"Liberators" have been there before!

  • From: "muslim-news.net" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2003 16:07:42 +0100

For Iraq: Dé jà Vu All Over Again; 'Liberators' Have Been There Before,
And Stayed for Decades

This isn't the first time a Western superpower has invaded Iraq,
promising to free the country from tyrannical rule and bring democratic
government -- all while nursing its own strategic interests.

The last time it happened, the British influence stayed for four
decades.

When the British captured Baghdad in 1917, defeating the Ottomans, Gen.
Stanley Maude made a declaration to the Iraqis:

"Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or
enemies, but as liberators."

Here is what Vice President Cheney predicted last month: "I really do
believe that we will be greeted as liberators."

That word -- "liberators" -- is leaden with historical weight. Then, as
now, the superpower's motivation was suspect to some of the people
liberated. Then, as now, there were questions about just how much
self-rule would be given to them. 

From the viewpoint of Iraqis, suggests James Zogby, president of the
Arab American Institute, "if anything defines the history of the last
century, it's the sense of having lost control . . . This is not about
Saddam Hussein. This is about one more time when Western powers are
coming in to redefine the Arab region."

It is history repeating itself," says Kumait Jawdat, an Iraqi American
who lives in Northwest Washington ... The Americans "are invading Iraq.
No matter how you want to polish that phrase, they're entering a country
by force against the will of certainly some of the inhabitants. They're
going to generate a certain degree of resentment."

Consider the parallels. Almost 90 years ago, when the British army came
to what was then Mesopotamia, they faced a population divided along
ethnic and tribal lines. Just as now, Sunni Muslims, a minority, enjoyed
an elite status and positions of power, despite the fact that Shiite
Muslims were a larger percentage of the population. The British came in
through the south of the country and took the city of Basra in 1914,
then traveled to Baghdad. For different strategic reasons, the United
States today follows a similar geographic route.

Like Americans now, the British faced a forbidding landscape. Britain's
first advance on Baghdad was understaffed and under-prepared, and the
British troops encountered surprising resistance along the way.

"This of course looks strikingly similar to what happened to the
British," says Middle East historian Janet Wallach. "They went in and
they thought it was going to be a quick and easy thing and it turned out
to be a long and difficult campaign."

Britain's miscalculation led to one of its most humiliating episodes of
the war, when they were defeated by the Ottomans at Kut in 1916 after a
siege that lasted 146 days. They finally took Baghdad the next year. 

In his proclamation in Baghdad, Gen. Maude reminded Iraqis that "for 26
generations you have suffered under strange tyrants," and invited them
"to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration
with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the
British Army."

But as the Iraqis saw it, history worked out somewhat differently...

Instead, France and Britain carved up the Middle East like so much pie
while the United States clucked its tongue at their imperialism. The
British were eager to hold onto Iraq, which gave them a strategic
position with regard to India and -- shades of the modern day here --
access to oil interests.

Confusion soon set in among both the British and the Iraqis. How should
the country be ruled? Directly by the British? Indirectly? What Iraqi
leaders should step forward to represent the people?

"If history is a guide, then the Muslim population of Iraq will not want
to be governed by non-Muslims," says Middle East scholar David Fromkin.

In 1921, the British installed King Faisal I, who was beholden to them,
within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. In coming years they
advised the government and controlled the population with air power in
times of uprising. Even after Iraq was granted formal independence in
1932, the British kept a hand in the country's affairs until a coup
forced out the British-allied regime in 1958.

Ghida al-Askari Yousif, a schoolteacher in Vienna whose grandfather and
great-uncle were prominent officials in Iraq for decades after the
country was created, believes that modern-day Iraqis are more
sophisticated about their place in the world.

"The difference now is they have a sense of identity and they have CNN
and al-Jazeera," she says. "They know they're a part of something
bigger." Yousif says that this may make contemporary Iraqis even less
willing to accept foreign dominance.

Just how far the parallels between the British and the Americans extend
will depend on the coming months and years.

Jawdat says that King Faisal and his successors never could erase the
stain of their association with the Western invaders. He fears that
whomever the U.S. helps into power will face the same problem.

"They're fostering one particular group, the Iraqi National Congress, as
the solution for leading modern Iraq, at least through the transition
period, so that anybody associated with the regime -- because of its
association with the U.S. invasion -- is going to be forever tainted,"
he says.

Kumait, a technical writer, just returned from a conference of Iraqi
exiles in London that announced itself as an alternative to the INC. He
says he fears that -- just as with the British -- an American imposition
of what Iraqi government should be, no matter how well intentioned, is
virtually doomed.

"A democracy conceived in the American mind and imposed by the Americans
and the British on an Iraq with a long history of civilization is not
going to take root, because while it may suit the administration's needs
it does not suit Iraq's needs, and this is where I see a parallel," he
says. "The British with their idealism created a modern state without
focusing enough on the traditions of the indigenous people."

Yousif worries that there's a certain familiar arrogance to the
Americans swooping in to save the Iraqis, bringing in their own
political solutions and their own interests. She is frustrated that Iraq
and the larger Arab world couldn't solve this problem on their own.
Iraqis are proud, she says, and the United States "should not impose its
values on these people."

If they resist the Americans -- call them invaders or liberators or what
you will -- it will not be because they love Saddam Hussein, she says,
but because they love their country. "It's called self-respect," she
says.

How long will the Americans stay? Will their influence be felt for
decades, like that of the British?

"In the broader [Middle East] region, there is the assessment that
America is never leaving," says Zogby. "They have bases in the Gulf,
they now have a strong presence in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan and Iraq,
and now threats against Syria." Zogby says many feel the war in Iraq is
just one step in attempting a "radical transformation of the Middle
East." 

Source:  Washington Post
 

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