Al-Zarqawi’s Failure

After the last few days of violence it appears that the situation in Iraq is calming down as both Moqtada al-Sadr and the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association are calling for an end to violence in the country. At the same time, the negotiations to form a new government are about to reconvene.

Al-Zarqawi was trying to provoke the Shi’ites into lashing out and ripping Iraq apart. Instead he’s further cemented opinions against him – this act has angered by Sunnis and Shi’ites and further alienated al-Qaeda from the Iraqi people. This act of premeditated violence has not achieved its goals, and the Iraqi people are beginning to recover.

This incident highlights how fragile the situation in Iraq is, but it also shows that progress is being made. Sadr’s thugs can still cause trouble, but even the firebrand cleric realizes that armed rebellion isn’t the way to achieve his end. The legitimatization of the political system is one of the most important steps towards developing an Iraqi civil society.

What is crucial to understand is that civil society is a long-term development. Iraq is in the first stage of democratization in which the basic institutions of democratic society are formed. Those first steps are crucial, but they also don’t guarantee democracy. It takes both functioning institutions and civil society at the individual level for democracy to flourish. Iraq is developing those things, but slowly.

At the same time, it’s unreasonable to believe that progress will be anything but slow. The level of progress already achieved is considerable for the short time span since the fall of the Hussein regime. However, expecting Iraq to turn into Switzerland – or even Turkey – overnight isn’t a realistic expectation. Turkey didn’t become fully democratic until the first peaceful transfer of power in 1950 – and their democracy has been turbulent at best. Iraq has a very long way to go before it can be a truly functioning democracy, and we should expect more reversals like the one that occurred last week.

That doesn’t mean that the forces of defeatism are correct or that Iraq is incapable of supporting democracy. However, our job is merely to kick off the process. We can help rebuild the infrastructure and help train security forces, but we can’t make Iraq into a democracy. That is ultimately up to the Iraqi people. It isn’t up to the US, and it certainly isn’t up to two-bit thugs like Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi.

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