Liberation, the keyword of this war, is empowerment. Democracy is an even higher level of empowerment. It’s why to fight this war; the United States should empower those Iraqis willing to fight and die for their country’s liberation.
Those who imply that a rising surge of “nationalism” is preventing Iraqis from greeting American and British troops with open arms are wrong. What is preventing Iraqis from rising and taking over the streets of their cities is confusion about American intentions, confusion created by the way this war has been conducted and by fear of the murderous brown-shirt thugs, otherwise known as Saddam’s Fedayeen, a militia loyal to the Iraqi president, who control the streets of Iraqi cities and who are conducting the harassing attacks on American and British soldiers.
The Coalition forces have not yet sent clear and unmistakable signals to the people of Iraq that, unlike 1991, there will be no turning back before Saddam Hussein’s regime has been overturn. But in order to do this effectively they must count on the Iraqi opposition, which has so far been marginalized.
Iraqis do not get CNN. They have not heard, as we have, constant iterations of how Hussein’s demise is imminent. More important, they have not seen evidence of his difficulties, as they did in 1991, when they revolted after two months of not seeing his image on TV or hearing him and his henchmen on the radio. Coalition forces so far have been content to position themselves outside cities in southern Iraq; only after incessant urging from members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) have they finally begun to disrupt Iraqi TV, Hussein’s principal means for not losing face in Iraq. And above all, Coalition forces have not allowed Iraqis to go in and organize the population, something they are eager and willing to do.
Hanging over the head of every Iraqi like the sword of Damocles is the memory of March 1991, when the uprising of the people of southern Iraq was mercilessly suppressed with particular brutality in Basra. If Hussein came back from the grave after 1991, Iraqis are wonder what guarantees do they have that he will not do so this time? Phone calls that the Iraqi opposition has received over the past few days from sources in southern Iraq confirm this sense of ambiguity and hesitation. A group of rebels in Nasiriyah called the leadership of the Iraqi opposition in the north. They wanted to know what to do with a number of abandoned military vehicles they had found, including a tank and some armored personnel carriers. Should they sequester them and turn them against the regime? The answer was no. Otherwise, you will be shot by Coalition forces, because we have not been given the special device necessary to identify you as friend, not foe. Such was the state of coordination that exists between the opposition and the Coalition forces.
No American or Coalition soldier can quell the perfectly legitimate fears of ordinary Iraqis living in places such as Basra or Baghdad. Only other Iraqis, attentive to the nuances of their own society and culture, can do this. Communication with Iraqis about such things cannot be reduced to a three-by-five card listing rules of engagement. Only Iraqis can get messages distributed through the local social networks; and only Iraqis can reassure other Iraqis that they are truly to be liberated this time.
Hussein’s image and those of his henchmen have been visible throughout the fighting. Hussein rules through his face, through his ubiquitous presence in day-to-day life. That is what his millions of larger-than-life wall posters are about. Every day that aired image reinforces an aura of invincibility. That is why Iraqi state TV must be put out of commission, permanently. (There are indications this morning that it might, in fact, be history.)
But eliminating his image is not enough. An alternative image must be projected, by Iraqis not Americans. Give them the equipment inside Iraq to do it now, immediately. The INC has been trying to get TV and radio belonging to free Iraqis on the air inside Iraq since 2000.
Senators, congressmen, and other powerful friends of the INC have proved helpless against the remarkable machinations of those who have fashioned entire careers around hobbling the INC as an organization and fighting force inside Iraq.
The Coalition needs the Iraqis from the opposition who can sneak into the cities to help organize other Iraqis, to show them how to communicate with their entrapped brethren, who can tell them why Hussein really is finished, and who are able to root out his cronies when they try to melt away into the civilian population.
One cannot liberate a people, much less facilitate the emergence of a democracy, without empowering the people being liberated. It is a thousand times easier for an Iraqi soldier to join his fellow Iraqis in rebellion than it is to surrender his arms in humiliation to a foreigner who is unable even to communicate with him. And the more that Iraqis help, the fewer Coalition soldiers will have to engage in house-to-house fighting in Iraqi cities.
It is both morally right and politically liberating for Iraqis to participate and share in their own liberation. Iraqis are prepared and are willing to give their lives in this liberation. Their participation is indispensable as it will add legitimacy, and therefore stability, to an Iraqi interim authority, which otherwise, no matter how one looks at it, would be picked and chosen by American officials.
— Kanan Makiya, a native Iraqi, is a professor of Middle East studies at Brandeis and author of Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq. Makiya is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com. A slightly different version of this piece appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post and is reprinted with permission.