Iraq: April 11, 2004

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The Iraqi leadership has finally asserted itself and negotiated a ceasefire in Fallujah and an admission that the criminals in Fallujah must be brought to justice. The Shia leadership has been after Muqtada al Sadr even before the fighting began. But al Sadr continues to defy the Shia leadership and is shrilly calling for Iraqis to rise up against foreign troops in Iraq. The Shia leadership does not want to go to war with Sadr, but Sadr is increasingly at war with them. 

A major ally for Sadr, and obstacle for Iraqi leaders, is the Arab (and to a certain extent, European) media, in which the removal of Saddam and reconstruction efforts are portrayed as an insult to Islam and  and a disaster for the Iraqi people. Most of the gunmen in Fallujah are the thugs and torturers who tormented Iraq for decades, but are portrayed as Arab nationalists fighting for Iraq's freedom. Sadr, and his gunmen, are despised and feared by most Iraqis, but that fear prevents Iraqis from speaking out publicly as long as Sadrs young thugs roam about freely. Iraqis will tell you privately of  their fears, but the unwillingness to stand up for their own rights is a major problem in getting Iraq to "work."

Coalition leaders, and even the troops, have been telling Iraqis for over a year that they have to stand up and fight for their own rights and freedom, or else they will be again  ruled by Baathist or radical Shia thugs. These exhortations have had some effect, as dependable Iraqi police and security units are showing up in the operations against the Sunni Arab and Sadr gunmen. But this sort of personal responsibility is not something many Iraqi have been able to practice for the last three decades, Moreover, those Iraqi who were willing to fight tended to flee the country (about 20 percent of Iraqi did so during Saddam's rule), and these more prosperous and assertive Iraqis are resented when they return to help rebuild the country.

There have been several very frank, and loud, meetings between coalition leaders and the Iraqi governing council. The Iraqis, acutely aware of the hiding they are taking in the Arab, and Iraqi, media, want the coalition to make everything better, right away. The coalition leadership tells the Iraqis to get real and get with the program or see Iraq burn at the hands of the Saddam loyalists and Shia radicals. The Iraqis have apparently seen the light, as they have hustled to hunt down the groups kidnapping foreigners and threatening to murder them. Three Japanese are to be released, and the Iraqi leaders realize that if any of these foreigners, largely aid and reconstruction workers, are kidnapped and killed, Iraqis will be tagged as ungrateful savages and future relations with nations contributing to Iraqi reconstruction will be difficult.   

 

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