Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lebanese Conflict: Lessons for Iraq

Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee)


The nature of conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq has much in common and it might be useful to compare them, in order to apply some lessons from the post conflict era in Lebanon to Iraq.

Iraq and Lebanon have similar heterogeneous sectarian divisions. For Lebanon, the Shiite, Sunni, and Christians represent the vast majority of the population.

For Iraq, it is the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurds. In Lebanon, the sectarian proportions are more equally divided. However in Iraq, the Shiite have majority having 60% of the population, and the Sunni and Kurds are about 20% each.

In both countries, the Shiite groups encountered suppression by former regimes, but they have power and political participation now. In both cases, the Shiite and Sunni groups were aided for supported by outside forces.

The focus of this essay would be about sectarian strife in both countries, then giving the theoretical framework for the conflicts. In addition, it will be suggested that sharing-power in Lebanon has been affective to normalize relations between different groups; the same method would be compatible for Iraq.

Historical Background of Conflict in Iraq and Lebanon

1- Civil War in Lebanon (1975 - 1990)

Lebanon has a long history with conflicts and wars. The last and the most crucial one would be the civil war that has started in 1975, and lasted for 15 years. The fighting was originally between a largely Maronite Christian force and an alliance of Muslim and left-wing groups, but the conflict soon expanded (Haddad, 2002, p.5).

Furthermore, neighbor states intervened in the conflict. The situation worsened with the presence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to fight the Palestinian group and to establish an Israel-friendly government there. The plan ended with the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, while he became president. There was presence of Israeli forces in Lebanon until 2000, when they were encountered by the Hizballah. Furthermore, Lebanon was under occupation of Syrian army from 1978 to 2005, following the assassination of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri (Warren & Troy 2011).

Lebanon is well known to be a harbor for other nations and forces. The Palestinian group has used Lebanon as a base to attack Israel. Israel, Syria, and Iran use Lebanon as a battlefield for their interests and protect their country. There is still proxy war in Lebanon, that neighbor countries have their proxies within Lebanon. For Syria, it was Amal and now Hizballah. For Israel, it was the South Lebanon Army. For Iran, it’s Hizballah (Ibrahim, 1998).

The fighting spread throughout the country, but Beirut, the capital, was particularly devastated. As the war progressed, intra-group fighting emerged, that caused the increasing of the death toll (Warren & Troy 2011).

The 15 years civil war killed an estimated 150,000 people, which is the nearly the same to 5% of Lebanon’s population, until 1990 (Ibrahim, 1998).

2- Sectarian Conflict Following the Invasion of Iraq

On March 20th 2003, the US and British forces invaded Iraq, entering Baghdad in April and capturing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in December. In May, US President George W. Bush claimed an end to the major war effort despite an increasingly fierce urban insurgency (Hinnebusch, 2007, p.7).

The decision of dissolving Iraqi Army in 2003 by Paul Bremer, the top US civilian administrator in Iraq, caused 500,000 men army to be jobless then become terrorists in the region (Hinnebusch, 2007, p.11).

Roadside bombings and suicides became frequent and intense fighting took place during a November Coalition Siege of the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. The influence of other nations, especially Iran, is questionable in Iraq (Dassa, & Wehrey, 2009, p.42). In Iraq, Iran is the most affective and intervening country in Iraqi politics, then Americans, Saudia Arabia and Syria. However, after the withdrawal of Americans, the US will no more have real influence on Iraq. The Shiite groups, that are dominant, have good relations with Iran (Hoffman, 2006).
There are diverse statistics that shows the victims and death toll of the Iraq war and civilian conflicts. A study by American researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health estimated that 100,000 civilian war-related deaths occurred in the 18 months that followed the invasion (Hinnebusch, 2007).

As the sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni was at its peak the same research study on October 2006 by these researchers estimated the total civilian death toll at 650,000. The war has also claimed the lives of thousands of combatants, including more than 3,000 US troops (Hinnebusch, 2007).

Theoretical Framework for Lebanese and Iraqi Conflicts

The most compatible theory that may give proper analyst to internal conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq would be the theory of “protracted social conflict” by Edward Azar (Tar, 2011).

According to Azar protracted social conflict is “ongoing and seemingly irresolvable” type of conflict. He lays down propositions on protracted social conflict that detail features and characteristics of these conflicts as well as causes, and reasons for recurrence (Ramsbotham, et al. 2011, pp.99-101).

In addition to this, Azar emphasizes that the most useful unit of analysis in protracted social conflict is the identity group- racial, religious, ethnic, cultural, and others (Ramsbotham, et al. 2011, p.101).

