After Regime Collapse in Iraq
ABC (Australia): Lateline
MAXINE McKEW: While the US is relishing the triumph of a three-week war, in the Arab world, there's talk of humiliation.
Iraq's neighbours watched as the so-called elite forces evaporated. Now there are nervous questions ... who's next?
There's the issue of the stability of the region. Is it safer now that Saddam has gone, or could Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak be proved correct ... that the war will see the emergence of 100 Osama bin Ladens?
To discuss this, I'm joined by Dr Hussein Amin from Cairo. He's a professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at the American University in Cairo.
And from Toronto, Daniel Pipes. He's the director of the Middle East Forum, a US think tank.
Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
Daniel Pipes, if I could ... let's look at the events of the past 24 hours first of all. A few days ago you were saying there was something of a carnival-like atmosphere in some of the cities such as Najaf, but the mood looks very different today, doesn't it?
DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: It is changing as inevitably it must. There is the initial exhilaration and then there is the day after the reckoning. We've seen this over and again in liberated countries. The hard work lies ahead.
MAXINE MCKEW: If these scenes continue, doesn't it play into the hands of the other Arab rulers in the region who think the last three weeks have been a disaster?
DANIEL PIPES: I don't think so. I think the disaster was Saddam Hussein's rule, not the difficult interim period. There's no question that what will follow in Iraq will be much better than what preceded, no question. But it's not going to be painless and it's not going to be without victims.
But we're on a positive track, there's no question of that. Let's revisit this question in six months and I'm sure this view of mine will be vindicated. Things will be better in six months than they were six months ago.
MAXINE McKEW: Hussein Amin, is it the case that Iraq is now on a positive track? Things will be better in six months time?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Yes, I do agree. I think right now of course all kinds of feelings that is expressed immediately after the war. I do agree that on the short plan, during the short term we're going to witness some side effects and that will result in also of some victims.
And—but the overall picture after a few weeks things are going to calm down and it's going to be better for Iraq and Iraqi people.
MAXINE MCKEW: What would you say characterises the Egyptian view of events?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: Well, the Egyptian view, in Egypt the media will be looking into issues immediately after the fall down of Baghdad and there was a sense of humiliation and defeat because the people expected the battle of that Baghdad is going to last for quite some time.
However, since this was not the case, people back in a status of shock and some people expressed rage and anger but things have calmed down at this point of time.
MAXINE McKEW: What would you say, though, how much of a challenge do you see that it will be, though, to set up a democratic system in a country of 24 million, a country that has some pretty deep religious, ethnic and political divisions within it?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: I think it's a big challenge and I really wanting the US to put more power, more even than the military power that was in this war to support the democratic process that would result in having democratic government in Iraq as soon as possible.
MAXINE MCKEW: What do you say more force? What do you mean?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: I mean that the US should invite all kinds of forces, whether they are international forums or the UN or even the Arab League to work together to put this democratic process to elect a president for Iraq as well as a government to act on behalf of the Iraqi people as soon as possible.
MAXINE McKEW: Daniel Pipes, how do you see this task of finding an alternative administration, particularly as we've seen in the last 24 hours, the killing of two rival clerics in Basra as well. There was a British-selected tribal notable who was attacked by a mob. Not good signs.
DANIEL PIPES: No, they're not good signs. But they're not surprising signs. There's enormous amount of pent-up grievance. This is a society that has been living in dungeon-like conditions now for decades. And finally the jail has been opened and people are out and there are lots of retribution and evening of scores to be done. Let's hope that happens quickly, the looting ends soon.
The difficult work of rebuilding a civic society lies ahead.
I think probably the best way to approach it is with those exiled Iraqi leaders who have been for years preparing for this time and who have had experience in the north of Iraq in some cases and who are from what I can tell legitimate and moderate leaders and have good relations with the occupying coalition forces. I think that's the way to go.
I'm leery of going too quickly to full-scale elections because of the inchoate conditions. I think there should be probably several years of intermediate—what's the word I'm looking for—for interim government before there's full-scale democracy and I very much hope that will emerge.
Not quite yet, thank you. We're not ready for that.
MAXINE McKEW: What is your view of the re-entry into Iraq of the previously exiled Ahmed Chalabi? He's certainly the Pentagon favourite. Others have different views.
DANIEL PIPES: He's also my favourite. He's a remarkable man. Few realise he is someone with a PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago. He's a very decent man. He's been working for this for many years now.
There are no obvious choices from within Iraq, because Iraq was a dungeon and there were no legitimate voices criticising Saddam Hussein so it must someone from outside Iraq and I think Chalabi has earned the right to be a contender for that position
MAXINE McKEW: If he's a plus, if you like, from people such as yourself and others in the Defense Department, will that necessarily count for much with the many different groups that he has to align himself with in order to form a governing group?
DANIEL PIPES: You're absolutely right. My opinion is not decisive here. What I was alluding to over the last 12 years, since the end of the war in 1991, he has been working hard to build coalitions and has done so successfully, not perfectly of course, and I think that gives him an authority and a consensual backing that could well—I'm not crowning him the ruler of Iraq, but I'm saying he could well be a very good basis for going forward.
