Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Can rhetoric change reality?

ND Batra
From The Statesman

At the time of mid-term congressional elections, President George W Bush has been trying to answer the question that most Americans have been asking: How are you going to get us out of the bloody mess in Iraq?
The deadly statistics are staggering but they don’t appeal to people’s imagination ~ unlike the daily images of Iraqis being blown up in the marketplace, mosques, roadsides and their neighbourhoods. In the pre-24/7 live newscast era, no one would have seen the horror on the faces of Iraqis.
Republicans have been saying during the election campaign that all politics is local and voters are likely to be more interested in property taxes, school problems, health issues and jobs rather than what is happening in Iraq. Democrats are trying to turn the daily carnage in Iraq as a referendum on Mr Bush and Republicans who control both the House and the Senate. But Democrats, too, don’t have any new ideas about what do in Iraq.
If staying the course in Iraq is meaningless, so is cut and loose ~ setting the date of withdrawal and getting out. There is a broad national consensus, however, that the USA cannot just pack and run away from Iraq.
Not only Iraq would continue to be a bloody hellhole for decades but also the USA would never recover from its humiliating shame and failure, if US troops were withdrawn hastily. That would be the end of the USA, as we know it: the sole global power that matters the most in the world. Americans are not ready for it. So for the time being, forget freedom and democracy.
Now the goal is to control Sunni-Shia sectarian killings and bring about a reasonable level of law and order and political stability so that President Bush could tell Americans that most of the objectives of invading Iraq have been achieved, which would justify gradual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
It is unimaginable that the USA would totally withdraw from West Asia and Central Asia. Strategically, there’s too much at stake in the region. During last week’s Press conference, after a subdued recounting of the achievements in Iraq, for example, capturing Saddam Hussein, free elections in which 12 million Iraqis participated and the death of terrorist Zarqawi, President Bush frankly acknowledged for the first time the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad and loss of “some of America’s finest sons and daughters”.
As of today, 2,791 US troops have been killed, but the loss of Iraqi lives, 600,000 deaths since the invasion in March, 2003 through July, 2006 (and counting) according to a recent study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is shocking.
After the deaths of so many innocent people, Iraq is nowhere closer to freedom and democracy than it was during the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein; and now that he is gone, the country has descended into a most heinous sectarian barbarism in spite of US military presence, pouring of billions of dollars, and initial good intentions of transplanting freedom and democracy.
While Kurds in the north who have enjoyed autonomy since the first Gulf War due to the no-fly zone restrictions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime by the USA are not ready to give up their gains, including the region’s oil wealth, Sunnis aided by some neighbouring Arab countries and Shias with the full backing of Iran are locked in a deadly struggle for supremacy, not freedom and democracy.
Division of the country into three separate independent states would leave the oil wealth with Shias who dominate the south and with Kurd control the north, leaving Sunnis high and dry and full of bitterness and vengeance, which would not bring sectarian violence and terrorism to an end. The most important step in ending sectarian violence in Iraq must begin with Baghdad, which should be brought under some form of a draconian martial rule imposing day and night curfew, and shoot-at-sight orders.
Every neighbourhood in Baghdad should have a strong and palpable presence of American-Iraqi troops until the last goon is flushed out and killed.
Once Baghdad is brought under control, peace and order would emerge and faith and trust would spread in the al-Maliki’s government’s ability to do the job of providing security, disarming the militias and bringing about reconciliation.
Negotiations based on equitable distribution of oil resources and a federated political structure that keeps balance between the three regions, Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the West and Shia’s in the south as well as the central government should be the beginning of reconciliation for unity and national reconstruction.
Iraq’s neighbours, especially Turkey, Syria and Iran have their own national interests and since it may not be possible to have their active participation in the peace process, they must be neutralised. Iran with its nuclear ambitions and international sanctions hanging on its head would be the biggest spoiler.
It was so easy for the USA to topple Saddam Hussein but rebuilding of the peace in Iraq might need the commitment and sustained efforts of a new administration, may be a new generation of Americans. Fortunately, a regime change in the USA does not need an invasion by an outside power. In a democracy, regime change is periodic. That is the beauty of democracy and it must be spread everywhere.

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