Kanan Makiya

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Kanan Makiya is an Iraqi pundit and the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University who played a crucial role in selling the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is one of the names pushed by Benador Associates. He was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, and a professor at Brandeis Univ. He is the Director of the Iraq Research and Documentation Project at the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard University and a past fellow (February-June 1995) of the National Endowment for Democracy's International Forum for Democratic Studies. He is also a founder of the Iraq Memory Foundation. [2] He has written two books under the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil.


Kanan Makya was born in Baghdad, left Iraq to study architecture at M.I.T. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Makiya was active in the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and a member Fourth International. He also joined the International Marxist Group (IMG) in UK. In the early 1970s he was closely affiliated with the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He used the pseudonym Muhammad Ja'far then. During the early 1980s he switched sides and he and his father, who own a firm called Makiya Associates, were employed by Saddam Hussein to build a large number of buildings and projects, including a military parade ground for the observation of Saddam's birthday in Tikrit [Saddam's hometown]. It was during this time that he used his second pseudonym, Samir al-Khalil, to write Republic of Fear [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989].[3] In October 1992, he acted as the convenor of the Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi National Congress, a transitional parliament based in northern Iraq. He has collaborated on two films for television, the most recent of which exposed for the first time the 1988 campaign of mass murder in northern Iraq known as the Anfal. The film was shown in the U.S. under the title Saddam's Killing Fields, and received the Edward R. Morrow Award For Best Television Documentary On Foreign Affairs in 1992.[1]


  • Republic of Fear (1989) -- became a best-seller after Saddam Husain's invasion of Kuwait.
  • The Monument (1991)
  • Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World (1993), was published under Makiya's own name and primarily an attack on Arab intellectual and dissidents such as Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish and Abdulrahman Munif. According to Said, the book was "based on cowardly innuendo and false interpretation, but the book, of course, enjoyed a popular moment or two since it confirmed the view in the West that Arabs were villainous and shabby conformists".[4]
  • The Fight is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World (2003)

Makiya in the Mainstream

Makiya first started gaining favorable attention from the meida in 1993. Makiya's Cruelty and Silence was hailed by Geraldine Books in the Wall Street Journal as "one of the most important books ever written on the state of modern Middle East" (7 April 1993, p. A12). New York Times Columnist A.M. Rosenthal described the author as "an Iraqi writer who speaks for freedom" (April 13, p. A13). Writing in the New Yorker, Michael Massing linked Makiya to Emile Zola (April 26, P.114). The work was also favorably mentioned in the New Republic, Dissent, and elsewhere. The Nation excerpted it, and Edward Mortimer gave the work a fairly positive review in the New york Review of Books (May 27, p.3). Makiya was interviewed on the highly regarded Fresh Air Program on National Public Radio.

In the leadup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq however Makiya's media appearances became more frequent, faciliated by the trusted neocon publicist, Benador Associates. He was frequently seen at the side of Iraq war hawk Richard Perle. He tried to position himself as the father of what he called a "non-Arab" and decentralised post-Ba'ath country.


Edward Said on Makiya

The late Edward said attributed Makiya's success in the mainstream to the "widespread ignorance of and hostility toward Arab culture already exists."

Then somebody who seems knowledgeable comes along and writes as if from within, and trashes it. Such a work is going to be very popular...What is particularly scurrilous about the book and about Makiya himself are two things about which he is deliberately misleading. One is that all the intellectuals he attacks are in fact the most vocal in opposition to the current regimes in the Middle East. What Makiya does is literally mistranslate their Arabic, misrepresent their views, distort their opinions. Why? Principally because all of them opposed the Gulf war at the same time that they all opposed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. And out of this concoction Makiya has tried to make a larger case, which is completely without basis, that Arab intellectuals are silent. With a few exceptions, all the intellectuals he attacks have been imprisoned, and/or exiled for speaking out...
"None of the reviewers so far, not even so-called experts who don't read the language (like Mortimer), who know nothing about the Arab world except clichés and stereotypes (like Brooks), who detest the Arabs (like Rosenthal), is in any position at all to judge whether Makiya is telling the truth or not, and they're too lazy to check...
"Makiya worked for Iraq, he was part of the Ba'athist regime, he has profited from Iraq...the book is in effect a tremendous coverup for himself. And all the information about Makiya Associates and so forth that I've mentioned here, was published in a New Yorker profile a year and a half ago [January 6, 1992].[2]

Except for his two books and an article urging the US administration to occupy Baghdad during the first Gulf War, Makiya wasn't much heard from after that. Then last year he produced an unreadable novel proving somehow that the Dome of the Rock was really built by a Jew; it was sent to me by the publisher, so I happened to have skimmed it before it appeared officially, but was nevertheless aghast at how badly written it was, and how, unable to resist showing off how many books its author had read, it was peppered with footnotes, surely an unusual thing for what purported to be a work of fiction. It died a merciful death, however, and Makiya lapsed back into silence.
...I vividly recall, however, that late last summer I happened by chance to hear a radio interview with him in which he was identified for the first time as heading a US State Department group planning for a post-war, post-Saddam Iraq. His name had not appeared among those mentioned as being part of the US-funded Iraqi opposition groups, nor had he contributed anything that could be read by a member of the general public about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or any other Middle Eastern issues, although I had heard that he had visited Israel a number of times.

On Makiya's campaign urging the US to invade Iraq, Edward Said wrote:

This, of course, is exactly what the US government likes, that is, to have miscellaneous Arab intellectuals responsible to no constituency who urge the US military on to war while pretending to be bringing "democracy" to the place in full contradiction of America's real aims and its actual historical practices. Makiya seems not to have heard about ruinous US interventions in Indochina, Afghanistan, Central America, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, and the Philippines, or that the US is currently involved militarily with about 80 countries.
The grand climax of Makiya's justification for the invasion of Iraq by the United States is his proposal that the new Iraq should be non-Arab. (Along the way, he speaks contemptuously of Arab opinion which, he says, will never amount to anything. This obviously clears the board for his airy speculations about both the future and the past.) How this magical de-Arabising solution is to come about, Makiya doesn't say, any more than he shows us how Iraq is to be relieved of its Islamic identity and its military capabilities. He refers to a mysterious alchemical quality he calls "territoriality" and proceeds to build another sandcastle on that as the basis for a future state of Iraq. In the end, however, he volunteers that all this is going to be guaranteed "from the outside", by the United States. Where this has ever taken place before is not an issue that troubles Makiya, any more than he seems concerned about US unilateralism and needless destructiveness.
...And to think that thousands of lives have already been lost to his patron's cruel sanctions or that many more lives and livelihoods are about to be destroyed by electronic warfare wreaked on his country by George Bush's government. But this man is untroubled by any of this. Devoid of either compassion or real understanding, he prattles on for Anglo- American audiences who seem satisfied that here at last is an Arab who exhibits the proper respect for their power and civilisation, regardless of what role Britain played in the imperialist partition of the Arab world or what mischief the US dealt the Arabs through its support for Israel and the collective Arab dictatorships.[3]



At a Benador Associates sponsored event at the National Press Club on how Iraqis would react to the presence of US forces in Baghdad:

"As I told the President on January 10th, I think they will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case."[4]

References, Resources and Contact



  1. [1]
  2. Nabeel Abraham, Interview with Edward Said, Lies of our Times (Loot), May 1993, p. 13.
  3. Edward Said, Misinformation about Iraq, Al-Ahram Weekly, Nov 24 - Dec 4, 2002
  4. Transcript of Iraq Seminar with Richard Perle and Kanan Makiya, National Press Club, 17 March 2003.