April 9, 2007
Iraq’s Last Chance at
mid-April four years ago, the streets of Baghdad filled with Iraqis
energized by the symbolic toppling of the main statute of Saddam
Hussein. News media captured the images of crowds carrying flags and
chanting, looking forward to political change.
The events marking the anniversary this week were not that different at
first glance. Strong feelings of patriotism and unity are apparent. Yet
the content of the sentiments expressed by the marching Shiites was
The rally, with attendance of hundreds of thousands, was peaceful but
the message was ominous.
The event was organized by Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who, with
unsurpassed diplomatic skill and originality, stated, “God ordered you
to be patient and to unite your efforts against the enemy and not
against the sons of Iraq. They want to drag you into a war that ends
Shiitism and Islam, but they cannot.”
Maybe I’m missing something here, but using the toppling of a secular
dictator to promote a religious agenda is a bit of a stretch. It is as
if the Iraqis were buying into the ignorant Western view that it’s all
the same thing.
‘Well, they’re angry for political reasons, let’s use the irrationality
of anger to spark religious fervor,’ they seem to be thinking. A senior
official in the organization of the cleric who called for the rally was
quoted as saying, “We’re hoping that by next year’s anniversary, we will
be an independent and liberated Iraq with full sovereignty.”
Except that by “independent and liberated” he means self-regulating in
the abuse of religious minorities, and by “full sovereignty” he means
free to let Iran and Syria pull the strings. That sounds like a really
good idea. Not that we’re top guns at planning, but the Iraqis’
expectations are not feasible.
Yet there may be some reason for concern. Sadr is on good terms with
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a religious conservative much like
Sadr. Maliki is indebted to Sadr for help in being elected, and it is
likely that he will return the favor when the time comes.
the meantime, President Bush is planning on sending 30,000 more troops
to Iraq, mainly to Baghdad. If the Iraqis were not on edge, they will be
now. The country is sending clear signals as to what they want for their
country, and they are doing it in a peaceful manner. That trend may not
last long if we answer by doing exactly the opposite.
I knew how to resolve this conflict, I would be polishing my Nobel Peace
Prize right now. Yet I think it is safe to say that the Iraqis are
becoming more and more organized, even if only ideologically. Moreover,
it cannot be overlooked that the Iraqis are giving what can be the last
integrated peaceful warning sign before engaging in more desperate
There is no denying that some of the strategies used by Iraqi leaders
are irrational and rely heavily on the emotional response of the
desperate people. That however, may prove to be the hardest approach to
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