The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 encouraged the emergence of a "deficient dysfunctional, and corrupt State, providing fertile ground for the development and proliferation of terrorist and mafia movements," said Harith Al-Dabbagh, professor of comparative law at Université de Montréal, noting that these movements were virtually nonexistent before the military action. Professor Al-Dabbagh has held a position at the university's Faculty of Law since 2012, after studying at the University of Mosul, Iraq, and the University of Aix-Marseille, France. He keeps in constant contact with his family and friends back in the Middle East. But his prognosis remains bleak for the future of this land that saw the birth and growth of Mesopotamia five thousand years ago. "In addition to the casualties, the conflict destroyed museums, libraries, and archaeological sites that bear irreplaceable witness to the past ," he said.
Among the disasters of war, Iraq has suffered a setback in terms of culture and education. In the years that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, a wave of assassinations hit the intellectual elite, costing the lives of some 300 academics in the country. Of this number, five of his former colleagues from the Faculty of Law of Mosul, including his master's thesis supervisor, were murdered.
In his opinion, the ensuing chaos created an environment conducive to the proliferation of fundamentalist forces espousing radical Islam. However, he says, he grew up in a cosmopolitan city where various ethnic and religious communities lived together in relative harmony, including Arabs, Kurds, Shabaks, Turkmens, Yazidis, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Armenians. "My world was marked by the call of the muezzin and the sound of church bells. In addition, the reputation of Iraqi universities attracted many students from the region. Students from Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and Mauritania came to study in Iraq. The war destroyed all that," Al-Dabbagh said.
Canada's position criticized
Now 41 years old and with dual Canadian and Iraqi citizenship, Professor Al-Dabbagh disapproves of the Canadian government's offensive policy—it announced the dispatch of five F-18 fighter jets to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. "I do not think airstrikes are the solution. The U.S. military has been dropping bombs on targets in Iraq and Syria for 75 days, and it has done nothing. The jihadist group, Islamic State, does not seem weakened," he said.
He questions the relevance of the military option pursued since September 11, 2001: "Paradoxically, the war against terrorism has only generated more terrorism. Focus should be put on technical support and assistance in reconstructing countries devastated by conflict."
In his opinion, a lasting solution can only come from within. "Iraqis themselves must take control of their country's destiny. For this, they must recognize the mistakes of the past. They need a strong, inclusive, and sustainable government, able to fill the void created by the dismantling of government institutions in 2003 and the failure of the reconstruction process. In this regard, Canada has a lot to offer in terms of federalism, multiculturalism, and governance," he said.
In a text published under the auspices of the university's Center for International Studies and Research (CERIUM), he says that things might have been different if reconstruction had been based on the legacy of the past. "After proving false, the argument of the existence of weapons of mass destruction was immediately replaced by another, that of establishing rule of law and democracy in the heart of the Middle East," he wrote. "The system conceived and implemented by the Americans, which allocated powers based on the demographic weight of communities, is degenerating into open civil war across the country. Iraqis are more divided than ever, there is daily violence, sectarianism is at its peak, and the spectre of collapse looms over the country."
From Mosul to Montreal
Distressed by the chaos that has gripped Iraq, he believes it will now be difficult now to restore order in a system controlled by the mafia and religious extremists. The crisis is all the more ironic for Professor Al-Dabbagh since his own research focuses on the role of religion in various legal systems. "Even in secular systems, one cannot ignore the importance of religion in human communities," he said.
As a brilliant intellectual from the start of his university studies, he won first place in his undergraduate and graduate classes at the Faculty of Law of the University of Mosul, which earned him a scholarship to study overseas. After teaching and practicing law in Mosul and Baghdad, he decided to pursue his doctoral studies. He chose France, where he quickly had to learn French, which he did not know upon his arrival and which he speaks fluently today. During a presentation in Togo, he met Jacques Frémont, then Vice-Rector of the UdeM, who invited him to present his work in Montreal. From his first visit to Canada, Professor Al-Dabbagh felt welcome and chose the UdeM to do post-doctoral work in 2009.
Frémont, now president of Quebec's Commission de protection des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse (Commission for the protection of human and youth rights), remembers an outstanding lawyer. "I quickly realized the value of this comparatist with a sharp intellect and ability to bridge the gap between several areas of law," said Frémont during a telephone conversation.
Al-Dabbagh taught law on three continents (Asia, Africa, Europe) before dropping anchor in Montreal, which he enjoys despite the rather long winter. "In fact, what especially surprised me was the summer," he said, smiling. "I was prepared for four cold seasons. However, in July, it's just as hot in Montreal as it is in Mosul!"