Iraq: Doubts About Democracy

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May 3, 2007: The government is trying to find evidence (a body) that Sunni tribesmen ambushed and killed the head of al Qaeda in Iraq (Abu Ayyub al Masri). The ambush was supposed to have taken place on May 1st, north of Baghdad. Al Qaeda denies that their man is dead, but offers no proof that he is alive. Several senior al Qaeda leaders in Iraq have been killed or captured in the last month. All but a few Sunni Arab tribes have openly vowed to fight al Qaeda and support the government. With over half the Sunni Arab population in Iraq already refugees, the remainder are switching sides as quickly as they can. But this is not enough. The bombings have to stop. It's the bombs that the foreign media uses to keep score, and al Qaeda knows it.

The tribes are signing agreements to stop all terrorist activities and actively seek out and arrest, or kill, Sunni Arab terrorists. This shows how desperate the Sunni Arabs are. Previously, the tribes were willing to swear allegiance to the government, but drew the line at handing over fellow tribesmen who were terrorists. No more.

But some of the people at risk are prominent and powerful members of the tribes. These men are former officials in Saddams security services, the guys who applied the terror at the street level for so long. These people have lots of blood on their hands, and they are known by name. Some are outside the country, sitting on large amounts of money. This can be used to buy, or at least rent, key members of some tribes. The tribal leaders were unable to get amnesty for most of Saddams killers, and are now trying to get as many of these men out of the country as possible. Those who refuse to leave, will have to be killed or captured and turned over to the government. In return, the government will cut the remaining Sunnis in a share of the oil revenue, and allow more Sunni Arabs access to government jobs. The legislature is taking their traditional two month Summer vacation, to give the Sunni Arab leaders time to do what they have to do. If the Sunni Arabs have not taken care of their terrorists by the end of August, the government will have to consider alternatives. The scariest one is letting the militant Shia Arabs apply their solution to the problem; expelling all Sunni Arabs from Iraq. Meanwhile, Saddams guys believe they have nothing to lose by continuing the terror campaign. With no amnesty, and the prospect of eventual international war crimes tribunal involvement, these killers are inclined to go down bombing.

While opinion polls in Iraq continue to show a majority of Iraqis wanting U.S. troops out, several key groups don't. The Sunni Arabs want American troops to remain to prevent them from being driven out of the country. The Kurds want the Americans to stay to protect them from the Turks and the Iraqi Arabs. The Iraqi security forces want the Americans to stay because the U.S. forces are much more effective than the Iraqis. Whenever Iraqi police or troops get into a tough fight, they can call on the Americans to make it all better. Plus, the Americans provide neat new equipment and training. Iraqi politicians want the Americans to remain because that keeps the Turks, Iranians and Gulf Arabs from getting more involved in Iraqi affairs. Iran is already a problem, and the Turks keep making threats. The Gulf Arabs have backed off (from supporting the Iraqi Sunni Arabs) for the moment, but that could change real quick if U.S. troops were withdrawn.

Eventually, the American troops will leave, and Iraqis will have to confront the unpleasant prospect of ruling themselves. Yes, some Iraqis yearn for the good old days, when Saddam was in charge. No one seems to be in charge now, but the majority of Iraqis don't want another Saddam. Alas, electing leaders who are competent, and not corrupt, seems so difficult. This is not a uniquely Iraqi problem. A recent meeting of the Arab League saw the king of Saudi Arabia telling the assembled leaders of the Arab world that they were the problem. Bold words, but no one has a solution. Iraq is one of the few democracies in the Arab world, and Iraqis now know that democracy, by itself, is not the solution to anything. Enough good people have to step up and do the right thing. Iraqis are still not sure if they can muster the needed numbers to make it all work.

 

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