Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalism unites Iraq

Maj. Farid (Fred) Samuel has just received a second star for fighting on the Basra front in the Iran-Iraq war. He is a young Christian who has been in the Iraqi Army for five years. Iraq provides large financial incentives to good soldiers - and Major Samuel has used his extra pay to buy a Peugeot 503, which he drives when he is on leave in Baghdad.

Recently, Samuel has been talking about buying a large Japanese car.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both of which fear Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, are helping to finance the Iraq military - including Samuel's cars - to the tune of life more enjoyable for Baghdad citizens.

Iraq's war with Iran is at the forefront of the minds of every Iraqi I met in Baghdad. Gulf Arabs also are concerned about it.

Although Iraq started the actual fighting, Iran helped to get the hostilities started since it had long fomented sedition among the Iraqi Shiite minority. Whatever the original reasons for the fighting, most Iraqis now view the war as an effort to resist Khomeini's particular brand of Shia Islamic fundamentalism.

If Khomeini wins this war and overruns Iraq, the effect on the Gulf sheikhdoms will be considerable. For example, a large portion of Bahrainis are of Persian origin, and they are often treated as second-class citizens. Last winter a group of Bahraini and Gulf Shiite Muslims staged a revolt against the tiny island state. It did not succeed, but many Arabs fear it could do so another time.

*

*

* The most obvious sign of war to the foreigner is that the airport is closed all day. Flights from foreign countries come and go after 9 p.m. Flights to the south, which would pass close to the front at Basra, are curtailed.

There is no blackout in Baghdad because the Iraqis believe Iran's Air Force could not reach Baghdad at night. But the Iraqi Air Force, with its Soviet-built jets, is claimed in Iraqi-controlled newspapers to be invincible. (Yet at Christmas the Western press reported three jets were shot down.)

The Soviets refuse to supply spare parts for military hardware, according to Iraqi sources, and this has led Iraq to buy as much military hardware from Egypt as possible. (Moscow supplied the Egypt Army before 1973.)

Military hardware is not the only reason for a new rapprochement with Egypt. As Iraqi farmers leave the land to go to the cities, Egyptian farmers are brought in to replace them. There is little agreement on the exact number involved in this movement, but an estimated 500,000 to 1 million Egyptians are in Iraq. Egyptians can enter Iraq without visas.

Iraqis do not consider other Arabs to be foreigners. The government, after a period of residence, gives Iraqi citizenship to Arab immigrants from Egypt and former Palestine.There is resentment toward the sheikhdoms of the Gulf, where residents of even 20 years' standing from other countries cannot buy land or build houses. In this sense, the Iraqi government may be more stable than the others.

*

*

* Nonetheless, the Iraqi Baath regime has a narrow base of power and is repressive. Intellectuals and scientists, particularly those who know the West, find this hard to tolerate. The repression leads to secrecy, reluctance to make decisions, and inefficiency, which are obvious to the visitor.

But the government seems to have the support of most of the public. There are only occasional visible signs of resistance.

Even many intellectuals are pleased with aspects of the Iraqi brand of socialism. Banks, heavy industry, railroads, and airlines are government-run, as is the oil industry. Yet smaller private businesses are encouraged and there are many joint state-private enterprises. Many people own their own homes and apartments with cheap government mortgages.

All of this is based on oil revenues despite the words of Gen. Abdel Karim Qasim, who led the 1958 coup that toppled King Faisal II: ''We are fighting . . . for the ending of our dependence on the sale of crude oil.''

*

*

* Education in Iraq is compulsory and free - but no private schools are allowed. University education is wider than before and the best students are being sent overseas - expenses paid - for graduate work.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK