Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Truth about Iraq and the Iraqis?

What is the truth about the situation in Iraq today? What’s going to happen in Iraq? I don’t know. As a critical reader of numerous books, newspaper articles, and blogs related to the situation in Iraq, I can find evidence for both optimism and pessimism.

On the side of optimism, we can find sources readily at hand. Michael Yon, a freelance writer who has been based in Mosul about a year, was skeptical of Iraqis participating in democracy until he witnessed first-hand thousands of them voting last January in Baquba. By the end of that day, millions of Iraqis had braved the threats and attacks of the terrorists in order to vote. This time Yon was in Baghdad for the referendum vote on October 15. He traveled around the city during the day, visiting many polling stations, and was surprised by how tranquil the day had turned out. “I know that it was quiet from my perch,” he writes in this Weekly Standard article, “and that the guns had been silenced long enough that we could hear the Iraqi voice speak for a second time. The voice was louder, stronger, and prouder than it had been in January.”

Ibn Alrafidain, an Iraqi blogger, compares the recent October 15 referendum with the referendum vote engineered by Saddam Hussein on October 15, 2002. In 2002 Ibn Alrafidain had decided to boycott the vote as a personal protest, but when the day of the vote arrived his fears of what the Ba’athists would do to him and his family overpowered him and he asked his brother to go down to the polling station and submit the required YES votes for the whole family. Ibn Alrafidain continues in this blog entry:
My brother was received by the senior Baathist in our district, who led him to receive the ballots. They gave him the ballots of the whole family; instructed & watched him closely to be sure that he chose (YES). The most important thing for me and the whole Iraqis was to put a sign against their names in the voting lists, to avoid the baathists harassment. Within two hours the result was announced by Saddam's deputy, Izat Al-Do'ri, which was 100% YES to Saddam.
In contrast, on October 15, 2005, millions of Iraqis voted on a referendum without the fears expressed by Ibn Alrafidain, surely a sign of progress in Iraq that offers support to those Iraqis and their international friends who have a feeling of guarded optimism about Iraq’s future.

At the same time, however, there are darker undercurrents at play inside Iraq. Bing West, author of No True Glory, reports that the insurgents still have the run of many towns and cities in the Sunni triangle. In his multiple reports covering his recent return to Fallujah, West presents a sober assessment of the reality of Fallujah, where the Shia-dominated Iraqi Army soldiers feel unwanted and sometimes threatened inside the city of Sunni Arabs. Although there is far less violence today in Fallujah than there was before last November’s operation, West cautions in this article for Slate that “it is the insurgents and not the police who control the market places, and the mostly Shiite soldiers of the Iraqi army don't feel welcome in the city” and that “[i]ntimidation and individual killings persist.”

Adrian Blomfield, a Telegraph journalist, reports how a few weeks ago in Duluiya, another town in the Sunni triangle, four American contractors were ambushed, pulled from their vehicle, one shot in the back in the head, another doused with gasoline and set on fire, all to the joy of the local community. “Barefoot children, yelping in delight, piled straw on to the screaming man's body to stoke the flames,” Blomfield writes. “Within minutes four American contractors, all employees of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown & Root, were dead. The jubilant crowd dragged their corpses through the street, chanting anti-US slogans.”


If that hasn’t sobered you up enough, I could also talk about the rise of militia in Iraq and their infiltration of numerous police departments, the resurgence of intertribal conflict as these groups jockey for power in the post-Saddam Iraq, and the general free-for-all conducted by hardened criminals who view the current situation as an unbelievable opportunity for profit from theft and kidnapping.

So what is the truth about Iraq and the Iraqis? What’s going to happen? If you ask Iraqis, you will get answers that span the whole spectrum of current possible realities and future possible outcomes. Each Iraqi views the state of their society a little differently, but many of them sharing either hope or anger or stoicism or weariness. The Iraqi bloggers, along with the journalists and soldiers and historians, have offered us pieces of the puzzle, a puzzle whose pattern has yet to be completely discerned.


IraqPundit reviews an article by Jim Hoagland on both the general culpability in the past and and necessary resolve required in the present concerning Iraq.


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