Sunday | March 02, 2003
I've been reading a book called Republic of Fear, a history and analysis of the Ba'athist regime written by an Iraqi exile. It was published in 1990, not long before our ambassador in Baghdad told Saddam we wouldn't sweat it if he felt compelled to grab a little oil along his disputed border with Kuwait.
Hey, Saddam! We said a little!
Now this is the kind of book people never read until after it's too late to prevent the terrible things it warns about. But, since Iraq is the foreign policy crisis that never seems to go away, and probably never will, it's worth rereading now.
The writer has a lot to say about the nature of political authority -- both in Iraq and the Arab world. But one particular passage should be required reading for the neocons.
The text is quotation from a speech given in the year 694 by al-Hadjadj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi, who for brevity's sake I will now call "Joe." Joe was the governor of what is now Iraq, dispatched by the Caliph in Damascus to restore order after a particularly nasty rebellion. This Joe did, with (literally) a vengeance. Republic of Fear:
"Upon assuming his governorship, he is said to have promptly executed a number of dissidents whose heads were placed on public display. The occasion was used to give an address to the assembled population. It contained these immortal lines, which every Iraqi school child knows, and which are popularly felt to be a truism on the exercise of political power in Iraq:
I see heads before me that are ripe and ready for plucking, and I am the one to pluck them, and I see blood glistening between turbans and the beards.
By God, O people of Iraq, people of discord and dissembling and evil character! I cannot be squeezed like a fig or scared like a camel with old water skins . . . The Commander of the Faithful emptied his quiver and bit his arrows and found me the bitterest and hardest of them all. Therefore he aimed me at you.
For a long time now you have been swift to sedition; you have lain in the lairs of error and have made a rule of transgression. By God, I shall strip you like bark, I shall truss you like a bundle of twigs, I shall beat you like stray camels. By God, what I promise, I fulfill; what I purpose, I accomplish; what I measure, I cut off. I swear by God you will keep strictly to the true path, or I shall punish every man of you in his body."