All Levels of the Iraqi Government were Complicit
MEQ: If Baathism is a form of Arab nationalism, how do Baathists define who is an Arab?
Makiya: To Baathists, being an Arab is connected with the degree of loyalty that one has, not only to the idea of "Arabness," but also to the party that carries that idea, that party's central committee, and ultimately, to the party leader. In that sense, it is fascist. Baathist ideology in the pure original sense means you could have ancestors going back hundreds of years in an Arab country and your first language might be Arabic, but still you are not an Arab in the Baathist view. The quality of being an Arab is therefore a subjective and not an objective attribute of an individual.
MEQ: Were the highest echelons of the Iraqi government involved, or was corruption a low-level affair?
Makiya: All levels of the government were complicit. Profiteering, black market trafficking, and sanctions-busting became the principal activity of the Iraqi elite. United Nations officials turned a blind eye as top Iraqi officials diverted funds from the U.N.-managed Oil-for-Food program into secret bank accounts.
MEQ: So the coalition invasion in March 2003 served, to some degree, as a catalyst for changing an unsustainable situation?
Makiya: The war made it possible for the country to have a chance—I am not saying a guarantee—of moving ahead in a democratic fashion. The sanctions could not be removed before the regime was removed, and only then could the country pick itself up again. With the removal of the old regime and the elections, we have reached the beginning of a new era. Baathist ideology has, I believe, been dealt a deathblow in Iraq.
MEQ: Have any of the states neighboring Iraq played a more helpful role?
Makiya: None. None at all. There is no doubt about this whatsoever: We never expected to have friends in the region, and we still don't.
MEQ: What are the origins of the Iraq Memory Foundation?
Makiya: In 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the last war, I went to northern Iraq to look into rumors that the Kurds had captured tons of Iraqi documents. With the tacit knowledge of the then-director of Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies [William A. Graham], I sought to gain support to transport those documents outside of Iraq so that academics and scholars could work with them. The project began the following year at Harvard.
MEQ: Was there anything you found that surprised you?
Makiya: We found registers of Iraqi secondary school students with all kinds of personal information, especially political information: when they joined the party, including their degree of loyalty measured by various criteria; whether they participated in such-and-such an event; the loyalty of the members of their family up to cousins of the third degree. So, you end up with virtually a blacklist of the secondary school population. You can imagine the implications of studying Iraq through the prism of these kinds of documents.