This category of conflict is very common in the Third World. Empirical data collected by Azar suggested that 90% of conflicts since the Second World War have taken place within the Third World and have been protracted social-ethnic rather than strategic conflicts (Ramsbotham, et al. 2011, p. 103).

Azar shed light on the importance of the power in the society, that dominant groups exploit it to eliminate the identity of minority groups. In other words, for Azar protracted social conflicts are ideological in nature, with strong preference for secession, national liberation, the rights of self-determination, autonomy or equal rights (Tar, 2011).

Protracted social conflict have two major sources: a deformed and polarized environment, and the denial or lack of basic needs, including security, physical, economic and cultural, identity and recognition (Ramsbotham, et al. 2011, p. 104).

The theory may be implied to the case of Lebanon and Iraq.

In the case of Iraq, sectarian violence emerged when Saddam Hussein came to power 1979. In this case, the violence was unilateral, that mostly state dominant, with Hussein’s Sunni-Baathist government brutally oppressing both Shiite and Kurds over the years.

Nowadays, all different parties have opportunity to express themselves, the different ethnic and religious groups are still learning to coexist. In Iraq, the Shiite and Kurds are weary of the Sunnis, who treated the Kurds so poorly when they were in charge of the country.

In Lebanon, the Sunnis and the Christians were the dominant groups. The levels of oppression and violence against minorities were not so much like in Iraq. This situation reaffirms Azar’s theory, for having protracted social conflict in an atmosphere that there is inequality, and ethnics are forced by dominant power (Tar, 2011).

At the same time the Shiite of Lebanon were marginalized and their people allocating insufficient portion of state resources (Hazran, 2010, p. 7). The basic needs and economic disputes, may be one of the main factors for this kind of conflict, as Azar mentioned (Tar, 2011).

In both cases, there are still tensions between different groups. However, all groups figure out that the best way for stabilization is having cooperation and dialogue. The situation in Lebanon is much better than in Iraq, that Iraq would be able to get some lessons from that country. The following part of the essay suggests a solution for the ethnic and internal conflict in Iraq.

Power-Sharing in Lebanon: lessons for Iraq

Lebanon has long history and experience of power-sharing, and the last effort was the Ta’if Agreement. The agreement and power-sharing would be roadmap for normalization in Iraq.

In 1989, members of the Lebanese Parliament met in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, to negotiate an end to the civil war. Finally, they reached Ta’if Agreement.

Although the basic power-sharing nature of Lebanon’s institutions remained unchanged, reforms changed the powers of the presidency and council of ministers and the composition of parliament. By 1991 the war had erupted and most parties has agreed to the articles of the Ta’if Agreement (Maila, 1994, p.45).

The conflict parties were not the principal negotiators who arranged the power-sharing arrangement of the post-conflict Lebanese state. Lebanese members of parliament, who had been elected in 1972 and who for the most part had been witnesses and observers rather than actors in the civil war, negotiated the Ta’if Agreement (Maila 1994, 37). The Ta’if Agreement maintained and reaffirmed the broad outlines of the older power-sharing system, but redistributed domestic political power among the major groups, Maronite, Sunni, and Shiite. It shortened the powers of the Maronite President (Harik 1991, 45-56), entrusted most executive powers to the Council of Ministers, and increased the power of the legislature and especially that of the Shiite House Speaker. Ta’if replaced the old 6:5 distribution of seats in Parliament by an equal distribution between Christians and Muslims; it also increased the number of seats in parliament from 99 to 108 and eventually to 128 (Hazran, 2010, p. 12).

The agreement has also clarified the nature of relations between Lebanon and Syria: it stipulated that any agreements between Syria and Lebanon shall “realize the interests of the two filial countries within the framework of the sovereignty and independence of each” (Salem 1991, 71).

In addition, Ta’if called for introducing a number of reforms including administrative decentralization, a new electoral law, reinforcing national integration and identification of education and teaching, the establishment of an economic and social development council, law and regulation of the media, and to re-assert the liberation Lebanon from Israeli occupation (Maila, 1994).

Ta’if sought to change the rule of individuals to the rule of institutions; thus, executive powers were taken away from the presidency and given to the government (Krayem 1997, 426-427). This process needed time to be implemented, President Ilyas Hrawi insisted on attending all meetings of the council of ministries (Mansour 1993, 204-207).

The case of power-sharing in Lebanon could be seen as an example for Iraq. The Iraqi political parties need a practical agreement to distribute the power among different groups and ethnics. The power should be settled, instead of having disputes over power. If the power has distributed, the security and political future of Iraq would be stable (Denselow, 2010).

