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Interview with Dr. Robert Rabil, Iraq Research and Documentation Project - 2003-04-18


VOA’s David Borgida speaks with Dr. Robert Rabil with the Iraq Research and Documentation Project about the current situation in the Middle East.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, our guest, Dr. Robert Rabil, who is the author of a book entitled "Embattled Neighbors: Syria, Israel, Lebanon." A perfect time to be the author of that book, Dr. Rabil. Good timing.

DR. RABIL
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk about a change in the neighborhood, in connection with the Iraqi context. What does this mean to Iraq's neighbors?

DR. RABIL
It's very important to Iraq's neighbors, because change is right there and change is going to take place. Why? Because it's going to take place first in Iraq, and then it's going to have an effect on the neighbors. It's going to be of economic change and political change. So, hopefully it will be political, socioeconomic change.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, let me jump in. Because Syria is high on the agenda, certainly of the Bush administration.

DR. RABIL
Yes.

MR. BORGIDA
You say there could be change in Syria, for example?

DR. RABIL
Yes. Now, if you go back a couple of years, when Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, became President, he gave a speech, his inaugural speech. In it he said, I'm going to open the public system. He said, I'm going to usher in an era of political and economic reform. He did a little bit of reform and then he stopped. He said, people are asking for more, for more, and then he stopped. So, here he is going to be under pressure. He is going to say, look, I cannot forestall change because change now is inevitable, not only in Syria but also in Iraq.

So, this is where you're going to have the direct impact of change in Iraq on Syria. It is going to spur Syria to undertake the changes that they themselves spoke about.

MR. BORGIDA
There is some question in Syria, is there not, that he controls the country, or is at least in confrontation at times with the military? Isn't that the case in Syria?

DR. RABIL
He is a younger leader, and also, if you go back to the constitution, any president of Syria needs to be more than 36 years old. When he became president, he was 36 only. And you have the old guard, the Defense Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister in Syria, where they said, okay, let's amend the constitution and make him president. And they made him president. So, he owes them. And really he is supported by the old guard.

And this is Bashar's challenge, how to navigate Syria. The old guard kept Syria in a stagnant economic situation. And now the economy of Syria is really in a shambles. So, it is imperative that he takes charge and it is imperative for him to go ahead and start the political and economic reforms that he spoke about.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk about politics inside Iraq for a moment, the Baath Party and its future. How do you see that?

DR. RABIL
Well, the Baath Party, I don't speak about any future for the Baath Party in Iraq because of what happened, because of the 30 years of Saddam Hussein and what he brought about for the people. He really ravaged the nation. But I would speak about the people that used to work for the Baath Party. These people might have some future in Iraq, in that they are the bureaucrats, they are the technocrats, they are the electricians, they are the engineers.

And why is that? Because in order for any Iraqi to climb the social mobility ladder in Iraq, he has to join the Baath Party. So, the Baath Party, really it was an instrument for Saddam Hussein to turn people first into accomplices or into client instruments in the hands of the regime to advance what Saddam Hussein wanted.

MR. BORGIDA
So, then, could it continue to be an instrument to be manipulated in the new Iraq?

DR. RABIL
No, no more. I think myself, and from my research and from knowing many Iraqis, that the Baath Party is going to be banned in Iraq.

Now, you are going to have nationalism and you are going to have a nationalist party, maybe not affiliated with the Baaths, because really the Baaths came as nationalists, or the nationalist party in the Arab world. So, you are going to have probably a different party grown out of the Baaths, a nationalist party, but I don't think you are going to have a Baath Party in Iraq after what happened to the Iraqis.

MR. BORGIDA
Very interesting. Dr. Robert Rabil, author of the book, "Embattled Neighbors Syria, Israel, Lebanon." Thank you, sir, for joining.

DR. RABIL
Thank you.

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