one could argue only manage to do that in collusion with the communities who live across those boundaries. You have the facilities protection service, again a heavily armed unit which  some in Iraq say forms the tribal blackmail force in the sense that it is largely recruited from the people over whose territory of the oil pipe lines run and often therefore runs quite a useful protection racket.
And you have the rebuilding of the intelligence apparatus with some of the human rights abuses that one has seen come to the surface from time to time. And already one is seeing how certain Iraqi politicians have been tempted to use the security ploy to develop security organizations at their particular command.
That is just in a sense a proliferation of the security state in the hands of many of the  governmental services of Iraq. At the same time you have the militias, the quasi governmental  militias depending on whether there sponsoring parties happen to be in the government or not. The militias could be said to correspond to the flowering of local power but also of partisan power and the militarization of partisan power.
Some of these came out of the immediate problems caused by the occupation and invasion of Iraq by the Americans and the British with a relatively small armed force. That was the attempt by British and American  officers in 2003 to ensure a degree of order in localities, in neighbourhoods,  and towns where they themselves could not be and very often they recruited local militias. When you look at the origins of these local militias some of them come from precisely that sense of armed neighbourhood watch which was very much part of the picture of Iraq in 2003. The became increasingly involved with more national political organizations.
At the same time as this sign of localization of  organizations and units that became parts of the militias  you also had the militias that were developed to extend particular party causes. They were attached to parties in exile, parties that went underground and parties that began to develop in the Iraq of 2003.
So you had the Badr Brigades of SCIRI, the Jeyash Al Mahdi of the Sadriun, Al Dawa’s  different branches developed different militias groups. You had the tribal militias in the west and the north which have been very much developed  by Malaki and the Americans to counter what they regard as Islamist Al Qaeda organizations in Anbar province. You have the Sunni Islamist parties militias in Baghdad and the west. On top of that you have the neghbourhood vigilante and guard groups which in a sense are part of this.
In the north of the country you have the Kurdish militias although they are rarely classified as such. Sixty to seventy thousand men under arms in the Kurdish pesh mergas are effectively two party militias  belonging to the PUK and the KDP. They fought each other very bitterly in the 1990s but they still answer not to an Iraqi force but to a partisan cause within the Kurdish region.
And of course you have the resistance organizations as well, the organizations associated with the insurgency however defined: revived Baathist organizations, the networks and possibilities of the old shadow state of Saddam operating within different parts of Iraq.
You have Islamists of various kinds, some claiming to be attached to whatever Al Qaeda is, others defining themselves in terms of an Iraqi Sunni jihadist or Selafi tradition and you have Arab and Iraqi nationalist organizations some of them made up of people from the old Iraqi army, who were dismissed and found themselves out of work.
So again if you look at the other side of the picture you have not only the proliferation of government security organizations, foreign forces in Iraq but also the proliferation of  armed forces in the militias.
And the last element in this securitization of Iraqi politics are the private security firms, possibly 30 – 60 thousand armed men, foreign and Iraqi who have been part of the configuration of armed forces in Iraq since 2003. Questions are asked about some of them, their ties with particular political organizations, particular militias, a sense in which they too are a part of a particular configuration.
So the picture that one sees is a securitized politics of Iraq. One has to think  a bit about what some of the common themes of that have been. And I think that there are three common themes that I would like to emphasize in terms of what has happened to Iraq since 2003.
The first is the  proliferation of armed forces and security forces, some of the answering to very different and sometimes to very opposed groups. What seems to be very clear is that there no effective national security plan or state-wide plan for Iraq. The inadequacies of the American and the British forces, the weaknesses of central government have ensured that.
When you look at the American recent surge as it is called, introducing 20,000 extra troops into Baghdad is clearly about Baghdad. It is not about Iraq as a state. We have already seen some of the consequences of that outside Baghdad in terrible ways. As people feel the pressure in Baghdad they take the violence elsewhere.
So one of the features of the securitization plan or security plan for Iraq since 2003 have been incremental in event. The notion of building up security in particular places and therefore moving on to eventually as it was hoped, create security across the country itself. But in fact the effect was very local, so it depended on local deals, on agreed no go areas, on activities that would be allowed at certain times of the day, certain red lines agreed that the security forces would not thread over, blind eye being turned to certain kinds of activity.
A notion in other words that security and a degree of order has been achieved in various parts of Iraq but largely by tolerating the existence of a variety of security forces some of whom have been more successful than others at ensuring security in different parts of Iraq. But whether they are a national security force I very much doubt.
So  you have a mantra used by the British and American governments of building up the Iraqi security forces as the rationale for what they are about. The impression is given that a national security force is coming into being and that this will ensure the order and security of Iraq as a whole.
The reality I would argue is about the proliferation of security forces and the partisan infiltration of the national security forces that exist. Therefore I would say they are far from building up the power of the centre against local powers. On the contrary, they are giving local powers a huge amount of say over the central power in Iraq.
