At Home Abroad

by Jason Zengerle | December 23, 2002

There was a time when Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein spent many of his days in Baghdad's Al Rihab Palace, home of the Iraqi royal family. And, though Saddam Hussein has since turned the palace into a notorious prison--Iraqis today call the building the "Palace of the End"--Sharif Ali, one of the last surviving members of the royal family, has settled into suitably regal accommodations in London. There, in a five-bedroom, mansion-block flat near Holland Park, surrounded by expensive artwork and silver-framed, sepia-toned photos of his Hashemite relatives, the man who would be Iraq's king bides his time, waiting for the day he will return to Baghdad and the throne. He believes that day is drawing near. "We as Iraqis have learned to be very cautious about predicting the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime," he told me. "Given that, we are in fact the most optimistic we have ever been." Sharif Ali has all the mannerisms of a king. He is tall and elegant, with slicked-back hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. On the October afternoon I visited him in London, he was dressed in a natty gray suit and sipped tea from a gold-embossed china cup. And listening to him talk--in his crisp, British- accented English--about the constitutional monarchy he intends to bring to Iraq once Saddam is gone, he made it sound as if everything in his future kingdom is set to fall into place. "Iraq has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world, possibly the largest unproven oil reserves in the world, so Iraq will not have a problem financially," he explained. "The Iraqi people are urban, educated, sophisticated, capable, and industrious. One just has to give them the opportunity to unleash their potential." He went on, "Iraq was the first Arab country to join the League of Nations. It was a signatory member of the United Nations charter. That was before Germany, before Japan, before Italy. This is the tradition." After Saddam falls, Sharif Ali believes, there will be nothing preventing Iraq from returning to this tradition. "We'll be a dynamic part of the international community and the global village," he predicted. "Iraq will be a beacon of progress." As Sharif Ali spun out his vision of a post-Saddam Iraq in front of me that afternoon, I found myself wanting to believe in it. I have not been alone in that desire. As head of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, Sharif Ali was one of six Iraqi opposition leaders invited to Washington in August for consultations with American officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney. Since then, he and a handful of other opposition leaders have worked with the Bush administration on a 100-page blueprint for a post-Saddam Iraq. This weekend, about 350 Iraqi dissidents will meet in London for a conference to discuss that blueprint; it's all but certain the conference attendees will endorse Sharif Ali's--and the other major Iraqi opposition leaders'--broad vision of a democratic, pluralistic, multiethnic Iraq. When American officials boldly predict that they can turn Iraq into the Middle East's first vibrant, functioning democracy, they base their predictions, in part, on what opposition leaders like Sharif Ali have told them. Unfortunately, Sharif Ali is not the most reliable interlocutor. On the afternoon I met with the would-be king, he sat beneath a portrait of Iraq's last king, Faisal II, who was assassinated in the 1958 officers coup that brought a bloody end to the monarchy. Like Faisal II, Sharif Ali is a Hashemite- -a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad. Faisal II was Sharif Ali's cousin, and, since all of Faisal II's immediate family was killed in the coup, Sharif Ali argues that he is the rightful heir to the throne. "The legacy of the monarchy is infinitely better than that of the so-called republican era of Iraq, " he said with obvious familial pride. "We had elections, we had a free press, we had a legal system." But Sharif Ali's claim to that legacy is not entirely solid. Faisal II was Sharif Ali's maternal cousin, and the Hashemite dynasty has traditionally followed a patrilineal line, which is why some Iraq watchers argue that Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan--the late King Hussein's brother and a paternal relative of Faisal II--is a more likely king should Iraq restore its monarchy. Such a restoration, moreover, is far from assured. After all, many Iraqis were not so fond of the monarchy during its existence. Established in 1921 by the British--who, a year earlier, had created Iraq out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and administered it as a mandate--the monarchy was viewed by many Iraqis as a tool of foreign domination. Even after Iraq gained its formal independence in 1932, the Hashemites were often dismissed as British stooges. When Faisal II was killed and the monarchy ended, there were celebrations in Baghdad's streets. And, while Sharif Ali argues that Iraqis now pine for the monarchy's return, it's hard to see how he can know that from his perch in London (where even the organized Iraqi opposition is generally unenthusiastic about a royal restoration). Indeed, remarkably little of what Sharif Ali says about