Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Quote of the month, from the LA Times:
Hussein Muhsen, an aircraft engineer with Iraqi Airways, described a loud blast followed by a mountain of dust rising in the air. Blood and human limbs splattered down on the hoods and roofs of the cars, Muhsen said.
Strange how, as the violence in Iraq, we become inured to this kind of story. The last month or so it's been like,"Uh huh, whatever, what's happening with the Michael Jackson trial and the Runaway Bride?" Meanwhile even the righties are questioning the course of events in Iraq. This from the National Review:
“This has become an Iranian city,” contends Salaam Wendy, a Basra native who recently returned to his hometown for the first time since he fled to Canada in 1986. “In the ’70s and ’80s, you used to find bars, nightclubs, casinos — and no women wore hejab. Today, you can’t even find secular books or music CDs, the religious parties have such control of the city. This isn’t the place I remember.”

The shadow of religious fundamentalism falls across other areas, too. Take, for instance, Basra Province’s “elected” council, the first such body in the long history of the region. I put “elected” in quotes in deference to the cynicism of numerous Iraqis, who claim that the religious parties fixed the balloting: One young man who acted as a poll-watcher on January 30 told me how he saw party members direct voters to cast their ballots for the United Iraqi Alliance slate of Islamic candidates. The result is that many members of the Governing Council are party hacks with zero concept of democracy.
Indeed, the Guardian has reported that Basra is completely out of the control of its police department, run instead by party militias.

The reason the Administration isn't making progress in Iraq is that they don't even understand the country or its people. There has been simmering ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq for generations. Saddam's regime was not merely a corrupt autocracy forced upon the people by violence; it was the domination of the country by one group, the Sunni Arabs, and had a strong base in that community. The hundreds of thousands of deaths you hear about took place in the context of a low-level civil war against armed groups such as the Kurdish persh merga, Iraqi Hezbollah and the Badr Brigade. These groups still exist and some of them are busy abducting and killing their enemies as you read this. These aren't just "ancient hatreds" or prejudices, there are real stakes here. Which communities get the money and jobs from the oil industry, for one. The role of religion in society is another big one. I'm not in any way trying to justify Saddam's behavior when I point out that when we attempt the same task as Saddam did - maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of a multi-ethnic Iraq - we end up using some of the same tactics, such as torture, assassination, and military attacks on densely populated areas.

I hear a lot of people say what they thing would help in Iraq, but their ideas are all military - send more troops, pull the troops out, train Iraqi troops, etc. But there is no military solution to what is essentially a political problem. A solution needs to constructed under which all ethnic and religious groups can feel equally respected, but none dominate the others. This means that oil money must be distributed according to an equitable formula. It also means the establishment of the separation of church and state. You cant have a role for religion in the government of a country in which religions is a source of conflict and not unity. That applies to Iraq as much as it does to the United States. The Sunnis aren't going to accept rule by Shiite clerics, and the Shiites don't want to obey Sunni law either. Secular Kurds don't want to lose their freedom, nor do Iraq's much-abused Christian minority. Iraq doesn't need Patton, it needs Harold Washington, a mayor whose unsung contribution to Chicago politics was to figure out how to distribute spoils equitably. It was a rough few years, but since then the intra-Machine conflicts have been pretty low key. Stability in Iraq is possible, too, but you don't get there by blowing shit up. The Sunnis need to be cut in.
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