"Iraq, today, 10 years on from the war, from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, is not what the Iraqi people hoped for and expected. We hoped for an inclusive democracy, an Iraq that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors," Salih said. "To be blunt, we are far from that."Thus reports The Atlantic's J J Gould. from Jeffrey Goldberg;s conversation with Barham Salih, the former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan's regional government and a former deputy prime minister of Iraq's federal government.
"But," he added, "it's important to understand where we started from. ... Literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were sent to mass graves. Ten years on from the demise of Saddam Hussein, we're still discovering mass graves across Iraq. And Iraqis are better off without Saddam Hussein -- the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are better off without Saddam Hussein."
Salih acknowledged that the contemporary reality is grim: "This is a new experiment in the Middle East. I don't want to whitewash the many missteps and the terrible things that happened in the country to date. ... I'm not telling you that it is a utopia and all is fine and wonderful." And yet:
... for those of us who lived under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and understand what tyranny means, ... the difficulties of today, the pains of today, and the disappointments of today -- and they are very profound, because Iraqis deserve better -- these pale in comparison to what we had to endure. ... Then, people had the certainty of the knock on the door late at night, and could possibly end up in a mass grave. Two weeks ago, in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, a new mass grave in which there were some five-six people who were shot. Their families never heard from them since 1988. They were found and they could only be identified by the pajamas they were wearing as they were taken from home. These are the type of stories that my people, my community, had to endure.It's important not to be cynical or dismissive when someone speaks about the impact genocide has had on his view of the world.
Still, it's important to recognize that, in this case, his answer doesn't vindicate the Iraq War in the terms in which its critics have come to impugn it -- which are, really, the same terms in which the Bush Administration justified the war in the first place: It was the right course of action not just because it would succeed in removing a murderous dictator from power, or even because it would lead to circumstances that would be in some significant respects better than the status quo, but because it would clear the way for democracy, peace, and prosperity in Iraq.
You might even find the implications of Salih's thinking kind of scary -- which are arguably these: If the United States chooses to destroy a political regime, the U.S. is both in the right and absolved from responsibility for what comes next -- as long as it puts an end to atrocities on the scale of those Saddam perpetrated.
Salih doesn't seem to accept that logic, though. He acknowledges that the U.S. coalition made serious mistakes. But: "In my view -- and I say this without equivocation; I say this in Kurdish; I say this in Arabic when I'm in Baghdad -- this has been fundamentally a failure of leadership by the Iraqi elite that assumed power after the demise of Saddam Hussein."
So the Iraq war was, despite all that went wrong, a good thing; the "overwhelming majority" of Iraqis are (and presumably feel) better off because of it; and the fault for all that has gone wrong is ultimately with Iraqis themselves: It's a remarkable point of view to encounter in June 2013.