- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

CAIRO Iraq has long been a religious, ethnic and ideological mosaic difficult to rule as a united entity, and Saddam Hussein's removal wouldn't do much to change that.
"Regrettably, I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea," King Faisal, the first monarch in Iraq's modern era, wrote in his memoirs shortly before his death in 1937.
Faisal had a part in that problem.
He was installed as king in 1921 by British colonial officials as a reward for his Hashemite family's support in fighting the Ottoman Turks during World War I. But Faisal had no family ties or historical roots in Iraq, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire, and Iraqis showed no love for a man they viewed as a British puppet.
Britain also favored Iraq's Sunni Muslim Arabs then about 20 percent of the population over the Shi'ite Muslim Arab majority and ethnic Kurds who had rebelled against British colonial rule.
Shi'ites, for religious reasons, had distanced themselves from the Ottoman government. The Sunnis, by contrast, had participated eagerly, advancing into key administrative roles by the time the British created the modern Iraqi state.
With British help, Sunni Arabs imposed their control first on schools, then the army and later the economy, all the while alienating the majority of Iraqis. The Sunni elite used military force to repress rivals and maintain political supremacy.
After Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam's Republican Guard crushed a Shi'ite rebellion in a campaign believed to have killed tens of thousands.
The main Shi'ite opposition group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, moved its base to neighboring Iran, a predominantly Shi'ite country with which Saddam's regime fought a bloody but inconclusive war from 1980 to 1988.
Leaders of the Shi'ite opposition insist their community's share of power in any post-Saddam Iraq must match its 65 percent share of Iraq's 22 million people.
Those aspirations worry some of Iraq's minorities, as well as the country's mostly Sunni Arab neighbors, who fear that Iran's influence over Iraq would grow.
Within the religious divisions come political divides.
Iraqis, including Shi'ites, range from liberals to Islamic fundamentalists. Many political groups existed before the advent of Saddam's autocratic regime, including communist, liberal and Islamist parties that would be expected to try to reorganize in a future Iraq.
The Kurds, a non-Arab ethnic group dominant in northern Iraq, are another worry. Since Iraq's 1932 independence, the Kurds have fought for broader autonomy in their impoverished enclave.
In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Kurds were gassed by Saddam's army while their villages were bulldozed in what their leaders called ethnic-cleansing campaigns. Their demand for a federal system to replace Saddam's raises suspicions among other Iraqis that they harbor secessionist dreams.
The main base for Sunni Arabs is Iraq's army, which long has played a major and often disruptive role in politics. After a series of military coups, Saddam took control of the whole country in 1979 and turned it into an autocracy. He destroyed rivals under the ideological pretense of preserving Iraq's Arab identity and harmony.
Saddam subordinated the army, the security forces, parts of the state bureaucracy and a large sector of society under his Ba'ath Socialist Party.
Ba'ath doctrine espouses secularism, communist economics and a pan-Arab ideology that ascribes an Arab character to all ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, despite the region's diversity in ethnic and religious groups.
The Ba'ath party claims some 1 million members, partisans and sympathizers. Some Iraqi opposition groups want to dismantle the Ba'ath party and even put some of its senior officials on trial, but others argue for clemency and reform of what is now the only viable political organization in Iraq.
Ismail al-Rubia'ee, an Iraqi professor of history at Jordanian University, blames Iraq's problems on the elites for failing to modernize the state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
"Present-day Iraq emerged from the ashes, ruins and wounds of long centuries, but it could never overcome the watersheds it has faced," said Mr. al-Rubia'ee.

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