BUT WORRIED THE AMERICANS WILL SPLITAl Masri: Bloody ways winning new foes.
October 20, 2006 -- TALK to Iraqis these days, and you'll likely hear one thing: What are the Americans and Brits up to? The worry is that the U.S. and U.K. political mainstreams now regard the Iraq project as a disaster, with cut-and-run, or whistle-and-walk-away, the only options.
Most Iraqis regard the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the dismantling of his machinery of war and oppression and the introduction of pluralist politics to Iraq as an historic success. The issue is how to consolidate that victory, not to snatch defeat from its jaw. Those challenging this historic victory are enemies of both the Western democracies and the Iraqi people.
Iraq today is the central battlefield in the global war between two mutually exclusive visions of the future. Yet the jihadists now know they can't win on that battlefield. After three years of near-daily killings, often in the most horrible manner imaginable, they've failed to alter Iraq's political agenda. Nor have they won control of any territory or even broadened their constituency.
The jihadists have suffered thousands of casualties, with many more captured by Coalition forces and the new Iraqi army and police. Despite more than 120 suicide operations, and countless attacks on civilian targets, the jihadists have been on the defensive since they lost their chief base at Fallujah last year. Their strategic weakness: They can't translate their killings into political gains inside Iraq.
They kill teachers and children, but schools stay open. They kill doctors and patients, but hospitals still function. They kill civil servants, but the ministries are crawling back into operation. They kidnap and murder foreign businessmen, but more keep coming. They massacre volunteers for the new army and police, but the lines of those wishing to join grow longer.
They blow up pipelines and kill oil workers, but oil still flows. They kill judges and lawyers, but Iraq's new courts keep on working. They machine-gun buses carrying foreign pilgrims, but the pilgrims come back in growing numbers. They kill newspaper boys, but newspapers still get delivered every day.
Since liberation, an estimated 45,000 Iraqis have been killed, largely by insurgents and terrorists. Yet there are few signs that a majority of Iraqis are prepared to raise the white flag of surrender.
Recent events highlight the growing isolation of the jihadists and their Saddamite allies:
* A tribal alliance has joined together all Arab Sunni clans of western Iraq in a united front to "chase al Qaeda out of Iraq."
This was partly a response to a split inside al Qaeda's Iraq branch. Members of the terror group recently published an appeal to Osama bin Laden to dismiss Abu-Ayyub al-Masri, the group's " commander" in Iraq. Why? Al-Masri, an Egyptian terrorist, has tried to push the group's violence to new depths of perfidy by planting mines in primary schools and hospitals and organizing rackets against shopkeepers, both Shiite and Sunni. The statement calling for his dismissal calls him a "deviant" - a label that indicates the willingness of some al Qaeda members to liquidate him if he's not replaced.
* Iraq's National Assembly gave near-unanimous approval to a new plan for peace and reconciliation. Backed by all ethnic and religious communities through their political parties, the plan furthers the marginalization of the jihadists and Saddamites.
Under the plan, the different ethnic and religious groups would come to one another's help whenever needed in the battle against the insurgents. This would end a de facto situation in which Arab Sunni areas have been no-go areas for Shi'ite and Kurdish forces and vice-versa.
More, the plan envisages the creation of a unified information office to harmonize the sermons delivered at mosques, regardless of their affiliations. The idea is to use the mosque as a forum for a unified and democratic Iraq, rather than a hub of sectarian agitation.
* A third event is set to take place in Mecca next week at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. This will bring together prominent Sunni and Shiite clerics from Iraq and eight other Muslim countries to discuss and approve a declaration demanding an end to sectarian feuds in Iraq. An initiative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the gathering reflects growing impatience with the jihadists throughout the Muslim world.
The proposed draft categorically states that bloodshed motivated by sectarian considerations is haram (forbidden) - and that its perpetrators are waging war on Islam as a whole. (Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Husseini Sistani wants the gathering to go further by labeling as haram any incitement to sectarian hatred.)
The Mecca gathering represents the first major effort by Sunnis and Shiites toward mutual recognition as acceptable versions of the same faith since 1947. It is strongly supported by the Al-Azhar seminary in Cairo, the Council of Ulema in Mecca and Medina, the Shi'ite seminaries of Najaf (Iraq) and Qom (Iran) and all five associations of Iraq's Sunni clerics.
Despite the dramatic increase in terrorist attacks in recent weeks, new Iraq is holding its own because Iraqi morale is holding.
That morale, however, is under constant attack from two sources. The first is the part of the international (especially pan-Arab) media that depicts Iraq as a wayward train racing ahead with no light at the end of a dark tunnel.
The second threat to Iraqi morale is by far the most serious. It concerns uncertainty about the commitment of the United States and its allies to new Iraq.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, creating a pluralist democracy on the ruins of one of the nastiest of Arab tyrannies takes time. It took the United States and its allies 10 years to hand over the government of post-war Austria to Austrians. In Bosnia, the United States and its allies are now scheduled to hand over the reins of government to the Bosnians themselves - after a decade. In Iraq, the handover came just two years after liberation.
Iraqis are puzzled when they hear prominent Americans speaking of carving Iraq into three or more mini-states, as if Iraq were a blank sheet on which anyone could draw whatever he wanted.
The key to the future of Iraq lies in the United States. The Iraqis will not run away in the face of jihadism and Ba'athism. Is the same true of the Americans and their allies?
Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.