History will judge this war to have been a great turning point for the better in the affairs of the Middle East if, and only if, President George W. Bush and his cabinet stick resolutely, even doggedly, to the idea of a secular, federal and democratic Iraq. Critics of the war who were too shortsighted -- for reasons of interest, intellectual laziness or sheer lack of political imagination -- may now come to see what victory means.
This vision of a secular, federal and democratic Iraq was not an easy thing for the U.S. government, and it has been coming to us slowly, in stages. It traversed stages that spanned more than one administration and it has come under heavy attack both from within and from without the U.S. government.
Needless to say, there are still problems that must be faced. Prominent among them is the issue of exactly how to go about building a democratic Iraq. Does one do so, for instance, by reaching out to the lowest common denominator of Iraqi politics -- by reaching to individuals who have been buried inside the regime's government, to members of the Baath Party or those close to some of the Iraqi state's other repressive institutions?
Or does one build democracy by aligning with, favouring even, the democrats among the Iraqis? This is an ongoing discussion. But I am encouraged by indications from the U.S. government that it intends to dismantle the structures of Saddam's repressive regime.
There remains an uncertainty about dealing with the elected leadership of the Iraqi opposition. But that doubt, too, is something I believe is changing. We democrats need American support. We're asking for American political and military liaison officers in places where the forces of the opposition now in exile are preparing to enter Baghdad and other cities.
Time is of the essence. Not enough co-ordination has gone on between the Iraqi opposition (this may be, in part, its own fault) and the U.S. government (also, in part, through faults of its own). But I believe we are now all on the right track. We need Iraqi field officers from the ranks of the Iraqi opposition to liaise with General Tommy Franks. And we have already seen several hundred Iraqis beginning to join retired general Jay Garner in the civil and reconstruction efforts that will soon be going on within Iraq on a massive scale.
But let me be honest. We also have problems within the Iraqi opposition itself. An example: Recently, in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, we created a leadership committee and 14 operational committees. Among ourselves, however, we have not yet resolved the question of executive decision-making. Everything has to be negotiated and worked out through consensus. We have yet to achieve the creation of a functioning executive responsible to this leadership committee.
We also need to expand the ranks of the Iraqi opposition. We have clear ideas about that; they were discussed at an opposition conference in February. They've been worked out in documents and they are being discussed with U.S. government officials in precise detail.
In short, we have all come a long way over the past few months. Iraqis in large numbers have joined Jay Garner's civil authority team in Kuwait. Others are putting together teams of people to help the various ministries. More than 100 Iraqis are being organized and committing themselves to that effort.
But, above all, we must be clear what the U.S. government is committed to doing. It is my understanding that Washington has committed itself to the following necessary prerequisites for democracy in Iraq -- ones that we in the opposition fully agree with.
First: Start a replacement program for all Iraqi authorities and ministries.
Second: Dismantle the regime's security services. Only the regular police force should be left intact.
Third: Reform and possibly even decommission the Iraqi army. Part of that army, however, could possibly be of use in Iraq's reconstruction.
Fourth: Dismantle the forces of the Republican Guard.
Fifth: Gradually transfer authority to an Iraqi interim body that will be created out of the existing Iraqi opposition.
These are essential steps that we need to begin the constitutional process that we ourselves will undertake inside Iraq the day after complete liberation.
We have a constitutional commission. We have detailed plans for a kind of constituent assembly that will largely be devoted to discussing the future constitution. And we have hopes for this constitution. We want it to be a launching pad for the recreation of civil society in Iraq. We want to create structures that will allow Iraqis to have opinions; indeed, we actively encourage them to have opinions on the future of their country.
Iraqis have not had a permanent constitution since 1958. This process of engaging society as a whole in its own future, engaging it once again in the idea of a permanent constitution, is a beginning, it seems to me, of creating the kind of civil society that we hope to see flourish in Iraq once again.