September 2, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 777

Middle East Analyst on the Important News about Iraq

September 2, 2004
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 777

In an article in the English language daily Arab News, Middle East analyst Amir Taheri discusses the democratic developments in Iraq. The following are excerpts from the article: [1]

The Media has Been Obsessed with Al-Sadr

"For the past month or so, while the media have been obsessed with the activities of Moqtada Al-Sadr and his fighters in Najaf, much of the really important news about Iraq has gone largely unreported.

"This is not to blame television. After all, the seizure of a holy shrine by a militia makes dramatic footage.

"There is also the fact that nostalgics of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamists of all ilk, badly in need of a new cult figure, believe that they have found it in the person of the 30-year old Sadr.

"Anyway, let us not begrudge Sadr's 15 minutes of fame. The firework that he has provoked in Najaf is unlikely to be remembered either as the rebirth of pan-Arabism or as the revival of the Islamic caliphate in Baghdad.

"All this does not mean that Sadr's little show should not be covered. It should. After all, journalism, the realm of the ephemeral, seeks its daily fare in transient events.

"Students of journalism, however, know the difference between the events that furnish most of the daily headlines and the undercurrents that shape the broader context of a society's political life. Now, what are the undercurrents that, with eyes fixed on the current events, are largely ignored?"

Defying Great Odds, Iraq has Succeeded in Carrying out its Political Reform on Schedule

"The most important is that post-liberation Iraq, defying great odds, has succeeded in carrying out its political reform agenda on schedule. A governing council was set up at the time promised. It, in turn, created a provisional government right on schedule. Next, municipal elections were held in almost all parts of the country. Then followed the drafting of a new democratic and pluralist constitution. Then came the formal end of the occupation and the appointing of a new interim government.

"Earlier this month, the political reconstruction program reached a new high point with the convening of the National Congress.

"Bringing together some 1,300 men and women representing all ethnic, religious, linguistic, and political groups, the congress was the first genuinely pluralistic assembly of Iraqis at that level.

"The congress performed its duty by creating a 100-member Parliament with wide powers of oversight and control over the interim government. A close examination of the composition of this new interim Parliament shows that it is the most representative political body ever to take charge of Iraq's destiny.

"The formation of the interim Parliament, which will be at the heart of the nation's politics during the next 15 months or so, is a major step toward creating the institutions of democracy.

"The Parliament's tasks include the holding of elections for a constituent assembly, the supervision of a referendum on that constitution, and general elections to pick a new government; all that before the end of next year.

"The events mentioned above, and largely ignored by the media, indicate a remarkably rapid progress toward democratization in Iraq. And, yet, at every step we had countless doomsayers who predicted that this or that step would not be taken because of 'security problems.'"

There Can Be No Freedom Without Security

"The truth is that Iraq did not enjoy security under Saddam Hussein either. This is because while there can be no freedom without security, there is also no security without freedom.

"Were the Juburi tribes secure under Saddam when he sent his special units to massacre them as an act of political revenge? How much security did the Shammar tribes enjoy when Saddam seized two-thirds of their land to distribute among his henchmen? And was it to give them security that Saddam transferred thousands of families from Mosul and Kirkuk in the north to central and southern Iraq? And these were all Sunni Muslims who were supposed to provide the principal base of his regime. As for the Shi'ites and the Kurds, the security they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein is symbolized by the mass graves that dot the Iraqi countryside, and the corpses strewn in the streets of Halabja after a chemical attack. And was it because they did not like security that almost four million Iraqis fled into exile during the Baathist rule?"

'Those Who Seize Hostages, Cut Throats, and Kill Women and Children in Streets are Products of the Culture of Violence'

"The faceless gangsters who seize hostages, cut throats, and kill women and children in streets are products of the culture of violence that successive despotic regimes generated in Iraq. The sole medium of expression they know is violence. They are convinced that he who is ready to kill the most has the best chance of winning power.

"Thus what Iraq is experiencing now is a much bigger struggle, a cultural war, whose outcome will determine not only the future of that suffering nation but also the political prospects of almost all Arab countries."

The Two Sides of the Cultural War in Iraq

"On one side in this cultural war one finds the remnants of Saddamism, including Sadr, who although a victim of the tyrant, remains a Saddamite in terms of political practice. This side has been reinforced by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of non-Iraqi fascists who are determined to plunge Iraq into chaos.

"On the other side of this cultural war one finds all those Iraqis who have understood that the politics of mass murder and terror is not the best that their nation could hope for.

"To be sure, the two camps are not entirely black or white. On the side symbolized by Sadr, although he heads a small but noisy faction, one finds some sincere but misguided Iraqis.

"The democratic camp in Iraq does not consist of choirboys either. Here one finds quite a few opportunists, job seekers, wheeler-dealers, and outright crooks. Nor is the democratic process, as it has developed so far, beyond criticism."

The Democratic Camp is Best for the Region

"On balance, however, it is in Iraq's best interest, indeed in the best interest of the region and the world as a whole, that the democratic camp wins this cultural war.

"The real story line in Iraq is stark, if not simple: A newly liberated nation is divided between those who wish to revive the despotic past, in one form or another, and those who have vague, at times conflicting, visions of a democratic future.

"Behind the two Iraqi camps one also finds rival external forces. Some anti-democratic forces are determined to do all they can to prevent the establishment of a mould-breaking new regime in Baghdad. The democratic countries, on the other hand, are deeply divided on Iraq's future.

"Some have not yet recovered from the effects of the bitter debates of last year. Others may be balking at the prospect of commitment to a difficult project for years to come.

"The big news, however, is that Iraq, for the first time since its existence as a country, has a choice. It is this big picture that is seldom noticed because of the media's fixation with events of passing importance."

[1] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), August 25, 2004.

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