Iraq-- about its tolerance, its dynamism, its readiness for democracy--is informed by any personal experience of the country. That's because Sharif Ali has not set foot in Iraq since 1958--when he was two years old. London is full of dreamers at the moment. For more than 40 years, Iraqis have fled there to escape their native country's string of increasingly repressive leaders: First the military officers who toppled the Hashemites in 1958; then the Baathists who, after seizing power for a short time in 1963, overthrew the military men for good in 1968; and finally Saddam, who took control of the Baathist regime in 1979. As a result, London is now home to one of the largest Iraqi exile communities in the world. And many members of that community nurture dreams of returning to their native country. Sharif Ali aspires to go back as king; others hope to go back as government officials or civil engineers or academics or businessmen. What unites them all is their desire to return to Iraq and assume positions of importance--a desire that, after years of no hope and then false hope and then no hope again, now seems tantalizingly close to being fulfilled. And not just because the United States appears irreversibly committed to toppling Saddam. Rather, the exiles are most heartened by the fact that American officials, in making plans for what will undoubtedly be the more difficult job of rebuilding Iraq once Saddam is gone, have made it clear that the United States is counting on the exiles for help. The meeting in London this week is just the most public evidence. For the past several months, the State Department--under the auspices of its Future of Iraq project--has brought together Iraqi exiles for discussions on public health, economics, law, political structure, and other areas that will be vital to rebuilding the country. Last week, President Bush asked Zalmay Khalilzad, the special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, to also serve as the American ambassador to "Free Iraqis, " coordinating the exiles. "Iraq will need a big infusion of expertise and know- how after Saddam to create a functioning civil society, and that can very well be supplied by Iraqis in exile returning home," says Ellen Laipson, an Iraq specialist who served as vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council from 1997 until earlier this year. "They are part of the elite that built the modern Iraq." The Iraqi exiles remember Iraq as it was before Saddam, and they hope to use those memories as a guide to rebuilding Iraq once Saddam falls. But memory can be a tricky thing. After all these years away from Iraq, living in the West, are the exiles' memories still reliable? Did the Iraq they remember actually exist? And, even if it did, can it exist again? In the mostly Arab neighborhood of Bayswater, situated among grocery stores that advertise halal meat and cafs filled with men smoking water pipes, there is a diwaniya, a meeting place, called the Kufa Gallery. The Kufa, which takes its name from the famous city of Arab learning in southern Iraq, is run by Mohammed Makiya, an Iraqi architect who settled in Great Britain in 1974. Makiya established the Kufa to promote Arab and Islamic culture in general, but the gallery retains a distinctly Iraqi character--especially on Wednesday nights, when it hosts a weekly lecture. The programs range from performances of Iraqi music to appreciations of Iraqi actresses to discussions about scholars who studied in the Iraqi city of Najaf. Whatever the week, the topic of the Kufa's Wednesday night lecture almost always relates to Iraq. On a Wednesday night in early October, when London's streets were unusually clogged thanks to a 24-hour subway strike, I visited the Kufa for an evening of Iraqi poetry. The gallery is deep and narrow, and crammed--from its floor to its 30-foot vaulted ceiling--with Arabic paintings, prints, and books. It is like a tunnel into another world, and, as an Iraqi poet strummed on a lute-like instrument called an oud and recited his verse in Iraqi Arabic, London seemed very far away. About 80 Iraqi men and women were at the Kufa that night, most of them middle-aged and well-dressed. They sat in the gallery's plastic chairs and, as they sipped tea or worried brightly colored beads, they let the poet's verses wash over them. When the poet described the birds that lived in the marshes of southern Iraq, they murmured, "Allah, Allah," in approval. And, as the poet read an ode to the sunrise in Baghdad--a sunrise, he said, that was far more beautiful than the ones in his new home in Denmark--I noticed that some in the audience were softly crying. One of those crying was a burly man with a thick moustache named Dhia Kashi. A regular at the Wednesday night gatherings, Kashi grew up in Baghdad; were he not a Shia, it's likely he would still be there. Although Shia Muslims account for 55 to 60 percent of Iraq's population, the country's Sunni Muslim minority has dominated the ruling elite since Iraq was created as a British mandate in the early '20s. But, though they were generally excluded from Iraq's civic and political institutions, some Iraqi Shia, particularly the secular ones, managed to carve out niches for themselves in the world of commerce. Kashi's family thrived as Persian-rug and antique dealers; and, after Kashi