As the U.S. government is learning much too late, democracy is not a one-size-fits-all application that can be lifted from one culture and grafted onto another. Here, UK reporter Ian Black from the Guardian Unlimited takes a look at what’s really going on politically and culturally in Iraq, according to a prominent historian and his Iraqi contacts.

The Guardian Unlimited:

“There was this nonsensical idea that Saddam and everything he created was a kind of freak and that once you eradicated him the whole thing would fall apart and the potential for a liberal, democratic and a civil society would emerge as if somehow he was the only problem,” he [Charles Tripp] says. “But Saddam was a recognisable part of Iraqi history. Many Iraqis feel now that they’ve been delivered into the hands of many lesser dictators. As one of my friends said: ‘Thanks very much: you got rid of one Saddam and you left us with 50.’ “

Tripp is scholarly and quietly-spoken but there is no ivory-tower reticence about his analysis. The US had “up to date, unprejudiced and non-ideological” experts in the CIA, state department and the academic world, but politicians who listened to out-of-touch Iraqi exiles pushing their own agenda cut them out of the loop. Post-war planning, such as it was, was taken over by the Pentagon.

Part of the problem, he argues, was profound ignorance about what went on beneath the surface of Saddam’s dictatorship, what he calls a “shadow state” that ran on cooption, collaboration and patronage as well as repression and fear. That led to the disastrous decision to outlaw the Ba’ath party. “Lack of understanding on that score was unbelievable. By purging it you alienated tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have very happily served the next regime. They weren’t going to work for the restoration of Saddam Hussein.

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