So one could argue that one of the outcomes of this is not the re-emergence of a strong central state, but  a state held hostage to some extent or divided up amongst locally based powers. And for some in Iraq that is a better outcome then the establishment of a strong central dictatorship, but it is a very bloody process in the establishment of it. That is one of the themes that comes out of the securitization of Iraqi politics since 2003.
The second theme which is most noticeable in the securitization of Iraqi politics is that the threats to security are not simply the obvious ones. There are the obvious ones, the so-called insurgency, ferocious  gaining in strength and confidence in some places, brutally reminding Iraqis through terrible acts of violence of their  reach, of their power of their persistence.
But there is also a problem in the sense that the emerging structures of power themselves may be part of the security problem. They have in a sense a security problem built into them. By that I mean the ways in which some of them have operated, a division of the spoils, a degree of criminality and a disappearance of Iraq’s national budget and national resources. Positioning themselves for future power and how to deal with their colleagues in government. Violence used to establish a claim to be taken seriously in Iraqi politics in the future.
So state and militia violence is often used as kind of language to reassure your own constituency and also to deter the opponents. It has  become very much a grammar of politics in Iraq and that has worrying implications for the future. In that sense therefore the threats to security and the threat to the kind of order that is emerging doesn’t just come out of the obvious one, the insurgency. It  may come out of the response to that insurgency in one form or another.
The third theme that is quite apparent in this picture of the securitization of Iraqi politics since 2003 is that security in Iraq is not allowed to be a question for Iraqis alone. Clearly there are many who are interested outside Iraq itself in the security and  to some extent the insecurity of certain aspects of Iraq.
There has been a great deal of concentration in the British press about Iranian activities. Iran is concerned about security in Iraq. It is concerned about American and British forces in Iraq, about what that means for its own national security. It is concerned about what kind of government emerges in Iraq and the kind of security that emerges as a result.  It is concerned about the kind games played in Iraq by other Arab states and therefore in a sense regional rivals.  It is also concerned about Kurdish autonomy and what that might mean for the Kurdish movement in Iran itself. And in all these cases are degrees of organization if not for open violence at least deterrent violence.
Equally Turkey is not  uninterested in the security of Iraq as it made clear in the language it – both verbal language and the language of hot pursuit across the Iraqi border and the language of the open bombardment across the Iraqi border in the last six to nine months in pursuit of the PKK and other Kurdish groups. So like Iran on one side, Turkey on the other is concerned and will become heavily involved in the security of Iraq itself.
There is also the way in which Iraq has become portrayed as a battle ground by certain kinds of Islamists in the Sunni Arab world, a battle ground for what is called the two-headed jehaliya against the crusader forces and the Shia of Iraq. If you look at some of the Islamist websites this is very much  part of the portrayal of what Iraq is about.
So again Iraqis are not allowed to concern themselves about their own security. They have others who think they should be concerned about it as well.
And you have the Americans and the British and their concerns about security, the security of their own forces, the security of their allies, the security of the kind of Iraq they want to bring into being.
But one of this things that has become apparent in the last few years perhaps precisely because of the terrible facts that I mentioned right at the beginning – the casualties , the refugees, the violence and so on has deprived both the British and the Americans of the language  to describe what it happening in Iraq. You have quite two significant developments. In the British and American armed forces there are clearly those who believe they are part of the problem of security in Iraq and so you get that echoed in one way or another by retired officers, by serving officers about whether their very presence is part of the problem of the securitization of Iraqi politics.
And of course as we have seen from opinion polls but also from the American elections you have a  political public in America and in Britain who is beginning to wonder what they are doing in Iraq at all. So again the notion of a political support for any kind of security project in Iraq is beginning to change.
What are consequences which have come out or may be coming out of this.  For many Iraqis the securitization of  politics dominates their everyday life. There are other notions of security, job security, employment, family security, social security, housing security but in a sense much of that is dependent on surviving the direct security threat of physical violence of one form or another. I have tried to sketch in why it is such an important aspect and why it is built in to the kind of Iraq that has been built since 2003.
So what kinds of costs can one look at for Iraq and for the Iraqis themselves as a result of this? I can see three consequences emerging to shape an Iraq of the future, the longer terms costs, not simply the  immediate cost violence but the political cost.
The first is the way in which it has operated the security state, the aspect of the notion of what is being secured enhances the security of the powerful  and those who make themselves powerful in Iraq. What one can see emerging is the local oligarchy, locally powerful  people. Violence in many ways I would argue is being used by these people precisely to do a deal with the others, in a sense to gain recognition from each other.
One could argue and it has been argued in Iraq and elsewhere that the model is to some extent that of Kurdistan. Kurdistan has since 1991 been free of Baghdad but not free of its two major political parties and militias. They fought each other terrible in the mid 1990s causing something like 4,000 casualties and tens of thousands of Kurds to be displaced internally. But eventually the two jealous powerful leaders of these two political factions came to an agreement believing that they stood to gain more by coming together with each other than they stood to gain by fighting each other.
