What now for Iraq?
EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD — Someone asked me why should I question J.’s optimism and how many Iraqis kissing me would it take for me to be convinced. There’s no question many, many Iraqis (especially the Kurds) are happy that Saddam is gone. But it’s not so simple as that.
In Tikrit, and in other places such as Mosul, a lot of people aren’t happy to see American forces — and not just because those forces have failed to provide security. The situation in the cities is volatile, and ethnic hatreds could flare into civil war without too big of a push. Already, we’ve heard reports that Kurds have begun driving Arabs out of villages around Kirkuk, reclaiming their old lands. The recklessness of the PUK and the KDP in post-Saddam Iraq could bring Turkey into the mix when the United States draws down its forces. No one knows what’s going to happen, and the initial giddy optimism I encountered is giving way to guarded anxiety about the future.
I don’t believe the United States went to war to make the Iraqis happy. It didn’t go to war to free them. The United States went to war for geopolitical self-interest (See “Why Iraq?” on B2I for a look at some of the reasons.) If the question is “Are the Iraqis happy that Saddam is gone?” the answer is undoubtedly yes — most of them, anyway. But that opens up a host of other questions that will have to be answered in time. It is much, much too early to declare the peace won and the sacrifice in blood and treasure a worthy investment in Iraq’s and the United States’ futures.
The anti-war crowd (in which I usually include myself) has often underestimated or understated the genuine good that came out of this war, i.e., the removal of a tyrant. But the pro-war crowd has equally underestimated the dangers of the aftereffects of this war: instability in the region, alienation of allies, increased risk of terrorist attacks, etc. Yes, the Iraqis are free — free to turn on their neighbors and kill them. Yes, the fear of visits from the Ba’ath Party has been removed, but now they fear armed gangs stealing their homes. This is still a nation in terror, and a stable, inclusive government is a long way off.
If the goal is establishing a representative democracy, powdered wigs and all, that’s likely to fail. Iraq in 10 years will more likely resemble authoritarian Egypt than friendly, parliamentary Canada. Would that be better than Saddam? Of course, absolutely. Is that what the Iraqis expect and deserve? Emphatically no. Would such an outcome make the region more stable and the United States safer? No one knows, and anyone — including me — who says they do is speaking from beliefs and assumptions rather than a possession of data.
I’m en route to Baghdad today (Thursday) and will file back what the situation is there.
Due to a snafu with the sendmail program on my server, two dispatches may have been missed. I believe it’s been resolved now. I apologize for the inconvenience.