Who will win? The Americans I talked to this week in Iraq — in Baghdad, Balad, Kirkuk, and Taji — believe that a government will emerge that is seen as legitimate and will appear as authentic to the people. Soon, ten divisions of Iraqi soldiers, and over 100,000 police, should be able to crush the insurgency, with the help of a public tired of violence and assured that the future of Iraq is their own — not the Husseins’, the Americans’, or the terrorists’. The military has learned enough about the tactics of the enemy that it can lessen casualties, and nevertheless, through the use of Iraqi forces, secure more of the country with far less troops. Like it or not, the American presence in Iraq will not grow, and will probably lessen considerably in 2006, before reaching Korea-like levels and responsibilities in 2007.
The terrorists, whom I did not talk to, but whose bombs I heard, answer back that while they fear the Iraqization of their enemy and the progress of democracy, they can still kill enough Shiites, bomb enough mosques, and stop enough rebuilding to sink the country into sectarian war — or at least something like Lebanon of the 1980s or an Afghanistan under the Taliban.
It is an odd war, because the side that I think is losing garners all the press, whether by blowing up the great golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, or blowing up an American each day. Yet we hear nothing of the other side that is ever so slowly, shrewdly undermining the enemy.
As this article indicates, Iraqis --the reasonable shia and sunni--are stunned by all the violence.
As an American committed to supporting our country's efforts in helping Iraq become a thriving democracy in the Middle East, I am very saddened by events; but realize that the shia/sunni rift in Iraq has to be dealt with eventually. From all the I have read, it seems to me that attention must be forcused on restraining Al-Sadr, whose forces appear to be stoking the violence for a personal power grab on his part. Of course, he should have been taken care of earlier in his career, but was allowed to simmer and now boils over; just as Zarqawi and Al Qaeda were being marginalized by the democratic process. Al Qaeda's only hope was to facilitate a civil war, and with the help of opportunists like Sadr, they may well succeed.
Iraq is at a turning point, unquestionably. Something Zayed of Healing Iraq wrote yesterday resonates:
What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation kills its intellectuals and academics, its doctors and healers, its women and children, its clerics and preachers? What kind of nation blows up churches and mosques, hotels and schools, funerals and weddings? We have left nothing sacred. Yet we have the insolence to accuse others of offending us, of vilifying us. I announce today that we have proved ourselves worthy of that vilification. Ten years ago, I denounced religion and disavowed Islam. I do not want to be forced to disavow my country and nation today, but with every new day, I’m afraid I am getting closer to it.
The comment struck me because over a century ago, did we not hear something similar when an issue that had been ignored at our own country's founding finally boiled over and erupted into the most serious threat our own country has ever faced?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This, then is the choice that Iraqis face. It has come sooner than anyone would have wanted. In our own case, the issue of slavery was the impetus that was put off at the time of the founding to give breathing room for unity and liberty to grow. This may have been a poor choice--one that contradicted the very founding values of America as stated in their own Declaration of Independence--but there is every reason to believe that if it had not been put off, there would have been no United States at all. And slavery would have continued unabated anyway.
For Iraqis, the issue of religious differences, magnified by the brutal Saddam regime where the minority subjugated the majority for decades, has all too soon erupted--undoubtedly helped by those who wish the fledgling government of a united Iraq ill. Like the slavery issue for Americans, these essential Iraqi religious conflicts were not going to disappear forever with a democratic election. But there was hope that, for a while at least, religious differences, old wounds, and petty rivalries could be put aside for the common good; as Iraqis faced the more dangerous threats to their fledgling democracy--such as Zarqawi, Sadr and his militia--and dealt with them one by one.
What we witness today is the sad truth that Iraq is being forced to deal with the equivalent of 50+ years in our own democratic history after only 3 short years. Their purple revolution has hardly had time to get off the ground and now must squarely face the rift that has been there all along. And, even worse, they have enemies like Iran and Syria who are actively and gleefully fomenting the chaos for their own political ends. Can liberty and unity endure under such circumstances? Will it perish forever in Iraq as sectarian violence destroys all potential for a normal and free life for ordinary Iraqis?
I certainly can't answer that question. But I fervently wish all those Iraqis of goodwill who desperately desire peace, freedom and unity the best possible outcome. I know that America's troops will stand by to assist, but we cannot make this issue go away--only Iraqis themselves can by the actions they take now in response.
Whatever happens will undoubtedly be painful and will create new wounds, even as the violence seeks to extract vengeance for old ones. Such is life.
But, if Iraq can positively resolve this conflict, they will have truly earned their freedom; and will erect a beacon of liberty for the entire Middle East to see.
UPDATE: Bush: "A moment of choosing for the Iraqi people" (hat tip: The Corner)
UPDATE II: The Ugly American has more about what is really going on in Iraq; and links to this site from Iraq - 24 Steps to Liberty:
I was shocked today when I read the news in the foreign newspapers. No one emphasized the marvelous cooperation and solidarity between the Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq yesterday after the bombing of one of the most respected and visited holy sites in Islam, the Askariyah shrine, which is in Samarra city north of Baghdad.
I was amazed how only the provocative and civil-war-style quotes were published today in the newspapers. Almost no newspaper showed how great, it appeared to us, the solidarity among Iraqis was yesterday. It is true that Sunni mosques were attacked by unknown men yesterday, and some Sunnis were killed. But that wasn’t the only thing happened as a reaction. Newspapers should have been neutral, as we were taught, and show both sides. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Sabians, Turkumans, and others publicly condemned the attack, but no one wanted to show the truth. I am not saying there will be no riots in Iraq to react to the shrine attack. I am not saying there weren't mosques that were attacked yesterday and burned down. I am not saying that Shiites and Sunnis kissed and hugged after the attack yesterday. All what I am saying is that the news made Iraqis look like if they were fighting each other widely in the streets, which is not true.
If this Iraqi blogger is correct (and you should read all that he says, because he blogs from Baghdad and reports on the TV and media there) then we are far from getting full information on all that is really going on in Iraq right now. Why am I not surprised? How many more ways can the American media let us down and continue to spin things in the worse possible manner? Let me count the ways. Sigh.
UPDATE III: More news on the calls and demonstrations for Iraqi unity at PowerLine.