So one could argue that Iraq is experiencing what Kurdistan experienced in the mid 1990s. Community differences are important, sectarian differences are important, not because people  are sectarian but because sectarian communities provide a power base for those who want to seek to gain the recognition of others and to make themselves felt often through violence at the expense of everyone else.
So what you are seeing emerging is a powerful set of people who are ruthless in the way in which they gain the recognition of others and in a sense therefore who see both internally and externally the basis of their power in Iraq.
The second thing  which is emerging is the oil revenues which will drive the future of Iraq. How will this be part of the same picture. There is a very interesting feature of the oil industry in Iraq. There was a very strong lobby in the USA before the invasion of Iraq and during the first year of the occupation for the dismantling and privatization of the Iraqi oil industry to open it to private ownership and the dismantling of the notion of the revenues flowing into the centre.
There is an equally and as it turns out more powerful lobby in Washington which was largely run by the large international oil companies which said  ‘no’ the Iraqi state oil company must be kept as one unit because they feared that if it was privatized they would be excluded from it and they won. They won possibly to  produce what is emerging now in Iraq which is the new oil law that is before parliament.
There are two features of the oil law which are important. The first which has been the controversial one in Iraq and elsewhere is of the price Iraq will have to pay to foreign oil companies for foreign technical assistance and investment in the Iraqi oil industry. In other words the terms of the profits that are guaranteed to the foreign oil industries, the repatriation of those profits and the fact that they will be able to sign an agreement that will  last 30 – 40 years to be able to establish themselves and the security of their terms of investment in Iraq.
What is interesting  that while this agreement is going ahead – and some people would argue that it is the only way it can go ahead. There are economic reasons for this and it is not particularly different from other kinds of oil agreements elsewhere but I think that is a bit controversial
The second feature which is quite interesting is that to get this accepted by what I call the new olarghs emerging in Iraq there has been a specific commitment by the government to share those new oil revenues amongst the communities. Not amongst all Iraqis individually but amongst the communities themselves.
There is a notion that if the oil law goes through there will be foreign oil companies land foreign investment, they will have a share of the profit and will have a share in Iraq’s future for the next 30 – 40 years but don’t worry, you will benefit of it as the leader of this or that community.
So in a sense one could argue that the oil revenues are now being used, understandably perhaps,  to reinforce patronage, to reinforce the division of the spoils. So that could be said to be one of the structural consequences of the Iraq that emerged since 2003 and one of the costs Iraq will pay for some years to come.
The third is in a sense a political reinforcement of these forces. You could argue quite understandably when you look at Iraq over the last four years and you look at Iraq  over the last 34 years there are two specters haunting Iraq.
The first is fragmentation and civil war, the notion that the elites will not come to any deal, that there will be severe conflict within the communities, that no deal will stick and therefore in a sense the possibility of a fragmented collapsed society in which there is a war of each against all. And indeed that is a very big impression for many Iraqis living in the particularly conflict-thorn parts of Iraq itself.
There is another nightmare, another specter which haunts Iraq which is the recreation of an authoritarian, dictatorial central state of a brutality  which one can see very well exemplified in that of Saddam Hussein which is justified precisely to avoid the chaos and fragmentation of a failed state. It is the old argument of Saddam Hussein in the 80s when he asked people do you really want to be like Lebanon? If you don’t want to be like Lebanon (that is Lebanon in the civil war) you have to have me.
This is the start contrast put before Iraqis. Both of them have huge meaning. If you look at the last four years it looks as if the recipe for civil war, fragmentation, sectarian and civil conflict that many Iraqis dread. But if you look at the 30 years before it looks like the epitome of the worst kind of dictatorship that one on can imagine Iraqis ever living under.
So what is the vehicle of escape. In other words if Iraqis do not have to go down these two roads what is the vehicle of escape that is being put forward as a possibility. I would argue that this reinforces the other trends I talked about, the security of the powerful and the division of the spoils.
That is effectively something that has been put forward by the Americans, the government and by others – a notion of a national pact which has conscious echoes of the Lebanese experience. One which one could argue  will divide the spoils but not the state. It will keep the state unified but will divide the spoils within it. In other words in hinges on, again if you think of the Lebanese example of the 1940s and 1950s you have powerful communal leaders who recognize each other. And in recognizing each other, the recognize the limits of their power but also that are collusive in power in one form or another.
You have local authoritarian structures of power, that is leaders who feel in one way or another that they have control over their local communities. You have the reassurance of local powers, be that Turkey, Iran  or Saudi Arabia the notion that their people are also at the top table and therefore  in a sense they can be reassured that the state will not fragment and that there will be a degree of order within it and that their voices will be heard within the state.
And when you look at the single largest military force in Iraq now it will provide the USA with an exit route. And I would argue that this is very much evident in the thinking behind the Baker report which was produced last year and indeed  that of the rather sobered Washington of 2007 – 2008. A notion that you can retrieve something for USA interests  by leaving behind an oligarchy which is respectful of American power but has firm control over its own particular constituencies and has done a deal with each. What price will be paid by the Iraqi people as a whole for that kind of arrangement only history will tell us.

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