I'm not a specialist in interim governments and how to proceed. I just know that we are at this moment in chaos and the goal be, say, in five years to have a democratic government in Iraq and getting from here to there is very difficult and will need to be under the auspices of the coalition, I believe unlike Afghanistan where it was really a pick-up campaign between September 11 and the attack on the Taliban regime was four weeks.
This has been 12 years. There is a very serious Defense Department preparation for civil society and turning over the reins of authority to responsible Iraqis. I'm quite confident it's going to go well, not flawlessly, but well.
MAXINE McKEW: Hussein Amin, how do you see this? The viability of Ahmed Chalabi but also, if I can put the wider question to you, there is a natural tendency to look for another strong man. I'm wondering in the long term is that a mistake? Should the emphasis be on strong institution building in Iraq?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: Well, first about Mr Chalabi, I think that, you know, we haven't seen any other candidates and I haven't clearly looked into his profile, but I know he has a PhD in mathematics and he's been attending MIT. I guess this was American education and with his past—
MAXINE McKEW: Does that mean he's going to be a good democrat?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: (Laughs) well, I really don't know. But I'm trying to make some sort of a judgment of a person that I haven't really examined his performance in the past. But he is coming up right now so I'm looking into his credentials. I'm just trying to forecast what he can do good for Iraq after the war. I think I agree that he is one of the candidates to play a very significant role in Iraq in the coming years.
Also I agree that the process of implementing democracy, real democracy in Iraq, will take some years also, it's not something that will be developed overnight. The second question is—
MAXINE McKEW: I was just wondering about the response of institution building over time.
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: Yes, this is extremely important at this point of time. I think that, you know, civil society institutions and all kind of institution building in Iraq should be given priority at this point in time.
I think there are so many talks even in the Arab world about the importance of having this done soon because actually what the picture that we see coming out of Iraq right now it's not pleasant to any of the Arab viewers and, I guess, that many of the Arab leaders, including President Mubarak today, and yesterday he asked to develop the Iraqi institution as soon as they can.
MAXINE McKEW: If we could just—
Daniel Pipes, go ahead?
DANIEL PIPES: May I ask Hussein Amin a question? Do you see any parallel of the mood in Egypt today and the sense of disappointment with 1967 and the collapse of the Egyptian armed forces? Is there anything in common or is it completely different?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: No, there is some journalists in certain articles they see some commonalities between the two situations. But I actually—the Arab media in general and the Egyptian media in particular played a very different role this time than the role played in 1967.
1967, as you may know, the experience of the voice of the Arabs was a horrible experience claiming victory and the war even after the war was finished. So it cost the network its credibility and the Egyptian media also was a wound that is lasting up until now.
Having said that, the latest development over the Arab media and they're trying their best, although they're not as experienced as the Western media, to be there and to file reports from the war zone into the Arab and the Egyptian households was, you know, give them credit for trying their best.
MAXINE McKEW: Further to that, Hussein Amin, could I ask you, beyond, in fact, the public rhetoric we're getting from Hosni Mubarak and other leaders in the region. Would you like to second guess or mind read them for us? What are their real fears after this 3-week war?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: The public -- ?
MAXINE McKEW: No, the leaders, people like Mubarak.
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: Yes, what they see?
MAXINE McKEW: Beyond the rhetoric of the leaders in the region, what do you think their real fears are after this 3-week war?
DR HUSSEIN AMIN: Well, some—there are some political systems they are really in a hurry to implement and enhance democracy. This is including our country here, Egypt, and there are so many reforms that are going to take place and the acceleration of the implementation of modernisation and democratisation in the country is given priority.
I think that, you know, since Iraq is going to be a model and we will see a lot of messages about reforms that are happening in Iraq, countries like Egypt and others are really trying to get into the kinds of reforms to be able to provide the model for the West as well as for the Arab world and finally to bring the Arab people together because right now there is a huge divisions between the Arab countries and they think that, once they provide a model, they can really get the countries together again.
MAXINE McKEW: Daniel Pipes, how do you see the reverberations throughout the Arab world?
DANIEL PIPES: I believe that there was an ignorance or denial of the atrocities of the Saddam Hussein regime. It really wasn't understood widely in the Middle East. And now with the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime and the stories that are going to come out, there will be an awareness of it and that will go to the discredit of the existing governments. While not as bad as Saddam Hussein they're also tyrannies, by and large.
This will be an impulse towards democracy, towards political participation of a sort we haven't seen for a long time. In other words, I think, in addition to the benefit of getting rid of this wretched regime, there also is a push towards empowerment, enfranchisement of the populations. So I think it's going to be very positive. At the same time—
MAXINE McKEW: Go ahead.
DANIEL PIPES: I was just going to say that the rulers are somewhat nervous about this.
MAXINE McKEW: Do you think America, though, has to be very careful how it behaves in victory and push very quickly on a 2-state solution for Israel and Palestine?
DANIEL PIPES: No, I don't think that's part of the topic at all. This is about Iraq and the reconstruction of Iraq, this is not about Kashmir or the Israeli-Arab conflict. We should focus on Iraq.
In 1991 we defeated the Iraqis in Kuwait and then we said, "This is a great opportunity to fix the Arab-Israeli conflict," and we abandoned Iraq. Let's not make that same mistake in 2003.
MAXINE McKEW: Gentlemen, thank you. Daniel Pipes, Hussein Amin thank you very much for joining us tonight.
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