March 19, 2006


It’s the third anniversary of the coalition invasion of Iraq. The elected Iraqi parliament has held its first session, but is prevented from going much farther by factionalism. Iraqis are not keen on compromise, and dictatorship came to Iraq half a century ago when the generals decided to silence the squabbling and take over themselves. Iraqis wonder if they can avoid repeating past mistakes like this. The Shia Arab majority is split in several large, and many smaller, parties, that resist cooperating. The Kurds have two major factions, that are currently tolerating a truce, and dealing with growing popular unrest at the corruption at the faction (clan, actually) leadership.

The Sunni Arabs, who are now the oppressed minority, have always been the most willing group to unite and take charge. But no more. There are many factions. Some are religious extremists, some are secular (like the Baath Party Saddam ran), while others are tribal. One of the factions is al Qaeda, which is basically a group of Sunni Arab Islamic radicals. Al Qaeda is not happy that all Iraqi Sunni Arabs have not supported them. This has degenerated into war between al Qaeda and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs. But many of these same Sunni Arab factions are still hostile to the Shia Arab dominated government.

Most Iraqis understand that a clean, cohesive government is the key to future peace and prosperity. But the cooperation and compromise required to make this all happen has so far eluded Iraqis. American and European diplomats and advisors constantly hover about with suggestions and advice. The key to peace in Iraq is not a military problem, the terrorists and Sunni Arab rebels are beaten. The key to peace is political, and the ability of Iraqi factions to work together. Iraqis have paid a lot of attention to Lebanon, looking for answers. Lebanon is split by religious factions (about one third Shia, one third Sunni and one third Christian). Lebanon went through a 15 year civil war (1975-90), and since making peace, the country has prospered (without oil, just the skills of the people), despite interference from Syria. The Lebanese example gives hope, but the payoff is in the performance. The Iraqi politicians have to perform. In the next few months, we’ll see if they can.

Indeed. The problems are now mostly political, and can only be worked out by politicians. That said, the United States could have done more to dissuade Iran and Syria from interfering. Upside is that Iraqis know this, and if things work out they’re likely to remember, to our benefit and the Syrians’ and Iranian mullahs’ detriment.

UPDATE: Reader Rachel Walker emails:

With Iraq finally having a coalition government, some oil based trade (I heard a Norwegian oil company was interested in negotiating with Kurds), and the persistence of unity (or at least attempts) after the Samarra mosque bombing, why is the left and right suddenly saying the war is a failure and Bush is doing a bad job? Shouldn’t they have been saying this in 2004?

Some of them were saying it in 2001, of course . . . .

I think that attitudes on the war have more to do with attitudes on Bush than with realities on the ground, among a lot of people on both left and right. As Bush’s popularity has sunk — largely for non-war reasons — it has pushed the war’s popularity down, too.

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