Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surprises from Iraq

Jeff Weintraub notes the astonishingly optimistic tone of the BBC's reports of the Iraqi elections.

As he says,  the situation in Iraq now has to be seen in the light of the black days of just over 2 years ago  (in fact,  the black months from spring 2006 to the early part of 2007).

The BBC has been slow in recognizing the improvement in the situation in Iraq  (some signs of which were visible from the summer of 2007,  although this was not helped by some on the right claiming earlier that we were "on the verge of a major victory").

But Jim Muir is one of the fairest-minded of the BBC correspondants who have reported from Iraq.  It is a good job they had him there for the elections:  some of the others would have found it hard to swallow their words - not because they reported things as being bad  (they were bad),  but because they implied there was absolutely no hope of them ever getting better.

Unlike these outsiders,  many Iraqis never lost hope,  even in the blackest times.  Some of them,  like journalist Khalid W. Hassan,   are now dead.  But as Samir Sumaida'ie (*) said,  "This is our country:  we can't walk away from it."

The turnaround in the last 2 years has been remarkable,  though it is right to continue to use qualifiers - about the situation being fragile and not being perfect.  Much of this can be attributed to the "surge",  which was treated with such scepticism at the time.  And it should not be forgotten that,  however wonderful President Obama's election victory may be in other respects,  he and Hillary Clinton and other Democrats long argued for a policy that would have meant leaving Iraq,  not in a reasonably hopeful situation,  but in defeat (**).
So,  what is left?  Even last year people like Peter Oborne were talking about the risk of Iraq "descending into civil war" - two years ago,  of course,  they were saying it was in a civil war.  But even those voices are getting quieter now.  Then there are some French commentators who say that the 2003 intervention only strengthened Iran by bringing to power a Shi'a led government:  to which, given that Iraq has a Shi'a majority, one might reply "quelle surprise!" or even "quel horreur!"  In any case, reports on the election indicate that the more religious parties have lost ground to "nationalist" ones,  i.e. ones that are relatively - everything is relative - less pro-Iranian.

In fact,  one of the signs of how things have changed in Iraq is that Tuesday last week (10 Feb) Sarkozy and Kouchner were in Baghdad  (as French reports point out,  six years to the day after Dominique de Villepin made his passionate speech to the UN).  This was reported as a "surprise visit":  even a visit by the US president is a surprise,  of course,  in that it is not reported in advance when it is going to happen;  but the surprise of the visit by the French president and Foreign Minister was that it happened at all.

* Iraq's Ambassador to the U.S.,  interview on C-Span,  18 Feb 2007.

**  Incidentally,  there are unconfirmed reports that Samantha Power may be coming in to the Obama administration  (Financial Times,  31 Jan).


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3:31 am, April 16, 2009  
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10:15 am, April 18, 2009  

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