LONDON (Reuters) - Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya believes his country must confront the brutal legacy of Saddam Hussein's reign to heal itself.
Makiya, author of the influential work, "Republic of Fear" which chronicled terror under the Baath Party, says he is working to create a center in Baghdad to document the excesses of the regime.
"If there is one thing (Iraqi) people have in common, it is a shared experience of atrocity, and to house within the confines of one place those experiences reflecting all ethnicities is to begin a process," he told Reuters on a visit to London.
"I think it is a way of binding the country together."
Makiya has created the Iraq Memory Foundation (www.iraqmemory.org), a non-governmental body with headquarters in Baghdad, which will include projects geared to archiving the Baathists' rule of terror from 1968 to 2003.
The foundation plans to open a museum of cruelty to showcase atrocities carried out on Iraq's disparate communities.
Makiya, one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of the exiled opposition Iraqi National Congress, spent decades cataloging abuses in Iraq from the United States, where he lived after leaving Iraq to study in 1968. He spends most of his time now back in Baghdad.
The softly-spoken author used the pen-name Samir al-Khalil when he wrote his chilling study, which was first published in 1989.
Makiya said another key role of the foundation would be collating the oral history of survivors of Saddam Hussein's rule.
Makiya was in London filming a testimony of a major Iraqi exile who had been imprisoned and tortured in the past.
Providing documents for future generations of scholars and researchers was another central task.
Makiya said that while recently trying to save a Baath plaque due to be destroyed, he stumbled across millions of secret documents hidden in labyrinthine steel vaults under the central Baath Party offices in Baghdad.
"We found registers which recorded every schoolchild's name in Iraq and comments on whether or not they had members of their family executed and other details ... It is a massive blacklist of schoolchildren," he said.
"There are also volumes of collected rumors and some focused on what the street was saying about (Saddam's son) Uday when there was an attempt on his life."
Makiya said the documents, which would remain in the foundation's custody, were being moved to a safe and secret location with the assistance of the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).
He said that funding was crucial, with $1 million earmarked by the CPA, adding that the foundation was working on funds cobbled together privately.
"We are aiming to raise $10 to $20 million in a year to two years. That would be enough to say we have a decent chance of making a success of this," he said.
Makiya said he was approaching governments such as Canada and Sweden for assistance, while also seeking help from Germany in other areas well.
"The Germans have institutions which follow up Stasi (former East German secret police) files with criteria and protocols that govern the use of those files and we need expert advice on how to develop those protocols for Iraq," he said.
"At this crucial moment there are limited resources in Iraq. This is an all-Iraq project and if it seeks help from the outside world, so be it."
He said the overall foundation was still in its initial stages and would take a few years to develop and archive vast amounts of material already gathered, which included further documents captured during the 1991 Gulf War.
"I have a dream to have the (center) located at the 'crossed swords' monument (in central Baghdad) and the presence of it would invert the meaning of that awful site, which was meant to be a victory arch to the so-called Iraqi victory over Iran (in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war)."
In the past, Makiya has argued for a truth and reconciliation commission in Iraq modeled on that established in South Africa after the end of apartheid.
"The truth and reconciliation process in Iraq in the current security situation is not going to happen easily," he said.
"I do believe in an Iraqi application of it."
But there are some who question his ideas and whether he is best-placed to lead efforts to seek out Iraqi "truth."
"Not everyone in Iraq ... agrees that all the country's woes were the product of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule; instead some point to the damage done by 13 years of economic sanctions," wrote Elizabeth Cole, a senior program officer with the U.S.-based Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, alluding to U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"Nor does it seem likely that everyone would agree that Mr Makiya, an exile backed by an occupying power, is the right person to spearhead the nation's truth-seeking effort," Cole wrote recently in the New York Times.