Posted by: sean | March 26, 2007

Kanan Makiya on post-invasion Iraq

The Times had a short profile of Kanan Makiya this weekend. He’s writing a new book on post-invasion Iraq.

“I want to look into myself, look at myself, delve into the assumptions I had going into the war,” he said. “Now it seems necessary to reflect on the society that has gotten itself into this mess. A question that looms more and more for me is: just what did 30 years of dictatorship do to 25 million people?”

“It’s not like I didn’t think about this,” he continued. “But nonetheless I allowed myself as an activist to put it aside in the hope that it could be worked through, or managed, or exorcised in a way that’s not as violent as is the case now. That did not work out.”

…”There were failures at the level of leadership, and they’re overwhelmingly Iraqi failures,” he said. Chief among the culprits, he added, were the Iraqis picked by the Americans in 2003 to sit on the Iraqi Governing Council, many of them exiles who tried to create popular bases for themselves by emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences.

“Sectarianism began there,” he said.

Mr. Makiya said he preferred not to name names. But it is well known that he had a falling out with Mr. Chalabi after Mr. Chalabi began courting Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, in order to win support in Iraq’s first national elections. For years before the war, Mr. Makiya had toiled with Mr. Chalabi to organize the Iraqi exiles who, despite disparate ideologies, stood united in their hatred of Mr. Hussein.

Then there is the small issue of American policy. “Everything they could do wrong, they did wrong,” Mr. Makiya said. “The first and the biggest American error was the idea of going for an occupation.”

…Talk turned to the presidential race. Mr. Morse mentioned the pressure that Hillary Rodham Clinton was facing to apologize for her Senate vote authorizing President Bush to go to war.

Mr. Makiya stared into his glass of red wine. “That’s so Maoist,” he said. “People shouldn’t feel the need to apologize. What is there to apologize for?”

Makiya’s name has come up in pretty much every in-depth article or book I’ve read about the road to war in Iraq. His eloquent and sustained cry for something to be done about Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule seems to have had a large impact on many of those who thought long and hard about how they felt about the looming war in Iraq.

After hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, it doesn’t seem “Maoist” or even unreasonable to expect people like Makiya to admit that they were wrong. And considering the bloody depths to which Iraq has fallen as a direct consequence of this war, an apology would almost seem quaint.

Furthermore, if Makiya thinks that sectarianism started in Iraq with the rise of Iraqi exiles, then he’s misunderstood his own country even more than he realizes.

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