graduated from college in the early '70s, he went into his own business, working for a customs clearing firm that transported imported building materials to construction sites around Baghdad. "I was delivering the foundations of the Meridian, the Sheraton, these type of hotels," he says, recalling an era when large, Western companies were eager to do business in Iraq. But Kashi's comfortable, middle-class life came to an end when the Baathist regime ratcheted up the oppression of Iraqi Shia. In the '70s and early '80s, the Iraqi government declared that thousands of Iraqi Shia merchants were actually Iranians. The government then stripped them of their Iraqi citizenship, seized their assets and businesses, and moved them and their families to the Iranian border. By conservative estimates, 150,000 Shia were expelled between 1970 and 1981. "My family had lived in Iraq for five hundred years, but, because they are Shia, because they originally came from Iran, the government said we were now considered Iranians. They called us a fifth column," Kashi says. By 1980, half of his family had been deported to the border region. Kashi and his wife plotted their escape, not telling anyone, even family members, of their plans. They first went to Kuwait, where Kashi started a new business. But, four years later, when the Kuwaiti government began arresting Iraqi Shia at Saddam's behest, they fled to London where, like thousands of other Iraqi Shia, they applied for political asylum. "I was thirty-two, and I had to start from zero for the third time in my life," Kashi says. Kashi told me all this one Saturday morning as we walked around London. He took me to the coffee shop he owns in Dolphin Square--a posh apartment and hotel complex in Westminster--and to a row house near Victoria Station that he's refurbishing as a hair and tanning salon for his wife to run. The next Saturday, he boasted, he would take his daughter to Cambridge, where she will study physics. "I tell her she is lucky she is not in Iraq, or Saddam would force her to help him make bombs," he joked. It seemed that Kashi was lucky, too: The vicissitudes that had characterized his life in Baghdad were distant memories. He does not experience any serious discrimination in Britain; he doesn't worry that there will be a knock on his door late at night. Leaving Iraq, it turns out, has been a good thing for Kashi. And yet, as his tears that night at the Kufa indicated, he longs to return.; "When I asked Kashi whether he worried that a democratic Iraq would be torn apart by tribal, ethnic, and ideological conflicts, he put his hands to his ears and cut me off." In our conversations, Kashi fondly recalled--in minute detail--the ins and outs of his childhood neighborhood and the best items on the menu at his favorite Baghdad pub. But, beyond personal reminiscences, Kashi retains a deep and abiding passion for Iraq as a whole. "It is an amazing country," he said. "We are rich in people, in land, in oil, even in the weather: You can ski in the north in the morning, have lunch in Baghdad, and then go sunbathe in the south--all in the same day." I heard similar sentiments in almost every conversation I had with Iraqi exiles in London. Indeed, sometimes their patriotism crossed into chauvinism, so strong was their belief in the inherent superiority of their fellow countrymen. "Iraqis are respected all over the Gulf because we are intelligent; we are intellectuals, we are doctors, we are engineers, we are the best things," Kashi said. Salah Shaikly, another exile, told me, "There's a saying in the Middle East: The books are produced in Egypt, they are printed in Lebanon, and they are read in Iraq." (Even Iraqis' more ignoble accomplishments under Saddam are a source of pride. "Iraqi scientists managed to, or near enough according to American intelligence, produce a nuclear weapon without direct assistance from anybody!" Shaikly said.) The exiles boast about the country's once-vital civil society, in which writers and architects flourished, and even women were treated with relatively enlightened attitudes. "My mother had worn an abaya, not covering her face but her head, her entire life," an exile named Samira Al Mana told me. "But in 1950 she took it off. ... When the men in Iraq had freedom, the women in Iraq had freedom." They point to the fact that, under the monarchy, Iraq had a parliament and the government was responsive to the popular will. "People could vote, and, if they did not vote, they could go out and bring down the prime minister by demonstrating," Kashi said. Even after the monarchy fell and parliament was disbanded--and the first wave of exiles began fleeing--those who stayed in Iraq maintain that it continued to be a relatively good place. Shaikly, who was a government economist for most of the '70s, argued that under the Baathists--before Saddam became president--the country was on the right track. "We worked on what were called prognostic models, predicting the future outlook for Iraq," he said. "Our forecast was that, if things kept going the way they were going in the mid-1970s, after the oil revenue began to come in, by the year 2000, Iraq would look like southern European countries." It's one thing to hear neoconservative American officials such as Paul Wolfowitz say that Iraq has a future as a multiethnic democracy; it's