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PRESERVE THE IRAQ VICTORY FROM FORCES OF DARKNESS
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
March 21, 2007

In the past few days, several opinion polls have been published indicating the current mood of the Iraqi people four years after the fall of Saddam Hussain.

All these polls convey a central message: a majority of Iraqis are disappointed in their political leaders, are worried about the future and appear generally more pessimistic than a year ago.

Nevertheless, the polls contain another important message - one that might be lost in the raging controversy on the rights and wrongs of this war from the start. This message is equally stark: the majority of Iraqis are happy to be rid of Saddam Hussain and his infernal machinery of repression and remain committed to building a democratic system.

Normally, the polls should shift the debate from the rights and wrongs of going to war to the record of the past year and the prospects ahead of the nation. However, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The debate on Iraq seems stuck where it was in the spring of 2003. Those who believe that it was wrong to remove Saddam Hussain by force may never change their minds.

The same is true of those who believe that war as such should be scripted out of the international system, even if that meant allowing a few bloodthirsty despots to keep whole nations hostage for decades.

Leaving aside such ideologically immutable positions, there are also those who criticise the war, not because it was unjust but because, poorly led, it has failed to achieve its objectives. This is a position that Senator Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner as the Democrat Party's presidential standard-bearer in 2008 appears to have adopted.

The problem with that position is that it does not spell out the objectives that the Iraq war has supposedly failed to achieve. It is, therefore, necessary to return to 2003 and recall what the stated objectives were at the time.

The first of those objectives was to end Saddam Hussain's 12-year-long defiance of the United Nations. That defiance might have ended without war, had Saddam agreed to hand over power to a caretaker government that did not suffer from a massive deficit of trust.

Saddam and his clan, however, refused to contemplate the option. Thus, their removal from power became the prime objective of the war. A quick checklist shows that the war achieved all its objectives.

Saddam's regime was toppled.

Its machinery of war and repression was dismantled. Decades of one-party rule, the republic of fear, came to an end. Political power was taken from the brutal and corrupt ruling elite and transferred to the Iraqi people. Iraqis discovered such things as freedom of expression, media without censorship and a plethora of political parties to choose from.

Own constitution

For the first time, the people of Iraq were able to write their own constitution, hold their own referendums and general elections, choose their own government and start building their own institutions.

Not surprisingly, such achievements could not go unchallenged.

This is why the new emerging Iraq came under attack from many different quarters almost immediately.

Those who have vilified the United States as a rapacious power trying to steal other nations' natural wealth, would not admit that this time may be, just may be, the US was doing the right thing in the right place.

Those who hated the US President George W. Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, for a range of reasons, would do all they could to portray Iraq as a catastrophe, disaster, fiasco, quagmire, new Vietnam and so on.

However, new Iraq has other enemies. The mullahs of Tehran cannot allow Iraq, a Shiite majority nation such as Iran, to have a pluralist system with democratic elections while the Khomeinist regime maintains a one-party state in the name of the "supreme guide".

Arab despots, too, have reason to want this new Iraq to fail. The speedy collapse of the Saddamite regime ended the myth of pan-Arab nationalism.

However, it also showed that, given a chance, Arab nations, too, could join the mainstream of a global system based on pluralism, market economy and human rights. The success of that model in Iraq could spell the end of the despotic model in the region.

The jihadi groups that dream of conquering the world in the name of their brand of Islam are equally determined to prevent new Iraq from striking roots and stabilising.

Those familiar with Al Qaida's literature in the past four years know that all jihadi groups regard new Iraq as the principal battlefield between Osama Bin Laden's version of Islam and the modern world.

New Iraq also has determined enemies within.

Shiite sectarians, often linked to the Khomeinist regime in Tehran, have done all in their power to destabilise the country and undermine the democratically elected institutions. Sunni sectarians, often supported by governments or groups in some Arab states, have pursued similar objectives.

To all those internal enemies must be added the remnants of the Saddamite regime, especially the 200,000 or so members of the Baathist Republican Guard that provide the backbone of rival Shiite and Sunni sectarian insurgent groups and death-squads.

The struggle for Iraq is so intense, so bloody and so bitter because the stakes are extremely high. The success of the democratic forces and their allies, notably the United States, in preserving the achievements spelled out above could have as dramatic an impact in the Middle East as the fall of the Soviet Union had in Europe.

Preserving the victory already achieved in Iraq means delivering a death blow to all the demons of the Middle East: the pan-Arab chauvinists, the Khomeinists, Al Qaida and other jihadis, Shiite and Sunni sectarians, obscurantists, and reactionary autocrats.

With the help of the people of Iraq, the US-led coalition has won a spectacular and historic victory against the combined forces of darkness. The real issue in Iraq is preserving that victory against its enemies who can and are being defeated.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.

 

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