When the statue of former president Saddam Hussein was brought down and Iraq officially came under American occupation, much was said about freedom, democracy and the prosperity that would be enjoyed in what was touted as a new era for Iraq.
Yet after less that a decade in that new era, many Iraqi citizens began offering prayers of mercy for Saddam Hussein’s government and even expressed nostalgia for it. What is striking is that this nostalgia did not gloss over his regime’s tyranny and cruelty, but rather accomodated it. What could have happened to make Iraqis long for the return of a cruel and oppressive dictator?
From the beginning, Iraq’s political process has faced a fundamental problem: the firm dominance of fractional, ethnic and sectarian groups in the political landscape. In fact, the prevailing characteristic of all currents and political parties was the tendancy to prioritize private sphere over the public sphere. Most of Iraq’s parties and political groups view their activities from a profit-and-loss perspective. In 2003, this was happening in an Iraq that was divided by international and regional actors, and this was clearly reflected on the political parties and forces.
We are not delving into a comparison of Iraq before 2003 and its aftermath, but rather into the way Iraq was supposed to be and why it ended up in such a miserable situation in which we see hardly any reason to hope for improvement.
Foreign influence has always maintained a prominent role in Iraq, but Iran has been the most dominant and influential regional actor in Iraq. This is mostly due to the return of expelled Shiite political forces from Iran after 2003, increasing Shiite influence in Iraq. Nor were non-Shiite Iraqi forces and parties immune from Iran’s influence. The continued Iranian penetration in the various joints of the Iraqi state has changed the context and the nature of the relations that bound Iraq to the external world. Throughout the past few decades, Iraq gave a priority to its relations with the Arab world. But under the influence and domination of Iran, these relations have become secondary and even marginalized, which has had profound and lasting effects on Iraq’s diplomatic situation.
Until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was considered the beating heart of the Arab world, occupying a leading and exceptional role. It is extremely difficult for the Iraqi people and the Arab world to digest and absorb the exclusion and marginalization of Iraq from its regional environment. This marginalization is accompanied by efforts to foment doubt and mistrust in Iraq’s relations with the Arab world, portraying the latter as a reason for the insecurity and instability in Iraq; this is the message that is today being promoted through various channels and activities.
Because of such long-standing factors as race, history, common interest and religion, Arab-world relations are of special importance to Iraq. It cannot ignore it under any factors, justifications or circumstances because this would disturb the collective orientation and worldview of the Iraqi people. Bringing Iraq back to its Arabic environment according to the traditional and familiar context of the past centuries would ameliorate the situation in that country and restore balance, security and stability to it. History itself provides the most compelling testimony to the effects of Iraq’s isolation from the rest of the Arabic world. Iraq must not only retake its place in the Arabic world to create a tidy historical narrative, but for the safety and security of its own citizens and the region.