Kanan Makiya spent years in exile advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The war he supported brought about an Iraq he never imagined.
They were well into their dinner when the talk turned to the most troubling question of all. The guests, brought here to discuss plans for the American University of Iraq, had been passing around platters of shabbout, an oily and bony fish, in the dining room of a villa owned by Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, when the question came up. The six Iraqis and one Lebanese-American had gathered in this lakeside guesthouse in the mountains of Kurdistan, far from the furies of Baghdad and Basra. No one had actually posed the question; it crept up on its own. Among Iraqi exiles, particularly those who had been instrumental in persuading the Americans to invade, it was still something of a taboo.
“Leave Saddam in power?” asked Barham Salih, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, holding court in the middle. “So that he would be free to continue killing, free to invade his neighbors, so that he would be free to — I am sorry — develop nuclear weapons?” He shook his head. “No.”
This was not the idle banter of an American talk show. While still in high school, Salih, today one of Iraq’s most dedicated and capable public servants, had been jailed and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen. As many as 180,000 of his fellow Kurds had been murdered in what people here still call “the War of Annihilation.”