quite another to hear this prediction from Iraqis themselves. And, while the subject of whether or not Iraq is actually ready for democracy may be a point of contention in the Washington policy world--where a good many people believe that for Iraq to survive as a viable state Saddam must be replaced not with a democratic government but with a less repressive, pro-Western strongman--in London's Iraqi exile community, it is a settled issue. "A strongman is a dictator," Shaikly said. "We don't want to replace one dictator with another." Indeed, I did not meet one exile who would even entertain the notion that a democratic government should not eventually follow Saddam. When I asked Kashi whether he worried that a democratic Iraq would be torn apart by tribal, ethnic, and ideological conflicts, he put his hands to his ears and cut me off. "We feel humiliated and degraded when other people talk about Iraq like this," he said. He went on, "Iraq had two parliaments five thousand years ago. Five thousand years ago! That's Iraq's history. And we feel this in our genes." But history should not be confused with memory, and Iraq's history, unfortunately, is not as rosy as the exiles' memories. The period that many of them recall with such fondness--the period from Iraq's inception as a British mandate in 1920 until the 1958 coup against the monarchy--was marked by instability, inequality, and repression. During the twelve-year reign of Iraq's first monarch, King Faisal, the government had 15 prime ministers; even before the coup that toppled the king, there were coups that toppled prime ministers. Despite the tumult and turnover, power in Iraq always remained within a small clique. "Few [politicians] had roots in any large constituencies outside the halls of parliament," Phebe Marr writes in The Modern History of Iraq. "Instead, politics ran mainly on personal lines." Those who questioned that political power paid a price. In 1933, after Assyrian dissidents demanding autonomy inside Iraq clashed with government troops, killing nearly three dozen soldiers, the government unleashed the army and Kurdish irregulars on Assyrian villages. Hundreds were killed in the resulting bloodbath. When Shia tribesmen in southern Iraq rose up against the Sunni-dominated government a few years later, the government responded with summary executions and aerial bombing. And those were the supposed glory years. What followed was worse. The decade of military rule after the fall of the monarchy was characterized by coups and countercoups as rival officers and the political factions aligned with them vied for power. When the officers weren't plotting against one another, they waged a brutal civil war against the Kurds in northern Iraq. In 1968, the Baathists, in league with sympathetic elements of the military, launched a successful coup. Then, learning from past mistakes--in 1963, the Baathists had seized power in a coup only to lose it nine months later in a countercoup--they moved ruthlessly to eliminate potential challengers. Military officers and bureaucrats deemed insufficiently loyal were replaced with Baathist apparatchiks; other real or perceived opponents were accused of espionage, put on trial in secret military courts, and publicly hanged. It wasn't long before the Baathists had taken over the entire apparatus of government and turned Iraq into a draconian, one-party state. Finally, in 1979, Saddam Hussein--who had spent two decades rising through the Baathist ranks--became president of the republic, ushering in a whole new era of misery. This history has taken a toll. For the most part, the intellectuals, doctors, and other educated professionals in whom Kashi and Shaikly take such pride have--like Kashi and Shaikly themselves--long since left Iraq; an estimated four million Iraqis, disproportionately educated and well-off, now live abroad. Many of those who stayed behind are not similarly accomplished; those who are, such as the country's nuclear scientists, either volunteer or are forced to use their skills to support a brutal regime. And then there are the nearly 14 million Iraqis who were born after Saddam took power and have known Iraq only as it has existed under his rule. They have not gone to decent schools: In 1992, the last year for which reliable statistics exist, Iraq's literacy rate was 62 percent, the lowest in the Gulf. They have not received good health care: In 1990, there was only one doctor per 1,810 Iraqis, again the worst ratio among Gulf nations. And, after the Gulf war and a decade of U.N. sanctions, social and economic conditions in Iraq have deteriorated badly. As the Iraqi scholar Isam Al Khafaji wrote of his native country two years ago in the Middle East Policy journal, "It would not be over-pessimistic to talk of an embargo generation that will never be able to recover from the effects of material deprivation, isolation, and a sense of being not only neglected and forgotten but targeted by the international community as an enemy." Indeed, while it's hard not to admire the exiles' idealism, they are--in their own way--as ideological as their neoconservative allies in Washington. And, like the neocons, the evidence they provide to bear out this ideological vision is not always convincing. "I think Iraq's problem will be much easier to fix than any other