It may be easier for Lebanon, that proportions of different ethnics are mostly the same, to have the Ta’if Agreement for distribution of power. At the same time, in Iraq the distribution may be made on the base of election results or census. The distribution could be settled among the main parties and groups, in order to have stable political atmosphere.

Nevertheless, the agreement shed light on the relations with neighbor countries and the future of relations, Iraq has to have the same clear position in relations with neighbor countries. It was mentioned that Iran has affect on politics of Iraq, but this has not been regulated through any law or agreement. In addition, Iranian politicians denied these influences. However, clear agreement could restrict the interventions of Iran (Marr, 2004, p.272).

There is one more issue in Iraq, which is dispute over resources. There would be some articles of the agreement for distribution of resources or at least mandating of redistributing of these resources equally among ethnics (Oberg & Strom, 2008).


The cases of Lebanon and Iraq are mostly the same. The comparison between them would be useful to share experiences.

This essay has tried to shed light on the historical background of civil war and internal conflict in Iraq and Lebanon. Then it has mentioned reasons and causes of war. Edward Azar’s Theory of protracted Social Conflict, has been given to analyze and give a framework for the conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq. The theory has been implemented and examples been given to clarify the situation, especially in Iraq.

Finally, the Ta’if Agreement has been elaborated as a successful example for power-sharing. The article suggested having an agreement between all political parties in Iraq, practical distribution of power, and distributing resources among different ethnics. The dominant groups in Iraq should realize the importance of listening to minority groups in order to prevent political discontent and possible future destabilization.


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Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee) is a journalist, blogger, and student at the University of Kurdistan-Hawler. He has written articles for Global Politician, American Chronicle, Middle East Online, Mideast Youth and others. His blog can be read at:

This article has been published on Global Politician:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Egypt: Back to the Future (Interview with Sam Vaknin)

By: Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee)

Sam Vaknin is an economic and political analyst and the Editor-in-Chief of "Global Politician".

Q. What was the main cause of starting Arab revolution, especially in Egypt?

SV: In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-9, riots erupted all over the world, from Thailand to the Ivory Coast and from Yemen to Albania. For some reason, the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt were singled out by the international media and cast as the Middle-Eastern equivalents of the French Revolution involving the overthrow of stale dictators and the eternal cry for freedom and “democracy”. Why would Egyptians and Tunisians who have never experienced either freedom or democracy clamour for both was left unexplored.
The truth is far less romantic and much more prosaic: spiralling food prices, resurgent inflation, and growing income disparities between rich and poor gave rise to the discontent that led inexorably to the much-ballyhooed skirmishes. It was about food, not about freedom. Egypt GDP has grown by a respectable 5% in 2010, but the cost of comestibles soared by 17% and unemployment ratcheted up to 9.7%. Egypt’s population is inordinately young and is set to double within the next three decades. Hopelessness is a potent combustible: the absence of job prospects weighs more heavily with Egypt’s Twitter crowd than their country’s noxious psephological record.

Like in dozens of other developing countries, the Egyptians struck a Faustian deal with their rulers: they gave up their liberty in return for personal safety, job security, and middle-class prospects. Mubarak, the country’s much-maligned Pharaoh failed to deliver on all three counts. Having thus breached the unwritten social contract, the Egyptians want him to pay the ultimate political price and abdicate humiliatingly.

So, why are they crying out for “freedom” and “democracy”? Because it sounds good on television and because these are the reflexive buzzwords of this post-authoritarian age. They wouldn’t know a democracy if it fell in their lap: Egypt has been a military dictatorship since 1952 and an absolutist monarchy prior to that. This is the key to the resolution of this largely artificial crisis: the military will step in; depose of the aging and ailing Mubarak; appoint a caretaker “expert” and “interim” government, headed by one of their own; set an ever-shifting date for “free and fair” elections; freeze food prices; create jobs (with the West’s generous assistance); and increase social handouts. Thus pacified, the Egyptian street will revert to its habitual somnolence.

And what about the Muslim Brotherhood? Having been brutally repressed for decades, they are in no shape to pose any serious threat or to constitute any real alternative to the military. This is not to say that, in the longer term, they won’t rebound. Egypt may yet end up a theocracy whose dogmatism lies somewhere between Iran and Turkey. But this is not for now.

And what about Egypt’s relationship with Israel? Both sides benefit greatly from America’s largesse (to the tune of 2-3 billion USD annually each). The Egyptian military is unlikely to give up such a generous endowment. Israel also buys half its natural gas consumption from Egypt. There are intelligence-sharing programs in place. In short: Israel and Egypt are as inextricably intertwined as Israel and Turkey. Prognosis: a cold front ahead, but no stormy conditions.

