- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The latest news and developments in Iraq are not encouraging, and probably worse in reality.

Toppling Saddam Hussein was the right move; most of the critical moves afterward were not. As in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, American decision-makers had misread the situation. They had not read history.

For whatever reasons and self-interests, great powers have been used to create countries throughout history; but these artificially created countries such as Yugoslavia and Iraq and similar have been historical time bombs. It is tragic but true that the history of nearly all of enduring states have been written not in ink by leaders of a few powerful countries and often their faceless advisers, but rather in disorder and blood by highly motivated people of these countries.

In affairs of statehood, generally people wish to either integrate or disintegrate or dominate. In Yugoslavia, people fought to disintegrate their common state, although the Croatian and Bosnia civil war was for domination, as it is now in Iraq. In Croatia, the carnage basically ended by domination and expulsion of the Serbs. In Bosnia, it was ended by the de facto partition, albeit mild, but still with two separate entities having nearly state prerogatives.

So far, all efforts of the United States to help at integration of the Iraqi people apparently have not been working. The forces of domination and of disintegration seem to be prevailing. An amended and streamlined Bosnian model may be the right resolution of the Iraqi problem and U.S. exit from the current quagmire. It should be seriously considered.

There are basic similarities between the religious-ethnic wars for dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and our current Iraq experience. Unfortunately, proper lessons about international intervention in Yugoslavia have been disregarded by U.S. decision-makers. These lessons inevitably involve history and the people. The matter is not so complicated as it may seem.

In Yugoslavia, Orthodox Christian Serbs, Catholic Croats and Slovenes, Macedonians and Bosnian Muslims, driven by their inner aspirations and historical dreams, wanted to have their own homes and live as they pleased. They fought and died for it. In Iraq, Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis seem to demonstrate so far the same or even stronger burning desire.

Essentially, these people have not had their home and their identity recognized and honored in modern history. Many had strong states, accomplished societies and cultures in the past, which had been snatched away from them. For whatever reasons, right or wrong, they want it back.

Democracy is not just holding elections. It is much more; it is the establishment of the rule of law, individual rights, the protection of property and basic fairness. These essential foundations of democracy were far from existing in Iraq, or being established to any meaningful degree prior to several elections held.

Thus, the Yugoslav civil wars, notably in Bosnia and as is probably in Kosovo, indicate the old adage: Only tall fences make good neighbors. As long as there is real or imaginary fear for survival among various religious/ethnic groups, there must be a way to at least mitigate it by the greatest amount of autonomy possible and with only a few essential central state institutions having strong authorities.

People can’t participate in government and accept it, if they don’t feel safe and fear it.

As said, it was right to topple Saddam and thus the United States has offered a genuine opportunity to the Iraqi people to build a new country. Nonetheless, to do so, they must demonstrate their good will to compromise and work together. So far, they have not done so, and at this time, it is seems doubtful that they will. No one else can do it for them.

Michael Djordjevich, a businessman from California, served as founding president of the Serbian Unity Congress.

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