Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile under Saddam and a key intellectual inspiration for the US policy of 'regime change' in Iraq, has admitted he failed to foresee the consequences for his country of the invasion four years ago.
In an interview in yesterday's New York Times, Makiya, author of Republic of Fear, the book that brought the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime to international attention, concedes he allowed his own 'activism' to sway his judgment and launched a scathing denunciation of US policy after the fall of Baghdad, and of Iraq's new leadership. In the week of the invasion's fourth anniversary, the voice that cried loudest for the toppling of Saddam described the day of Saddam's execution 'as one of the worst' of his life.
'It was a disaster, an unmitigated disaster,' Makiya said. 'I was just so upset, even on the verge of tears. It was the antithesis of everything I had been working for. Just like everything about the war, it was an opportunity wasted.' He catalogued the errors - including his own - that led to the present bloodbath. It is all a remarkable change of tone for the man who was once a friend of Ahmed Chalabi, has been praised in public by Vice President Dick Cheney and is highly regarded by anti-Saddam Iraqi democrats.
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Makiya, a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, says his disaffection with the 'Iraq project' has been growing for some time. 'Now it seems necessary to reflect on the society that has gotten itself into this mess. A question that looms more and more for me is: just what did 30 years of dictatorship do to 25 million people?'
Makiya played a strong role in persuading the Bush administration that Iraq's modernity, secular leadership and high levels of education would permit it to rebound with little need for an intensive nation building effort.
'It's not like I didn't think about this,' he added. 'But nonetheless I allowed myself as an activist to put it aside in the hope that it could be worked through, or managed, or exorcised in a way that's not as violent as is the case now. That did not work out.'
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007