The End of the Beginning
BAGHDADâ€”Well, election day has come and gone and, by most accounts, was more successful than many people thought it would be. The Iraqis should be proud of themselves. The most touching aspect of it was that they brought their children with them. I haven’t seen Iraqis taking their children out in months, and now they bring them to the most dangerous places in the country, on the most dangerous day of the year. That’s commitment and that’s bravery. I was profoundly humbled by the faith the voting Iraqis showed.
But bear in mind it was just one day. The hard part is still ahead of this country, and Jan. 30 marked not only the closing of one chapter, but the opening of another. It is still being written. To tamp down this insurgency, the country was placed on total lockdown for three days. And the insurgents still managed to cause mayhem, if not at the scale they promised. If that’s what it takes to secure this country, there’s still a big, big challenge ahead.
The insurgency is not over. The Sunnis and middle-class former Ba’athists are still resentful and suspicious. An old friend of mine who was a Ba’athist, but mainly so he could get a job, is bitter and morose, feeling that now there are two occupations. “One from the Americans and one from the Iranians,” he said. The Sunnis are terrified of their old enemy, and List 169, the Sistani-blessed list, does have a number of people on it with serious ties to Iran. The country is still a mess, with deteriorating services like water and electricity. This is not to say they can’t be overcome, but this is not a time to declare victory.
Be sure and mention all this to the war-boosters, who are, dorkily, coating their fingers with blue ink as a sign of solidarity “with the Iraqi people.” Hm. I don’t remember them doing that for Afghanistan… Why don’t they just ‘fess up and say they’re giving the finger to us doubters? This is not solidarity; it’s a taunt along the lines of, “We were right, nyah nyah!” instead of a celebration of democracy. Make no mistake: Sunday was not a validation of Bush’s policies. Most Arab states would like to have democracy, yes, but not at the barrel of a gun, which is how it came here. If the choice is being invaded, occupied and force-fed controversial elections that might lead to civil war versus working at democratic reforms at their own pace and in their own way, I suspect most Arabs would choose the latter. And who could blame them? Iraq is not an example to emulate.
As for me, I’m going back to the States for a well-deserved long holiday, returning here in March when the politics of this place will be well in play. Should be quite interesting. I only hope American editors and the audiences still want to hear about Iraq if the stories are a little more Iraq-centric and less focused on American soldiers and policies. Iraq to America: It’s not all about the U.S. troops.
Sunday was the end of the beginning. Now, the next step of the journey to whatever future Iraq has in store for itself starts. We should all wish the Iraqi people well; they were incredibly brave on Sunday. But we should realize that one election does not a success make, and on the path forward, there be dragons.