An Iraqi Potemkin Village

As we approach the second anniversary of the “liberation” of Iraq – marked by the much-touted toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad’s main square – a simple juxtaposition of photos reveals the utter phoniness of the American project in the Middle East. Of course, was all over that particular deception as it was happening, but in revisiting it two years later, it is instructive to note that the same square was filled the other day by tens of thousands of Iraqis demanding that the U.S. leave Iraq forthwith. The myth and the reality are not merely divergent – they are completely opposed to each other in every conceivable way, and nothing illustrates this more dramatically than the rhetoric of our deluded president, who recently addressed U.S. troops in Ft. Hood, Texas:

“As the Iraq democracy succeeds, that success is sending a message from Beirut to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a crushing defeat to the forces of tyranny and terror, and a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

As radical Islamists– in league with Irantighten their grip on Iraqi society, George W. Bush’s glorious “global democratic revolution” marches on. What baloney! Our president, however, is undeterred by the facts: “The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad will be recorded,” he averred, “alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall, as one of the great moments in the history of liberty.”

The toppling of the statue was a staged event, from start to finish, pulled off with tight camera angles (masking the paucity of the crowd) and the logistical and military support of American troops, who had just rolled into Baghdad. The fall of the Berlin Wall, on the other hand, was not brought about by an American invasion: it was a genuinely spontaneous revolution made possible by the German people themselves and the self-dissolution of the Communist parties of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

These two events, the fall of Baghdad and the toppling of the Berlin Wall, are not merely different: they are opposites in a dichotomy. What happened in Berlin, in 1989, was a revolution from below: what occurred in Iraq was a revolution from above, albeit one tarted up to look like a spontaneous popular uprising in support of the Anglo-American conquest.

This weird reversal demonstrates a useful general rule when trying to understand the utterances of our rulers and the course of American foreign policy these days: whatever officials say, the only way to translate it into meaningful terms is to turn it upside down. Thus, the only way to interpret the president’s words, cited above, is to apply the inversion principle, so that it comes out something like this:

“As we draw down our troops and get ready to cut and run, just like Bob Novak predicted, the delivery of Iraq into the hands of radical Shi’ites aligned with Iran has proved to be a total disaster. So much for Iraq as the centerpiece of our vaunted ‘global democratic revolution.’ Oh well, back to the drawing board…”

After months of wrangling, the Iraqi government is finally in place, but, like the Frankenstein monster it is, the places where the body politic has been hastily stitched together are all too apparent. The creature is coming apart at the seams, as reported in this account of the ascension of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to the Iraqi presidency:

“The irony of Talabani’s rise from secessionist to president was underscored by the backdrop for his speech: the Iraqi flag, flown during Saddam’s rule and still favored by many Iraqis. He and other Kurdish leaders refuse to fly it in Kurdistan. ‘It is not a problem,’ Talabani said after the session. ‘Our brothers in the national assembly will adopt a new flag for the Iraqi people.’ He noted that Iraq had changed flags with regimes in the past but said that if Iraqis insisted on keeping the current flag, ‘we will bow in respect to their will.'”

What kind of a nation is it that cannot even agree on the design of its flag? This is a sore subject for the War Party, which doesn’t like to be reminded of the various permutations undergone by the Iraqi government’s chosen banner: first it was supposed to be a blue Islamic crescent on a white field and two bands of blue representing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, interspersed with a streak of yellow symbolizing the Kurds. That didn’t go over all that well, and was quietly junked. The current design is, as Wikipedia points out, “unclear” – although it may be the flag displayed in the photo here.

In any case, the Iraqi flag – whatever it looks like – doesn’t fly in Kurdistan, and won’t any time soon. There is too much history there: too much blood has been spilled. After all, soldiers marching under that flag killed countless Kurds in a series of relentless attacks launched by Saddam Hussein, with support from his local allies and hirelings – including, at one point, Mr. Talabani.

As the BBC tells it, Talabani and his ally Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party were in the midst of fighting Saddam’s troops, when, all of a sudden:

“Mr. Talabani’s pragmatism again broke surface. One night in the spring of 1991 when staying at his camp in a ruined school in Mawat – a mountain village north of Sulaymaniyah where he had taken refuge during earlier struggles with the rival KDP in the 1960s – he disappeared, and nobody would say where he had gone. Then he popped up on television from Baghdad, kissing Saddam Hussein on the cheeks. Far from being outraged, the Kurds danced in celebration. They thought reconciliation with Baghdad must mean the war was over. As he embraced Saddam Hussein, little can he have imagined that one day he would be taking his place as president of the Iraqi republic.”

Some would call this Talabani’s “pragmatism,” while others would describe it as backstabbing. Whatever terminology is used, one thing is clear: in Kurdistan, the U.S. is treading in some treacherous waters, where the flagship of Mr. Bush’s “global democratic revolution” may well be wrecked on the rocks of ethnic separatism, overwhelmed by the rising tide of Kurdish nationalism.

Talk of Kurdish secession is “at a fever pitch,” according to this Knight-Ridder report. Clearly buoyed by their second-place finish in the recent elections – made possible by massive voter fraud as well as the Sunni boycott – the Kurds are aggressively moving to consolidate their victory, taking over provincial governments and pushing out the Arab and Turkmen minorities, who they claim are occupying land and housing that really belongs to Kurds.

The northern city of Kirkuk, which is the center [.pdf] of Iraq’s oil-producing region, is the focus of a looming struggle pitting Kurds against the rest of the country. The Kurds claim it as their historic “holy city,” a kind of Kurdish Jerusalem, while the majority Arab and Turkmen population resists Kurdification measures imposed by the “democratically” elected authorities, who are committed to carrying out an ethnic-cleansing program on a massive scale. Lt. Col. Anthony Wickham, the U.S. Army’s liaison to the Kirkuk council, puts it this way:

“Worst-case scenario is a civil war. The threat is out there. There are armed Arab groups, Turkomen groups that say they need to arm themselves, and the Kurds say, ‘We know how to keep the peace, we’ll deploy the peshmerga,’ a militia that numbers in the tens of thousands.”

The source of the problem is Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law, imposed by the U.S. at gunpoint, which, as conservative constitutional scholar Bruce Fein puts it, “seeks to restore Kirkuk to its pre-Saddam character.” A bit of social engineering that even the most militant neocon would shy away from, but a concession granted nevertheless to the Kurds as the price of their cooperation. Article 58 instructs the transitional government:

“Expeditiously to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime’s practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region, settling individuals alien to the region, depriving the inhabitants of work, and correcting nationality. …

“With regard to residents who were deported, expelled, or who emigrated; [the Iraqi Transitional Government] shall, in accordance with the statute of the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other measures within the law, within a reasonable period of time, restore the residents to their homes and property, or, where this is unfeasible, shall provide just compensation.”

In an effort to break up the Kurdish opposition to his rule, Saddam Hussein sought to “Arabize” sections of Iraqi Kurdistan, and large numbers of Arab Iraqis were encouraged by the regime to relocate over a period of some 20 years: today, Kirkuk is no longer populated chiefly by Kurds. But the Kurdish politicians plan to regain their majority by bringing in their own people, who are claiming to be the “true” inhabitants and owners of Kirkuk and environs.

How this de-Arabization process can ever be fairly implemented, even under the most favorable circumstances, is a question hardly anyone seems prepared to answer. Our confidence, at any rate, should not be bolstered by the knowledge that the head of the committee in charge of implementing Article 58 appears to be an official of the Iraqi Communist Party. Let’s hope they don’t model their relocation plans after Joseph Stalin‘s.

Kirkuk, and the whole of Kurdistan, is a cauldron of ethnic hatred and incipient violence that threatens to overflow at any moment. The Kurdish-dominated town councils and police are busy carrying out their own “de-Arabization” program, just as ruthlessly as the Shi’ites are intent on carrying out their “de-Ba’athification” process, i.e., purges of the police and the armed forces. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a surprise visit to Iraq, yesterday warned against the dangers of the latter – but all indications point to the helplessness of the U.S. occupiers in the face of the winning Shi’ite coalition’s determination to cement its own power in place permanently. Rumsfeld was clear about the administration’s impatience in dealing with any roadblocks to a relatively quick draw-down of American troops levels: we aren’t going to wait for “perfection” in the political process, he averred, even as he warned of the deleterious effects factional and sectarian purges might have on the ability of the Iraqi government to keep order.

The great danger is that America’s Iraqi Potemkin village could collapse before the Bush administration convinces itself that our “victory strategy” – as opposed to our “exit strategy,” which Rummy claims we don’t have – has succeeded. This crisis, too, is rooted in the Transitional Administrative Law, which contains a whole section devoted to disqualifying ex-Ba’athist leaders of any standing from running for or holding office, effectively disenfranchising most of the Sunni elite. It is a case of the American-hatched chickens coming home to roost. In the meantime, the terrors of “democratic” Iraq are unfolding before our eyes…

When a roadside bomb went off near a truck carrying Kurdish police en route to a fellow policeman’s funeral, no leads could be found. The next day, police returned to the scene of the crime and rounded up “potential witnesses” (i.e., anybody and everybody in sight):

“Among them were two Turkmen vegetable vendors. While in custody, both vendors were beaten and tortured by a Kurdish officer who pushed lit cigarettes into their bodies, lashed them with cables and punched and kicked them in their faces, according to family accounts verified by U.S. military officials.

“The two vendors were cousins of Tahsin Mohammed Kahya, a Turkmen who’s the chair of the Kirkuk council and an immensely popular local politician.”

The “global democratic revolution” – ain’t it lovely?

In Baghdad, hundreds of thousands of radical Islamists demand the U.S. get out, while in Basra and the south of Iraq, Christians fear for their lives, women don’t dare go out on the street unveiled, and Islamic law is enforced by fundamentalist goon squads that roam the streets in search of heretics and infidels – as the Brits and the “secular” authorities look on helplessly.

If this is a “victory strategy,” one shudders to think what a defeat would look like.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].