problem in the world," Kashi told me. "Iraqis, between them, don't have a problem. It's the rulers who have the problem with the people." It sounded so hopeful I wanted to know more, and I asked Kashi if he had experienced this harmony when he was growing up. "I was young before Saddam," he replied. "But I remember what my father and mother and grandfather told me about Iraq before that. ... They said it was wonderful." The last time Saddam was in serious trouble--after the Gulf war in 1991, when Kurds in the north and Shia in the south rebelled en masse and briefly gained control of 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces--Iraqi Shia in London flocked to the city's Husaynias. Dedicated to the Shia martyr Husayn--who was killed in 680 A.D. in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala and whose death became the defining event in the schism between the Shia and Sunnis--Husaynias were originally created as places of mourning and study. But over time they have become Shia social centers. In 1991, London's Husaynias filled up with Iraqi Shia who sought the latest news--conveyed by faxes and phone calls from Iran, Syria, and sometimes Iraq itself--about what was happening in their native country. At the Al Khoei Foundation in northwest London, they are expecting the crowds to return. "We were at the center of the intifada in 1991," an Al Khoei official named Ghanim Jawad told me, "and we will be at the center again." The Al Khoei Foundation is located in an imposing three-building compound that, in its previous incarnation, was a Jewish community center. It is home to two Islamic schools (one for boys, one for girls), a mosque, a community center, and offices that serve as the headquarters for the foundation's extensive worldwide operations. (The foundation has programs in a number of countries, including India, Thailand, and the United States.) The Al Khoei Foundation is dedicated to serving Shia of any nationality, but unofficially it has a particular interest in Iraqi Shia. That is because the foundation's founder, the Grand Ayatollah Abul Qassim Al Khoei, lived and taught in the southern Iraq city of Najaf and was, until his death ten years ago, the grand Marja, the most respected Shia cleric in all of Iraq. Although there has been much discussion in the U.S. media about the complications that could accompany the post-Saddam reintegration of the Iraqi Kurds, many of whom currently live semi-autonomously under U.S. protection in northern Iraq, the Shia may pose a more vexing problem for Iraq's future. Some Iraq watchers worry that the country's long-oppressed Shia would take advantage of any power vacuum to engage in bloody score-settling against Sunnis. Another concern, especially to some American policymakers, is that an Iraqi government that truly reflected the country's Shia majority would form a natural alliance with the Shia mullahs in Iran. Among Iraqi exiles, Ayatollah Al Khoei is often invoked as a rebuttal to both charges. During the 1991 uprising, they note, Ayatollah Al Khoei issued a fatwa instructing Iraqi Shia to respect people's property and to honor public institutions. And they point to the fact that, unlike his Iranian counterpart Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Al Khoei did not believe that clergy should seek political power. Rather, as Graham Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke write in The Arab Shi'a: The Forgotten Muslims, Al Khoei represented "a more quietist tradition that stressed the traits of personal piety and a neutral stand on public affairs." That tradition, Iraqi exiles argue, is the tradition of the Iraqi Shia. "There is a huge difference between the Shia of Iran and the Shia of Iraq," Ghanim Jawad insisted. A light-skinned man with thinning hair and an open face, Jawad spoke with me in his office at the Al Khoei Foundation, just off a hall lined with pictures of the unsmiling, black-turbaned Ayatollah Al Khoei. Jawad came to London in 1988, after his status as a Shia and his opposition to the Baathist regime made his life in Iraq untenable. At one point, he was arrested and detained. "They hit me with guns," he explained matter-of-factly, taking my hand and running it along a dent in his skull. "I saw how other people were tortured." But Jawad does not hold all Sunnis accountable for his and other Iraqi Shia's mistreatment. "The oppression did not come from any problems between Shia and Sunnis," he said. "The oppression came from Saddam. He used the difference between Shia and Sunnis as a predicate because he needed to stay in power." That difference has never mattered much to Sunnis and Shia themselves, Jawad said. He recalled that when he was growing up in southern Iraq, members of the two sects frequently married one another. "There is not any disharmony at the grassroots between Shia and Sunni," he said. He continued, "If we get rid of Saddam Hussein and his gang, the rest of the Sunni of Iraq are normal, quiet, good people. And we would live with them without any problems." But, while it may be true that, left to their own devices, Sunnis and Shia in Iraq would live in relative harmony, Saddam has not left the two communities to their own devices--and his brutal persecution has almost certainly left deep wounds. One need only look at the 1991 uprising. Although exiles