Today marks the third anniversary of the liberation of Iraq from the Ba’athist regime, and thousands of Iraqis have turned out to demonstrate against terrorism after a series of deadly bombings against Shi’ite mosques near Baghdad. Omar of Iraq the Model has some important background about the Buratha Mosque, site of the deadliest bombing.
Omar’s analysis is probably correct – foreign forces are trying to disrupt the process of forming a new Iraqi government in collusion with Moqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr already tried to drag Iraq into rebellion once already, but was put down by political pressure from Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and widespread retaliation by other Iraqis. It appears as thought the old Shi’ite/Sunni battle lines are being redrawn towards an alliance of Kurds, secular Sunnis, SCIRI, and Sistani’s Shi’ite majority versus Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and al-Qaeda. However, even that’s a simplification. SCIRI’s political wing has become relatively moderate and is headed by the pro-Western Abdul al-Mahdi. SCIRI’s military wing, the Badr Brigades, are probably on the take from Iran, just like al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
The situation in Iraq remains extremely tenuous, but civil war in any real sense is an impossibility – there isn’t a military force in Iraq that can launch a credible challenge to the government so long as the US remains in the region. If we leave, it becomes a crap shoot at best, which is why it is critical we remain as the final bulwark against anarchy. If Iraq falls into sectarian strife, the US will have to intervene as we did in April of 2004. Back then, the Shi’ites roundly rejected al-Sadr’s thugs, which seems likely again. Back then the Iraqis had no capable defense forces and the collapse of the Fallujah Brigades was the seminal moment in which US strategy finally changed to an effective posture. Today, the Iraqis have units capable of fighting with limited US help, which is crucial.
Despite all the negativity from the ignorant press and chattering classes, this is what democratization looks like for a country that has not experienced sane rule for generations. Democratization and demilitarization are not going to be easy tasks, and never were. Our rapid march into Baghdad three years ago only delayed some of the fighting, it didn’t prevent it.
What matters now is that we do not allow the situation to spiral out of control. We’re the force that can keep the peace when no one else can. As long as we’re in Iraq, things can only get so bad – if al-Sadr makes an attempt at civil war we have to be willing to smack him down, including being willing to risk imprisoning him for treason. If the Badr Brigades do the same, we have to be willing to respond in kind. Our goal should be to ensure that any groups that try to effect political change with violence are prevented from doing so. The only legitimate means of political change in Iraq should be with the ballot box. Once that rule is established, democratization in Iraq can begin to stabilize.
We’re only three years into this war. We’ve never done anything like this before – even Japan and Germany had been ground into dust and forced to accept the futility of combat before we restored their infrastructure and governments. Iraq was spared the utter devastation of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan – which from a humanitarian standpoint was wonderful, but in some ways made our job much harder.
Three years out Iraq has had three very successful elections, is slowly but surely restoring vital services, and has seen widespread legitimacy attached to the democratic process. That doesn’t mean that the job is finished, but it certainly does mean that the prophets of doom are overstating their case by a wide margin. The fact is that any withdrawal from Iraq would make things orders of magnitude worse – not only for the Iraqis, but for us as well. There is absolutely no reasonable case that sensibly argues that us leaving would make things better for anyone.
The Iraqis are strong in the face of terrorism, optimistic about their future, and all of it while facing a situation that we here in the United States can’t even imagine. They haven’t grown so spoiled in their freedoms that they take them for granted – if anything, we have a hell of a lot to learn about the true value and cost of democracy from them.