Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Iraq and Democracy

Iraq is a test case for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Ironically, though, it was the conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. That is, democracy can be implanted to change Iraq from what was tyranny of the few - a totalitarian regime, to the rule of the majority - a democratic regime.
Well, since the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hossein, including his hanging for the crime against his people, two major elections have taken place, the last one being held last March – all in the name of democracy. But the cherished rule of law has simply not returned. As a matter of fact, Iraq was more secure and safe under Saddam Hossein than it is today. The life expectancy and quality of life enjoyed by the former subjects of Hossein were better to the ones possible or attainable today in the U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Iraq, not known for sectarian violence during the Ba’athist rule, does not have a day without violence today when someone is not dying on its altar. Some people say that the violence is all foreign-sponsored to divide the Iraqi mosaic along sectarian or ethnic lines and fail the nascent democratic experiment there. Given the fact that in the early days of the invasion, many planners in the Anglo-U.S. alliance saw a divided Iraq along the Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish lines to be more strategically aligned than a unified Iraq, there may be some truth to their assertions. However their story may not be entirely true.
Just last Friday a coordinated series of explosions struck a party headquarters, two mosques, a market and a shop in Baghdad killing at least 58 people and wounding scores more. The culprits are assumed to be the resurgent al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that never existed during the Saddam rule, and thought to have been defeated or crippled completely after the elimination of its Jordan-born notorious leader – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. We are told that in recent days, the Iraqi and American Special forces have killed two more leaders of the terrorist outfit - Al Qaeda’s military commander, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, an Egyptian known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and its top religious and ideological leader, Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi. The group continues to attract disgruntled Iraqis and outsiders, affected by the change. Their attacks, mostly against the Shi’ite majority, are clearly aimed at further polarizing the Iraqi society along the sectarian lines.
If the past is any barometer to predict the future outcome, it seems that even with the death of these two al-Qaeda leaders, the group will have new leaders to replace its fallen heroes. However, the Iraqi officials of the Maliki government believe otherwise. They claim that during the last week’s (Sunday’s) raid sixteen associates — aides, bodyguards and relatives — were also arrested. Perhaps more important, the Iraqis and Americans seized computers and other documents that detailed their communications with the group’s leaders, all now being culled for intelligence on the group’s activities in Iraq, and presumably abroad. Mr. Maliki claimed that they proved contacts with Osama bin Laden himself. Apparently, the cave man is still alive!
On Thursday night, Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad Bolani, issued a letter calling on the remaining members of Al Qaeda — estimated to number in the hundreds — to turn themselves in, promising them humane treatment and a fair trial.
As it appears al-Qaeda in Iraq is not dead yet with the recent raids and deaths of its top leaders. Like the Hashishyn of the past, it has learned to wait, regroup and find opportune moments to strike hard, terrorizing the society.
The Friday bombings exploded in rapid succession near the headquarters of the political movement led by the Shi’ite cleric Moktada al-Sadr in Sadr City, the impoverished Shi’ite neighborhood in Baghdad that bears his family’s name. Many Shi’ite Muslims had gathered there for the Friday prayer when the bombs exploded. In the latest election the Sadrists have done very well, putting them in a critical role to select the next government, unless the incumbent Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ties his knots with the former prime minister – Ayyad al-Alawi. Obviously, some people don’t like the improved political status of the Sadrists.
Iraqis are still awaiting the results of the March 7 election in which no party emerged, as was expected, with absolute majority, forcing the parties to negotiate to form a new government. How long will they wait before a new government is sworn in that brings peace and security to the lives of Iraqis? Or will Iraq remain a society where Saddam Hossein’s days will be looked upon favorably than what the Bushites ended up creating?

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