Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iraq: conservatives, radicals and realists

Peter Oborne has had quite a bit of time on Channel 4 ('Unreported World', 19 Nov;  'Iraq: The Final Reckoning', 22 Nov). Apart from the predictable stuff about anarchy and chaos and the biggest mistake since whenever, here are some of the points he makes:
  • Iraq is an artificial country; only a despot like Saddam Hussein could hold it together.
  • the chaos is slightly less now only because the Americans and British have ceded  control to militias run by (Shi'a) religious parties. 
  • for example, force women to wear islamic head-coverings (which was not the case under Saddam Hussein) .
  • thus, we have ended up creating a country like Iran.
I'm not sure that Christopher Hitchens ('Nowhere To Go', Slate, 22 Nov 2005  - via DsTfW) quite manages to resolve the contradictions between secularism and democracy, but he has a good try:  
No, there are two absolutely crucial things that made me a supporter of regime change before Bush, and that will keep me that way whether he fights a competent war or not.

The first of these is the face, and the voice, of Iraqi and Kurdish democrats and secularists. Not only are these people looking at death every day, from the hysterical campaign of murder and sabotage that Baathists and Bin Ladenists mount every day, but they also have to fight a war within the war, against clerical factions and eager foreign-based forces from Turkey or Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia. On this, it is not possible to be morally or politically neutral. And, on this, much of the time at least, American force is exerted on the right side. It is the only force in the region, indeed, that places its bet on the victory and the values of the Iraqis who stand in line to vote.
Here's The Economist on the debate in the US and, more importantly  on changing attitudes in Iraq and the wider Arab world :
Yet despite such verbal sparring and the vicious bloodletting on the ground, a degree of convergence can be detected. A huge majority of Iraqis want the occupation to end—some 82% according to a poll conducted by the British Ministry of Defence in August. The argument is over how to go about it. Most Iraqis also shun jihadist zeal, including many members of the broader Sunni resistance who feel that the radicals tarnish their cause. Despite deep mistrust of political institutions that have failed to provide security and a decent infrastructure, and despite the heightening of sectarian loyalty generated by two years of fear and chaos, the weary Iraqi public does not appear to have lost faith in the possibility of a political solution.
The fact remains that Iraq is a nasty and dangerous place, where even a widening commitment to political solutions may not prevent disintegration into civil war. Recent revelations about police death-squads targeting Sunnis, and the bombing of Shia mosques, have intensified sectarian animosities. The vexed questions of federalism and how to share oil revenues remain to be settled. The secret objectives of Iran—whether it just wants to burn American fingers or to install a look-alike theocratic state—are unknown. The jihadists who have made Iraq their playground may have lost their wider appeal, but they are not going to disappear.

Yet there appears to be a growing consensus, within Iraq and outside, that the time has come to settle down and get on with life.


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