boast that Al Khoei issued his fatwa against scoresettling, they usually fail to note that his edict was largely ignored. As Andrew and Patrick Cockburn note in their book Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, the intifada was a "spontaneous and leaderless fury." As such, it was an exceedingly bloody and destructive affair. In Basra, Shia rebels raided a hospital and took away three patients who were security men, killing one of them on hospital grounds. They also set fire to the city's Sheraton Hotel. In Najaf, a Baath functionary was hacked to death with knives; others were hanged. Many Sunnis fled for their lives from southern Iraq. Making matters worse, an Iraqi Shia exile named Mohammed Baqir Al Hakim--who lives just across the border in Iran and operates an opposition group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), with the support of the Tehran regime--tried to take command of the rebellion. His allies put up posters of him and Ayatollah Khomeini all over southern Iraq, and announcements in Al Hakim's name claimed full authority over the intifada, instructing rebels that "no ideas except the rightful Islamic ones should be disseminated." Thousands of members of SCIRI's militia, known as the Badr Brigade, crossed the border into Iraq to join the fighting. It is what happened next, however, that makes the notion of future Sunni- Shia harmony seem sadly implausible. After the rebels had gained control of almost all of southern Iraq, Saddam struck back. As U.S. airplanes circled impotently overhead, Saddam's Republican Guard units swept into the south and, in a matter of days, routed the rebels. From helicopters, government troops poured kerosene on fleeing refugees and then set them on fire with tracer rounds. Tanks bombarded and ultimately razed entire city centers. In Basra alone, more than 1,000 Shia were killed. Some claim that the regime killed 300, 000 citizens in putting down the intifada. After the uprising was crushed, Saddam sought revenge. The Iraqi leader forced the 90-year-old and increasingly frail Ayatollah Al Khoei to travel to Baghdad and read a statement on television denouncing the rebellion. Al Khoei was then sent to Kufa and placed under house arrest, which lasted until his death the next year. Saddam went after other clerics as well: About 100 of them disappeared without a trace, and, since then, several important Shia clerics in southern Iraq have been killed or have died under mysterious circumstances. In 1992, the Baghdad regime ordered the construction of a huge canal in southern Iraq called the Saddam River. This had the effect of draining southern Iraq's marshes, which had been home to, and later a hiding place for, many Shia rebels; an estimated 500,000 marsh inhabitants were displaced. As Fuller and Francke write, "The Iraqi state has moved from a policy of discrimination to one of active repression of the Shia."; "Generally speaking, there are two types of Iraqi exiles in London..." In London, among the exiles, much of the anger over the intifada's failure is directed at the United States. It was the first President Bush, after all, who encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam, only to abandon them once they did. "When the intifada happened, King Fahd and Hosni Mubarak called the Americans and said, `Stop Schwarzkopf. Don't let him go to Baghdad, because there will then be another Shia state that will ally with Iran,'" Jawad told me bitterly. And, he said, the Americans listened. "They allowed Saddam Hussein to devastate the intifada." But, in southern Iraq, the Shia do not have the luxury of shaking their fists at a far-off superpower. They have more immediate tormentors, and their collective anger--should they ever get the opportunity to exercise it--will likely be directed at more immediate targets. On the second floor of a dilapidated building in the London suburb of Ealing, Saad Bazzaz presides over a media empire. A short, round man in his early fifties, with a thick moustache and large glasses, Bazzaz is the publisher of the Azzaman newspaper, a pan-Arabic daily that, as Bazzaz likes to say, is the world's only independent daily newspaper run by an Iraqi. Azzaman has been publishing for only five years, but it already has three editions--one printed in London, one in Bahrain, and one in Algeria. In addition to the daily paper, Azzaman publishes a monthly current-affairs magazine, a semi-annual culture magazine (which, Bazzaz boasts, is "thick like a phone book"), and a number of books--ranging from Arabic translations of Jean-Paul Sartre to reportage on Afghanistan. Entertaining me in his office one afternoon, Bazzaz barked at his secretary to bring him copies so he could show them off. Unlike some Arabic- language publications in London, all of Azzaman's offerings are slickly and professionally produced. "We're very keen about the design of our publications, the paper we use," Bazzaz said. "Having good thoughts is not enough." It's an indication of Bazzaz's media ambitions that in choosing a title for his paper he picked Azzaman--the Arabic word for "time." Displayed on a credenza in Bazzaz's office is a gallery of photos of him meeting with famous Arab leaders: Bazzaz with Jordan's late King Hussein, Bazzaz with Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, Bazzaz with Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and so on. About the only Arab notable missing from Bazzaz's collection is Saddam Hussein. This is surely not for lack of a picture of the two of them together. For much of the '80s and into the early '90s, Bazzaz held a succession of important posts in Saddam's information machine: director-general of the Iraqi national news agency; head of the government ministry that oversees all Iraqi radio and TV programming; editor of the official Baath Party newspaper, Al Jomhourieh. In Baghdad, Bazzaz was a big and important man. But he eventually had a falling out with Saddam, or, rather, Saddam had a falling out with him. In 1989, when Bazzaz was in charge of Iraqi television and radio, he was summoned to meet with the Iraqi leader. As Bazzaz memorably recounted to Mark Bowden of The Atlantic Monthly, Saddam wanted to know why Iraqi television was not airing all the poems and songs in praise of the Iraqi leader that people frequently sent to the station. Bazzaz explained that he had been spiking some of them because he thought they were too amateurish to warrant broadcast. In a stern tone, Saddam told him, "Look, you are not a judge, Saad." Bazzaz defected from Iraq in 1992. Generally speaking, there are two types of Iraqi exiles in London: those who had to flee Iraq because they opposed the regime and therefore Saddam wanted to kill them; and those who had to flee Iraq because, even though they didn't necessarily have any problems with the regime--indeed, they may well have been part of the ruling regime--Saddam still wanted to kill them. Bazzaz falls in the latter category. Today, he is unapologetic about his time spent working for Saddam. "During the Iraq-Iran war, many of my generation served the government because we felt that if our ruler was bad, the other side was worse," he told me. "The world was standing with Saddam in his war against Khomeini." People like Bazzaz present a dilemma for those mapping out Iraq's future. Not only did some Iraqi exiles once serve in Saddam's regime--just last month a leading Iraqi opposition figure, Nizar Al Khazraji, was indicted in Denmark, where he now lives, for war crimes he allegedly committed as the Iraqi military chief of staff in the '80s--but countless Iraqis still in Iraq have, at some point, done Saddam's bidding in one way or another. What should be done with them? Some exiles argue that Iraq should undergo a rigorous "de-Baathification" process akin to Germany's "de-Nazification" after World War II. "Anybody who was part of the killing machine," one exile told me, "cannot be part of Iraq's future. ... Some of them are as bad as Saddam." But many, many people were technically part of that killing machine. In a totalitarian state like Iraq, it can be difficult to stay completely clear of the ruling regime. The Baath Party, for instance, has two million members. The military has close to 400,000 soldiers. And then there are the nearly one million Iraqis who, according to the most recent figures from just after the Gulf war, are on the government's civilian payroll. That's why other exiles define that machine narrowly. "There is a difference between those who actually, physically do have blood on their hands and those that merely had to succumb to the will of a tyrannical regime," Sharif Ali told me. Like many exiles, he cited the horrific stories of Iraqis who, after balking at Saddam's orders, had their family members jailed or killed. "The regime is so ruthless, they would rape a minister's wife and videotape it and then show it to him," he said. According to the opposition groups working with the Bush administration, the most likely solution for determining who actually has blood on their hands is a truth and reconciliation commission of some sort. But even that commission, some exiles argue, should be extra careful in making its determinations. "We can't hold everybody up to an overly stringent standard, " Sharif Ali said. "We're not all saints." Bazzaz evidently believes he would meet the kind of standard Sharif Ali proposes. When Saddam falls, Bazzaz thinks there will be a huge hunger for news in Iraq, and he's anxious to feed it; he plans to move Azzaman's headquarters to Baghdad. "Our paper has credibility," he boasted. "We don't say in our news articles, `Saddam Hussein, the Butcher of Baghdad, did so and so.' We say, `President of Iraq Saddam Hussein did so and so,' but, by the end of the article, from the facts we've provided, you know he's the Butcher of Baghdad. We don't need to say it." But Bazzaz has ambitions beyond his media empire; he envisions a political role for himself as well. Bazzaz is savvy enough to know what passes for acceptable political discourse these days. "We need a new open society, a new open economy, a new free speech," he told me. But, unlike most of the exiles I spoke to, he did not talk about democracy in universally glowing terms. "If you have democracy in Egypt, do you know who would win?" he asked. "The fundamentalists. ... Sometimes the democracy can bring the bad people." More than anything, it seemed, Bazzaz wanted to be a big man again. "As long as I am Iraqi, I have to pay attention to the future of my country," he said. "I am dreaming of a new Iraq. ... If I could play any role to reach this goal, I am not going to hesitate." To