Q. Do you expect changes in State System in Egypt after the revolution?

SV: I predict an unholy alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. This ad-hoc and opportunistic coalition will not survive for long: the military is bound to crack down on the increasingly assertive political Muslim bloc and re-establish its supremacy in order to protect its vast commercial interests.

Q. What were the determinations of Egypt's Foreign Policy during Mubarak period?

SV: Mubarak was a pro-American power broker. He derived his strength from his close association with the United States and its traditional allies in the region, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. With his American unconditional support gone, he was doomed. Obama heralded Mubarak's downfall and precipitated it in his speech in Cairo.

Q. What would be the aftermath or impact of Arab Revolution on Egypt's foreign policy?

SV: Nothing much. Egypt will continue its pro-American orientation as before with one exception: its privileged relationship with Israel will be transformed into a realpolitik one. Israel will no longer enjoy gas at an a subsidized price; unbridled access to intelligence; Egyptian cooperation in suppressing Hamas; access to Egyptian military assets; and other amenities of the "special relationship."

Q. What would be the impact of the revolution on Egypt-Israel relations?

SV: Israel has witnessed and survived through many convulsions in the Arab street. In 1953, Nasser's youthful and reform-inclined pan-Arabism swept the Arab world. The long-term fruit of this hopeful tumult, though, was Mubarak. The revolutionary Baa'th parties in Syria and Iraq gave us Saddam Hussein and the murderous Assad dynasty. Israel is very skeptical when it comes to yet another Arab Spring. It tends to support reactionary regimes because they are predictable and easy to do business with. Israel is a natural foe of progress and democracy in the region because it would like to maintain its monopoly on these important political currencies.
The Jews and their state, Israel, have always sported a pro-colonial predilection, relying on "Big Powers" (Britain, France, then the United States of America) to sort out the Middle-Eastern quagmire in Israel's favor. This default policy may no longer prove possible.

A consensus is now emerging in Europe - including Britain - that the "road map" for peace in the Middle East would be a futile exercise without some anti-Israeli "teeth". Recognizing the nascent Palestinian state in September 2011 may be just the start. Economic sanctions are on the cards as well. With Obama in the White House - a President the Israelis largely consider to be hostile - and with the Arab world turning palpably more democratic, the Europeans feel unshackled. Striving towards an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation may prove to be the glue that reunites the fractious Euro-Atlantic structures.

But while the United State is reluctant to impose a settlement on the Israelis, the specter of sanctions against the Jewish state has re-emerged in the Old Continent's corridors of power. A committee of the European Parliament is said to be laboring away at various scenarios of escalating measures against Israel and its leaders. The European Commission may be readying its own proposals.

Not all Americans are Obamatons. The views of Conservative Americans are summed up by David Pryce-Jones, Senior Editor of National Review:

"Israelis and Palestinians face each other across the new ideological divide in a dilemma that bears comparison to Germany's in the Cold War ... Israel must share territory with Palestinians, a growing number of whom are proven Islamic terrorists, and who identify with bin Laden's cause, as he identifies with theirs ... The Oslo peace process is to the Middle East what Ostpolitik was to Germany and central Europe. Proposals to separate the two peoples physically on the ground spookily evoke the Berlin Wall."

Still, such sentiments aside, in the long-run, Muslims are the natural allies of the United States in its role as a budding Asian power, largely supplanting the former Soviet Union. Thus, the threat of militant - and even nuclear - Islam is unlikely to cement a long term American-Israeli confluence of interests. Moreover, with the prospect of representative regimes in several Arab states more tangible, Israel is losing its long-held title as the "Middle East's only democracy."

Rather, the aforementioned menace of armed fundamentalism may yet create a new geopolitical formation of the USA and moderate Muslim countries, equally threatened by virulent Muslim religiosity. Later, Russia, China and India - all destabilized by growing and vociferous Muslim minorities - may join in. Israel will be sacrificed to this New World Order.

The writing is on the wall, though obscured by the fog of war and, as The Guardian revealed in April 2003, by American reliance during the conflict in Iraq on Israeli intelligence, advanced armaments and lessons in urban warfare. The "road map" announced by President George Bush as a sop to his politically besieged ally, Tony Blair, and much contested by the extreme right-wing government of Ariel Sharon, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. The temporal goalposts may have shifted but not the ineluctable outcome: The State of Palestine is upon us, embedded in an Arab world far less amenable to Israel's economic charms (witness the cessation of Egyptian gas supplies to Israel under the new military "transition" dictatorship).

