Fri, 11 Apr 2003

A new chapter in Iraq

The war may be deplorable, but for what it is worth, the U.S.- led invasion of Iraq has ended the reign of one of the most ruthless and brutal leaders the world has ever known.

The throngs of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the end of Saddam Hussein's regime in the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday say it all. Iraqis are rejoicing at their new found freedom, which came courtesy of the U.S.-British coalition forces.

It remains to be seen how warmly they really welcome their "liberators", but for now and the next few days at least, what really matters to them is that they no longer have to fear Saddam Hussein and his thugs.

Whatever our feeling toward the war, whatever position we have taken since the United States launched the war in Iraq 22 days ago, we should join hands with the Iraqis in celebrating that they are finally free. They are not only free from the terror of Saddam Hussein, but also from the horrors of the war.

No nation on earth should live under a brutal regime.

Indonesians should know that more than anybody else in this world. If Iraqis had to undergo 25 years of Saddam Hussein, we went through 32 years of Soeharto's tyrannical rule. Soeharto may not have been as brutal, but like Saddam Hussein, he ruled by terror. Indonesians lived in constant fear until he was forced to resign in 1998 though the people's power.

Of course, it would have been much better if Saddam Hussein's downfall had come in different circumstances.

Historically, no tyrant has lasted forever. Sooner or later, the regime would collapse.

In most other countries, they were brought down by internal forces, mostly as a result of inner contradictions: The communist Soviet Union, the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and the Soeharto regime in Indonesia are some of the more recent examples.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's downfall was brought about by external forces far mightier than his own.

Those who endorsed the war might now find justification, or vindication, for their actions, seeing that the Iraqis are rejoicing their freedom. Those who had opposed the war, however, would argue that the end still did not justify the means. War is never a solution, and that principle still stands.

To vindicate the U.S. military action in Iraq now would open Pandora's box, with open-ended questions like "when is a war justified", "who will be the next U.S.' target".

And there is the question of the cost of the war. The relatives of the hundreds of Iraqi civilians who died, and the thousands who were injured, and the millions displaced by the 21- day war would still see no justification for this war. Then, there is also the question of Iraqi's pride and integrity.

Having said that, we have to admit that, in retrospect, the war was well executed. At least, the number of casualties was not as large as had been feared. That is probably the cost that Iraqis have to pay for their freedom.

The most ideal way to secure your freedom of course would be for internal forces, like civil society groups, to work to depose a tyrant, with a little help from friends outside. Once successful, these civil society groups would be well placed to take the initiative in leading the nation-building process.

Alas, freedom for the Iraqi people came through a different path. It relied almost entirely on the help of the United States.

The absence of any significant civil society movement inside the country in turn raises serious questions about the post- Saddam Hussein Iraq, and about the prospect of its nation- building process in the coming months and years.

These are questions that not only Iraqis will have to answer, but also the international community, for Iraq has become an international problem that requires an international solution. Whatever our views about this war, the rest of the world must now join hands in helping to rebuild Iraq.

If the experiences of Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, Indonesia in post-Soeharto, and the Philippines in post- Marcos are any guide, then the road to nation-building and the march to democracy in Iraq will be long and filled with immense challenges and even uncertainties. But what is certain for today is that Saddam Hussein is no longer in control of Iraq.

A new chapter has began in what was once the cradle of civilization of mankind. Civilization has eluded Iraq during the brutal 25 years of Saddam Hussein's reign. Now that he is out of the picture, Iraq, with the help of the international community, can look forward to a better and brighter future.