ith the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime now a matter of time, the coalition led by the United States should get its act together and come up with a clear and realistic plan for the postwar period. In this context, the Americans would be well advised to listen to their British allies who have deep knowledge and experience of Iraq, a country that they created in the first place.
It was in 1918 that an Anglo Indian Expeditionary Force completed the conquest of Mesopotamia, soon after to be given the contemporary name of Iraq.
Given its utter backwardness, fragmentation, and hotchpotch ethnic and religious composition, this was a country that cried out for someone to put it together.
The task was tackled by the new masters by setting up the mandate system in 1920 under the supervision of the new League of Nations. The mandate was a mixture of idealism, realism, and self-interest imperialism.
The British occupation was at first welcomed by the Iraqis, but they soon rebelled against the British administration as they found that they had to pay for it in taxes. The war-weary British gave in and granted the country its independence under King Faisal, but with British guidance. British directors or advisers ran all sensitive departments, including the judiciary, police, defense, education, and transport. The nationalists, who wanted a free hand mainly to rob the state and follow their corrupt ways, hated them and went on calling for their dismissal and the achievement of complete independence without British influence.
The Communists and Socialists combined forces in the National Front that managed, in the end, to topple the pro-British monarchy in 1958. When Britain's influence in Iraq came to an end, the country began to slide into chaos and ended up in Saddam Hussein's tyranny.
The restoration of the mandate system, not only for Iraq but for many emerging countries which were given their independence too soon, was something which I have advocated over the years in many articles in the pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Sharq al-Alwsat, as well as on Arab television, was at first frowned upon by many Arab pundits.
Now, however, some thinking Arabs (yes, there are some) are prepared to consider the idea of a period of tutelage during which a new Iraqi ruling elite is forged.
It is paradoxical to note that while there is a widespread opposition in the West and in the Arab world to the war against Iraq, the Iraqis themselves have for years clamored for the Western intervention to liberate their country. They told anyone that they trusted: 'When are they coming?' This was documented by a recent Western study conducted clandestinely inside Iraq by the Belgium-based International Crisis Group (ICG) which revealed in its extensive report that the overwhelming majority of those interviewed would welcome a foreign invasion of their country to get rid of the present regime as well as a foreign administration to rebuild their country. This was again demonstrated in Najaf on Wednesday when crowds of Iraqi men and women welcomed the liberating American troops. As for the four million Iraqis (the elite of the country) living abroad, you don't even need to ask them.
On the other hand, a recent poll conducted by the Institute for Democratic Iraq in Kurdistan (north Iraq) revealed that 47.2 percent of the population want the United Nations to take over the administration of their country. Some 32.8 percent wanted the United States to take over the responsibility. Only 20 percent want their country to be entrusted again to the hands of the native politicians.
Almost everybody agrees that with Saddam gone, Iraq will need a long transitional period under foreign administration. The Americans have not concealed their desire and readiness to look after the affairs of the country for a "short period."
Yet, there is a snag here.
The Americans don't seem to know how unpopular they have become in the Arab and Muslim world, mainly due to their close relationship with Israel. Indeed, most of the opposition to the war against Saddam Hussein in the world at large, especially among left-wing circles, is has nothing to do with the actual issue of Iraq.
Neither Iran nor Syria will be happy with the presence of American personnel in Iraq. They could organize terrorist attacks against the Americans in Baghdad in the hope that they will scurry home in a hurried Somaliland type retreat.
Here is a proper place for Britain, in my opinion, to finish the job, which was so rudely interrupted in 1958 by the bloody military coup d'etat of Abdel-Karim Kassem.
There is still a great amount of respect in the Arab world for Britain and the British. Despite all the shouts about the wicked British imperialists, the term Kilmet Inglizi ("the word of an Englishman") still rings true in the ear of the Arabs.
Furthermore, the British have the experience and knowledge of dealing with Iraq and its people. Also, most of the Iraqi elite was educated in the United Kingdom. It will be for the good of Iraq, the Arab world, the Western powers, and this humanitarian mission to see the United States involving Britain and tapping its experience and prestige in accomplishing this vital task, so desperately needed by these wretched and unlucky people. For Britain, it will be, at last, mission accomplished.
Khalid Kishtainy is an Iraqi author and journalist. He has published ten books, including Tales from Old Baghdad.