a man, the Iraqi exiles I spoke to--and, with only two exceptions, they were all men--insisted that, once Saddam was gone, they would return to Iraq or, at the very least, split their time between London and their native country. It seemed to be a point of pride. "If there is stability in Iraq, there is no reason to live outside," Bazzaz replied brusquely when I asked him if he planned to go back, as if he were offended by the question. Given the exiles' rosy expectations about what awaits them in Iraq--a tolerant and educated populace, a slew of business opportunities, the places they remember frequenting as children and young adults--their attitude is not surprising. But the exiles' return to Iraq will not be easy. For one thing, there is the simple matter of comfort: The country's infrastructure--its buildings, its roads, its water system--will be considerably below the Western standards to which the exiles have become accustomed, especially if Saddam is toppled by a massive military campaign. Perhaps even more of a problem than creature comforts, though, will be the attitudes of their fellow Iraqis once they return. Even if the people of Iraq are as well-adjusted, after years of living in a brutal, totalitarian state, as some of the exiles believe them to be, there is no guarantee they will welcome the returnees with open arms. After all, they have suffered under Saddam's rule in ways the exiles can hardly imagine. Indeed, while American officials are eager for the exiles to play a prominent role in a post-Saddam Iraq, they are also wary that the exiles do not overplay their hand. For the past few months, the Bush administration has had to repeatedly persuade some opposition groups not to declare a government in exile for fear of angering Iraqis living in Iraq. One evening at the Kufa Gallery, I did meet one exile who seemed to have a sense of how difficult his return to Iraq could be. His name was Rasheed Al Khayoun, and, as a lecture was going on in the main gallery, we talked in hushed voices in a small side room. The room doubled as a kitchenette and a supply closet and was cluttered with digestive biscuits and empty picture frames. A short, rumpled man with wild black hair and slightly bloodshot eyes, Al Khayoun is the culture editor of the Iraqi National Congress's weekly newspaper and the organizer of the Kufa's lecture series. But his real passion is teaching, which is what he was doing in Iraq before he had to leave in 1979. He taught Arabic and geography at a primary school in Baghdad, which didn't bother the regime at all. Away from the classroom, however, Al Khayoun--like many Iraqi intellectuals--was active in Iraq's Communist Party; and when, in the late '70s, Baath officials began cracking down on the Communists, Al Khayoun realized it was time to leave. "If I do not go out," he told me in his broken English, "I'm killed." He abruptly left his job at the school and abandoned his apartment; for two months, he hid at a friend's house in Baghdad while he waited for another friend in the government to secure him travel papers, which permitted him to take a brief trip to Turkey. With papers in hand, he drove across the border. And then he kept going--first to Bulgaria, where he spent several years completing a doctorate in Islamic philosophy, and then to Yemen, where he taught philosophy for more than a decade. After running afoul of the Islamic party there, he moved to Great Britain in 1992. Like all the other Iraqi exiles I talked to, Al Khayoun was insistent that, once Saddam was gone, he would return to Iraq. It was obviously a matter of principle to him, but he had professional reasons as well. In London, where his imperfect command of English has prevented him from getting a teaching job, he has had to scrape by, doing his newspaper work and running the lecture series; when we talked, he was wearing a stained white oxford shirt and threadbare gray trousers. In a liberated Iraq, Al Khayoun could probably get an academic position and make a good living. "The university under Saddam is very, very bad, " he said. "Now they need to build a new university, because it is so bad." He thinks that he could help with that. But, as we continued to talk, Al Khayoun admitted that he had some concerns about returning. He lamented that in his boyhood home in southern Iraq--where 4, 000 years ago, he said, Sumerians performed surgeries--there are now no hospitals or even doctors. There are no televisions or computers, either. Al Khayoun said that when he speaks on the phone with his brother, who still lives in southern Iraq, sometimes he does not understand him. I asked if it was because he no longer understood the dialect. "I understand his language," Al Khayoun explained, "but I can't understand his morals. All he thinks about is how to give food to his children. Here, my daughter goes to music school, and I can buy her books. My brother has nothing like that." Al Khayoun was speaking even more quietly now--as if, more than not wanting to disrupt the lecture, he did not want the others to hear his doubts. He glanced over his shoulder. "I have not been there in twenty-three years," he said, his voice practically a whisper. "Will I recognize Iraq?" He ran a hand through his wild hair. "Will Iraq recognize me?"

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