By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News
Talk to Iraqis these days and you are likely to hear one thing: what are the Americans and their British allies up to?
The Iraqis have in mind the perception that the political mainstream in both the US and Britain, as illustrated by the recent remarks of the head of the British armed forces, now regards the Iraq project as a disaster, with cut-and-run or whistle-and-walk-away, as the only options.
Most Iraqis regard the toppling of Saddam Hussain, the dismantling of his machinery of war and oppression and the introduction of pluralist politics to Iraq as an historic success. It is precisely because the stakes are so high that new Iraq faces such a determined challenge from its two arch enemies: Baathism and radical Islamism. New Iraq represents an historic victory that is challenged by the enemies of both the western democracies and the Iraqi people. The issue is how to consolidate that victory, not to snatch defeat from its jaw.
Iraq today is the central battlefield in the global war between two mutually exclusive visions of the future.
The jihadists know that they cannot win on that battlefield. After three years of almost daily killings, often in the most horrible manner imaginable, they have failed to alter new Iraq's political agenda. Nor have they managed to win control of any territory or broaden their constituency.
Since liberation, an estimated 45,000 Iraqis have been killed, largely because of insurgent and terrorist activities. Yet, there are few signs that a majority of Iraqis are prepared to raise the white flag of surrender.
Several events in the past two weeks have highlighted the growing isolation of the jihadists and their Saddamite allies. One event is the creation of a tribal alliance, bringing together all Arab Sunni clans of western Iraq together in a united front to "chase Al Qaida out of Iraq".
It was partly in response to that event that Al Qaida's branch in Iraq published an appeal to Osama Bin Laden, the presumed leader of the group, to dismiss Abu Ayyub Al Masri, the group's "commander" in Iraq. The statement calling for Al Masri's dismissal calls him a "deviant", a label that indicates the willingness of some Al Qaida members to liquidate him if he is not replaced in time.
A second noteworthy event is the almost unanimous approval by the Iraqi National Assembly (parliament) of a new plan for peace and reconciliation. Backed by all ethnic and religious communities through their political parties, the new plan further underlines the marginalisation of the jihadists and Saddamite groups.
More importantly, the plan envisages the creation of a unified information office to harmonise the sermons delivered at mosques, regardless of their sectarian 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 was the Makkah meeting held on Saturday. It brought together prominent Muslim 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 Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the gathering reflects growing impatience with the jihadists throughout the Muslim world.
The declaration categorically states that bloodshed motivated by sectarian considerations is haram (forbidden) and its perpetrators regarded as individuals waging war on Islam as a whole.
The Makkah gathering represents the first major effort by Sunnis and Shiites towards the mutual recognition of one another as acceptable versions of the same faith, since 1947.
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.
The key to the future of Iraq lies in the United States. The Iraqis will not run away in the face of jihadism and Baathism. The question is whether the same is true of their American allies. We shall know the answer soon, as the mandate under which the US-led coalition is in Iraq runs out at the end of December.
Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.