Israel was always expected to promptly withdraw from all the territories it re-seized during the 30 months of second intifada. Blair had openly called on it to revert to the pre-Six Day War borders of 1967. In a startlingly frank and impatient speech, so did Obama in May 2011.

Q. Do you expect reviewing Camp David Treaty, or peace agreement between Israel and Egypt by new Egypt's government in the future?

SV: Not in any meaningful way. Egypt needs peace and commercial ties with Israel. There may be a grand show of Egyptian "patriotism" and pro-Palestinian pan-Arabism and calls for revising the bilateral treaties with Israel, but these will peter out as things revert to normal. Israel is at the bottom of Egypt's list of priorities right now, as Egyptians struggle to redefine their state and regime and determine their collective future. The last thing Egypt needs is added instability on its borders with Israel and Gaza.

Q. What do you expect, Egypt becomes new Turkey, in Islamic politics doctrine or it becomes a conservative state?

SV: Egypt may be trying to emulate and follow the trajectory of Turkey: a military dictatorship replaced by a "moderate" Muslim autocratic rule. But the difference is that the military in Turkey was the guardian and guarantor of an ideology of secularism and Western orientation. This self-imputed role gave it an aura and the status of an untouchable holy cow. By comparison, the military in Egypt is a mafia-like organization that involves millions and their families in plundering the state. It is not easy to get rid of criminalized structures once they have taken hold and assimilated state institutions. The military is Egypt.
This article has been published on Kurdistan Tribune:

Egypt’s new foreign policy will ‘waste resources trying to destroy Israel’ – Barry Rubin

By Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee):

The Arab Spring is a controversial issue, and most controversial is the impact of this change on relations between Egypt and Israel. In this interview we discuss some crucial issues with Professor Barry Rubin, Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. Professor Rubin is a featured columnist at PJM, Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Editor Turkish Studies.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: What was the main cause of starting the Arab revolution, especially in Egypt?
Prof. Barry Rubin: Longer-term, the failure of the Arab nationalist regimes that have governed the Arab world since the 1950s and early 1960s. Their inability to keep their promises–pan-Arab union, rapid social and economic progress, genocide against Israel, driving out Western influences–have long been clear. Their corruption, lack of freedom, and economic shortcomings have long been clear.
Immediate causes include elite dissatisfaction with the succession of Mubarak’s son and especially hard times economically

Koshan Ali Khidhir: Do you expect changes in the state system in Egypt after the revolution?
Prof. Barry Rubin: Yes, toward Islamism.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: What were the determinations of Egypt’s Foreign Policy during Mubarak period?
Prof. Barry Rubin: A practical concern over Egyptian interests including supporting stability and not wasting resources on losing battles to destroy Israel or to ensure Egyptian leadership of the Arab world.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: What would be the aftermath or impact of the Arab Revolution on Egypt’s foreign policy?
Prof. Barry Rubin: Wasting resources on trying to destroy Israel and to ensure Egyptian leadership in the Muslim-majority world.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: What would be the impact of the revolution on Egypt-Israel relations?
Prof. Barry Rubin: Once the military goes, a turn toward total hostility. The end for all practical purposes of the peace treaty even if there is no actual war.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: Do you expect a review of the Camp David Treaty, or peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, by the new Egyptian government in the future?
Prof. Barry Rubin: Whether or not they review it the treaty will be meaningless especially once a new president is elected in Egypt.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: Is there a possibility of  dissolving the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt? If yes, does that means new conflict is expected between the two countries?
Prof. Barry Rubin: They don’t have to dissolve it, just stop observing it. Main danger: Hamas attacks Israel trying to pull Egypt into the conflict.

Koshan Ali Khidhir: What do you expect – Egypt becomes new Turkey, in Islamic politics doctrine, or will it become a conservative state?
Prof. Barry Rubin: Depends on who is elected president. But the more powerful the Brotherhood is the more likely Egypt becomes leader of Sunni Islamism and Turkey is not of any real importance. Egypt would then lead a bloc including Tunisia, Libya, and the Gaza Strip, with support for Muslim Brotherhood groups in Syria and Jordan subverting those regimes. The Saudis and Gulf states would be angry at this Egypt; Jordan would be suspicious of it.
Of course, it would have cool relations with Shia-dominated states like Iran, Syria, and Iraq.
The only alternative would be if Amr Musa becomes president and tries to steer a more nationalist course.

This article has been published on Kurdistan Tribune: