For the first time, a real
blueprint for peace in Iraq
By Ali Allawi, former Iraqi Defence Minister
Independent" -- -- The Iraqi state that
was formed in the aftermath of the First World War has
come to an end. Its successor state is struggling to be
born in an environment of crises and chaos. The collapse
of the entire order in the Middle East now threatens as
the Iraq imbroglio unleashes forces in the area that
have been gathering in virulence over the past decades.
It took the American-led invasion and occupation of
Iraq, and the mismanagement of the country by both the
Coalition Provisional Administration and subsequent
Iraqi governments, to bring matters to this dire
What was supposed to be a straightforward process of
overthrowing a dictatorship and replacing it with a
liberal-leaning and secular democracy under the benign
tutelage of the United States, has instead turned into
an existential battle for identity, power and legitimacy
that is affecting not only Iraq, but the entire
tottering state system in the Middle East.
The Iraq war is a global predicament of the first order
and its resolution will influence the course of events
in the Middle East and beyond for a considerable time.
What we are witnessing in Iraq is the beginning of the
unravelling of the unjust and unstable system that was
carved out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. It had
held for nearly 100 years by a mixture of foreign
occupation,outside meddling, brutal dictatorships and
At the same time, it signally failed in providing a
permanent sense of legitimacy to its power, engaged its
citizens in their governance, or provided a modicum of
well-being and a decent standard of existence for its
The Key Challenges
The nature and scope of the Iraq crisis can be
encapsulated in the emergence of four vital issues that
have challenged the entire project for remaking the Iraq
state. In one form or another, these forces also affect
the countries of the Arab Middle East, as well as Turkey
and Iran, and the relationships between all of them.
Firstly, the invasion of Iraq tipped the scales in
favour of the Shia, who are now determined to emerge as
the governing majority after decades, if not centuries,
of perceived disempowerment and oppression. The
consequences of this historic shift inside Iraq and
elsewhere in the Middle East are incalculable.
Secondly, the invasion of Iraq legitimised the
semi-independent region that Iraq's Kurds had forged
over the past decade. The Kurds whose rights to
self-determination were acknowledged in the 1920 Sevres
Treaty, and then subsequently ignored by the states of
the post-Ottoman Middle East, have received an enormous
fillip in their march towards recognition of their
What is still left to be decided is the geographic
extent of the Kurdish region in Iraq, and whether it
would have proprietary access to the resources of that
area. This may prove a way station to the beginnings of
the formation of a Kurdish state. The challenges that
will pose to the integrity and self-definition of
Turkey, Iran and Syria now or in the future is another
formidable side effect of the overthrow of the old
Thirdly, the uneven, poorly prepared and messy
introduction in Iraq of democratic norms for elections,
constitution-writing and governance structures is a
stark break with the authoritarian and dictatorial
systems that have prevailed in the Middle East. While
the Iraqi experiment has so far been marred by violence,
irregularities and manipulation, it is quite likely to
survive as the mechanism through which governments will
be chosen in the future.
Lastly, the overthrow of Saddam coincided with the
attempts by Iran to assert its influence and to gain
entry into regional counsels. That has exercised a
number of countries in the area no end, giving rise to
alarmist warnings of Iranian hegemonistic designs and "Shia
crescents". The responses that are being planned for the
perceived threat are terrifying in their implications,
with scant attention paid to their consequences to the
peace and stability of the area.
Iraq was used as a foil to revolutionary Iran during the
Iran-Iraq war, with devastating consequences for both.
We are witnessing a possible reprise, the consequence of
which, if the new warmongers get their way, will be
catastrophic for it will go to the heart of the fragile
societies of the Middle East. Shia will be pitted
against Sunni not only in Iraq but in Lebanon, and the
Dangers of Sunni Insurgency
In the sterile world of zero-sum politics, the loss of
power of the Sunni Arab community in Iraq was soon
translated into a raging insurgency that challenged not
only the US occupation but also the new political
The insurgency fed on the deep resentment Sunni Arabs
felt to their loss of power and prestige. It has been
aggravated by the fact it was a totally unexpected force
that achieved the impossible- the dethronement of the
community from centuries of power in favour of, as they
saw it, a rabble led by Persianate clerics. The Sunni
Arabs' refusal to countenance any serious engagement
with the new political order had effectively pushed them
into a cul-de-sac and has played into the hands of their
most determined enemies.
The state is now moving inexorably under the control of
the Shia Islamists, albeit with a supporting role for
the Kurds. The boundaries of Shia-controlled Baghdad are
moving ever westwards so that the capital itself may
fall entirely under the sway of the Shia militias.
The only thing stopping that is the deployment of
American troops to block the entry of the Shia militias
in force into these mixed or Sunni neighbourhoods. The
geographic space outside Baghdad in which the insurgency
can flourish will persist but the country will be
inevitably divided. Under such circumstances, the power
of the Shia's demographic advantage can only be
counter-balanced by the Sunni Arabs' recourse to support
from the neighbouring Arab states. It is inconceivable
that such an outcome can possibly lead to a stable Iraqi
state unless one side or another vanquishes its opponent
or if the country is divided into separate states.
Impact of Shia Ascendancy
The response to these existential challenges emanating
from the invasion of Iraq, both inside Iraq and in the
Arab world has been panic-stricken or fearful, and
potentially disastrous to the stability in the area and
the prospects for its inhabitants.
The Arab countries of the Middle East have been unable
to adjust to events in Iraq, not so much because of the
contagion effect of the changes that have taken place
there. This had virtually disappeared as Iraq cannot be
seen as model for anything worth emulating. It has less
to do with the instability that might spill over from
the violence in the country. It is more to do with
accommodating an unknown quantity into a system that can
barely acknowledge pluralism and democracy, let alone a
Shia ascendancy in Iraq.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, linchpins of the
American security order in the Arab world, cannot accept
the principle of a Shia-dominated Iraq, each for its own
reasons. They will do their utmost to thwart such a
possibility, and failing that, will probably try to
isolate such an entity from regional counsels
Implications for Middle East
It is this with this backdrop that solutions are being
proffered to resolve the Iraqi crisis. However, rather
than treat the problem in a much wider context, each
party is determined to stake out its narrow position
irrespective of its effects on other communities, groups
The seeds of another 100 years of crisis are being sown,
with the Middle East consigned to decades of turbulence
and the persistence of unmitigated hatreds and grudges.
The most serious issue that is emerging is the
exacerbation of sectarian differences between Shia and
Sunni. That is a profoundly dangerous issue for it
affects not only Iraq but also Saudi Arabia, Syria,
Lebanon and the Gulf countries.
It is plausible that the cost of a Shia ascendancy in
Iraq, if it is marked as such, will be further pressure
on the vulnerable Shia communities in the Gulf
countries. There is already the rekindling of anti-Shia
rhetoric in a remarkably similar rerun to the pattern
that accompanied the Saudi-led campaign to contain the
Iranian revolution in the 1980s. The effect of that was
the rise of the jihadi culture that was the harbinger of
mass terrorism and suicide bombings.
This may drag the entire area into war or even the
forced movement of people as fearful countries seek to
"quarantine" or expel their Shia population.
It requires genuine vision and statesmanship to pull the
Middle East from its death spiral. The elements of a
possible solution are there if the will exists to
postulate an alternative to the politics of fear,
bigotry and hatred.
The first step must be the recognition that the solution
to the Iraq crisis must be generated first internally,
and then, importantly, at the regional level. The two
are linked and the successful resolution of one would
lead to the other.
No foreign power, no matter how benevolent, should be
allowed to dictate the terms of a possible historic and
stable settlement in the Middle East. No other region of
the world would tolerate such a wanton interference in
That is not to say that due consideration should not be
given to the legitimate interests of the great powers in
the area, but the future of the area should not be held
hostage to their designs and exclusive interests.
Secondly, the basis of a settlement must take into
account the fact that the forces that have been
unleashed by the invasion of Iraq must be acknowledged
and accommodated. These forces, in turn, must accept
limits to their demands and claims. That would apply, in
particular, to the Shias and the Kurds, the two
communities who have been seen to have gained from the
invasion of Iraq.
Thirdly, the Sunni Arab community must become convinced
that its loss of undivided power will not lead to
marginalisation and discrimination. A mechanism must be
found to allow the Sunni Arabs to monitor and regulate
and, if need be, correct, any signs of discrimination
that may emerge in the new Iraqi state.
Fourthly, the existing states surrounding Iraq feel
deeply threatened by the changes there. That needs to be
recognised and treated in any lasting deal for Iraq and
A way has to be found for introducing Iran and Turkey
into a new security structure for the Middle East that
would take into account their legitimate concerns, fears
and interests. It is far better that these countries are
seen to be part of a stable order for the area rather
than as outsiders who need to be confronted and
The Iraqi government that has arisen as a result of the
admittedly flawed political process must be accepted as
a sovereign and responsible government. No settlement
can possibly succeed if its starting point is the
illegitimacy of the Iraqi government or one that
considers it expendable.
A Brighter Future
The end state of this process would be three interlinked
outcomes. The first would be a decentralised Iraqi state
with new regional governing authorities with wide powers
Devolution of power must be fair, well planned, and
executed with equitable revenue-distribution. Federal
institutions would have to act as adjudicators between
regions. Security must be decentralised until such time
as confidence between the communities is re-established.
The second essential outcome would be a treaty that
would establish a confederation or constellation of
states of the Middle East, initially including Iraq,
Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The main aim of the
confederation would be to establish a number of
conventions and supra-regional bodies that would have
the effect of acting as guarantors of civil, minority
and community rights.
The existence of such institutions can go a long way
towards removing the anxiety disadvantaged groups feel
when confronted with the radical changes sweeping the
area. The gradual build up of such supra-national
institutions in the proposed confederation may also
expand to cover an increased degree of economic
integration and harmonisation.
That may include a regional development body which would
help establish and fund common energy and infrastructure
policies. Lastly, an indispensable end outcome is a
regional security pact that would group the countries of
the Arab Middle East with Iran and Turkey, at first in
some form of anti-terrorism pact, but later a broader
framework for discussing and resolving major security
issues that impinge on the area as a whole.
That would also provide the forum for combating the
spread of virulent ideologies and sectarian hatreds and
provide the basis for peacefully containing and
resolving the alarm that some countries feel from the
apparent expansion of Iranian influence in the area.
The Importance of the US
It was the US that launched this phase of the
interminable Middle East crisis, by invading Iraq and
assuming direct authority over it. Whatever project it
had for Iraq has vanished, a victim of inappropriate or
incoherent policies, and the violent upending of Iraq's
Nevertheless, the US is still the most powerful actor in
the Iraq crisis, and its decisions can sway the
direction and the manner in which events could unfold.
In other areas of the world, the US has used its immense
influence and power to cement regional security and
economic associations. There is no reason why the
regional associations being mooted in conjunction with a
decentralised Iraqi state, could not play an equally
important part in resolving the Iraqi crisis and
dispersing the dangerous clouds threatening the region.
The Iraqi proposals
1 Iraq government calls for regional security conference
including Iraq's neighbours to produce an
agreement/treaty on non-intervention and combating
terrorism. Signatory states will be responsible to set
of markers for commitments.
Purpose: To reduce/eliminate neighbouring countries'
support for insurgents, terrorists and militias.
2 Iraq government calls for preparatory conference on a
Middle-Eastern Confederation of States that will examine
proposals on economic, trade and investment union.
Proposals will be presented for a convention on civil,
human and minority rights in the Near East, with a
supreme court/tribunal with enforcement powers.
Purpose: To increase regional economic integration and
provide minorities in signatory countries with
3 Iraq government calls for an international conference
on Iraq that would include Iraq, its regional
neighbours, Egypt, the UAE, the US, UK, France, Germany,
Russia and China that would aim to produce a treaty
a. Iraq's frontiers.
b. The broad principles of Iraq's constitutional
c. Establishing international force to replace the
multi-national force over 12 to 18 months. Appointing
international co-ordinator to oversee treaty
Purpose: To arrange for the gradual and orderly
withdrawal of American troops, ensure that Iraq develops
along constitutional lines, confirm Iraq and its
neighbours' common frontiers.
4 Iraq government will introduce changes to government
by creating two statuary bodies with autonomous
financing and independent boards:
a. A reconstruction and development council run by Iraqi
professionals and technocrats with World Bank/UN
b. A security council which will oversee professional
ministries of defence, interior, intelligence and
Purpose: To remove the reconstruction and development
programme from incompetent hands and transfer them to an
apolitical, professional and independent body. Also to
remove the oversight, command and control over the
security ministries from politicised party control to an
independent, professional and accountable body.
5 The entire peace plan, its preamble and its details
must be put before the Iraqi parliament for its
Ali A Allawi was Minister of Trade and Minister of
Defence in the Iraqi Governing Council Cabinet
(2003-2004). He was in the Transitional National
Assembly, and Minister of Finance, Transitional National
Government of Iraq (2005-2006). His book, 'The
Occupation of Iraq Winning the War, Losing the Peace'
will be published in March
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited