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The End Begins in Iraq

We have illusions about clean, pleasant war

Last week saw the most important development in Iraq since the invasion began.  This momentous event is the beginning of the end of the American war in Iraq and will–if not reversed–lead to partial U.S. disengagement sooner rather than later.  

And, no, I am not talking about Rep. Jim Murtha’s embarrassing pants-wetting session before the U.S. media, in which he declared defeat and retreat in the panicked, exaggerated tones of a paranoid chat room gasbag.  As well publicized as Murtha’s wobbly soliloquy was, it was of transient consequence.

No, the event that could end the war was the discovery of a “torture center” being run in an Iraqi government detention facility in Baghdad.  The facility housed 175 Sunni Arab insurgents–some foreign, some Iraqi–that were being questioned under duress by Shiite soldiers of the U.S.-backed, democratically-elected government of Iraq.  The prisoners were underfed and by all appearances had been physically beaten.  But, thankfully, no one had had a pair of panties placed upon his head or had been forced to play naked Twister, so it wasn’t as bad as the crimes against humanity committed at Abu Ghraib.  Still, it was quite a scene, as non-American scandals go.

The Western media enthusiastically reported the story as the latest in a long series of blows to the U.S.-led war effort and concluded that it will only make things worse for the U.S. in Iraq.  That’s an amazing thing, really, since these same media outlets report every week that things can’t get any worse in Iraq.  

But this scandal will definitely not make things worse for us in Iraq.  To begin with, this is how civil wars are won–by cruelty and bloodletting and nastiness and calculated barbarity.  I do not glorify this fact.  I simply report it.  Civil wars end when one side is broken of the will to fight any longer.  And since both sides are fighting for their homeland and their freedom, civil wars are fought with an almost frantic inhumanity on both sides.  They are among the most vicious of wars.

The genius of the elections in Iraq, from the point of view of America, is that they transformed what was rapidly degenerating into a widespread war of “national liberation” against the U.S. occupier into a civil war–one in which 80% of Iraqis (the Kurds and the Shia Arabs) are on our declared side–the side of Democracy in Iraq.  

As I have said before, majorities LOVE Democracy; and the Shiites of Iraq, along with their Kurdish allies, have thus embraced it with great enthusiasm.  The Sunni Arabs, however, being the minority who ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein, are not at all looking forward to “majority rules” government, so they have turned to the insurgency to try to re-establish themselves as the dictatorial rulers of Iraq.

This feat will be possible, though, only if the 80% of Iraqis who are not Sunni Arabs refuse to fight the total war that the Sunni insurgents have initiated.  But everyday, there are more stories of Sunnis disappearing in the night, of assassinations of Sunni imams, of mass graves and heavy-handed round ups of Sunni Arab men by the Shiite and Kurd dominated government.  These stories are harsh to the ears of Americans and Europeans.  But then we are not the ones having our children and neighbors blown up by Sunni terrorists in the marketplaces and mosques of Iraq.  And these stories demonstrate that the majority who voted for the government of Iraq is willing to fight for the government of Iraq–and fight dirty if need be.

Since history is often just demographics, this means that the war is all but won.  It is only a question of time and cost.  But this is not why I call the discovery of the torture center “the beginning of the end” of the war for U.S. forces.  It is because the event could convince the Iraqis that America may not be the best ally to have on the ground during the endgame of this war.  

The Iraqi government has benefited greatly from the U.S. presence.  We have provided the muscle, the training, the money, and the time to establish the new government and allow it to gain experience.

It might be tempting, therefore, for the new government to ask us to stay for years more to continue to provide our considerable firepower, troops and resources.  But it will probably not do so, especially now.  You see, the Iraqi “prisoner abuse” was discovered by U.S. troops–who dutifully and lawfully reported it to their superiors, who then dutifully informed the world press.  

Our Iraqi allies must be fuming with disbelief.  They take the harsh steps they see as necessary to break the Sunni Arab networks, (a job we have failed to accomplish) and then we intentionally expose their operation and cost them a huge propaganda defeat.  

Every day, the Iraqi government forces grow stronger and more capable of providing their own protection.  And every day, America’s assistance must seem to them more like an anchor around their necks than a shield by their sides.  While our soldiers perform historic feats, the American press, government, and many of her people have unrealistic expectations of what war is and how it should proceed.

The soldiers of the new Iraq are not worried about the New York Times, or Amnesty International, or Ted Kennedy, or John McCain.  They are worried about the Sunni Arab insurgents that fight a desperate terror war to re-oppress them.  And when these soldiers come to believe that America’s presence in Iraq is harming that effort more than helping it, the Iraqi government will ask us to withdraw–probably to supporting bases just distant enough from the cities to keep us out of the way while they finish their war, their way.

The war might soon end for America simply because the Iraqis may conclude that we don’t know how to fight it realistically.  If so, they will ask us to leave.  We can declare victory.  And then they will actually achieve the victory we were unwilling to stain our hands with.  

War is the disciplined application of evil to an enemy you wish to break to your will, or annihilate.  Hopefully, your will is a greater good that justifies such calculated inhumanity.  But war, if fought properly, should be Hell–for your opponent. Currently, we seem to want to make sure that war is fair and humane for our enemy.  Such righteousness is a luxury we can afford only because we are not the ones fighting in our own homeland to save our neighborhoods from mass murderers like Abu Musab Al Zarqawi and his followers.

One day that may change, and so will we.  But for now, our illusions about the possibility of clean, precise and pleasant war continue.  

President Bush has rightly said that “as the Iraqis stand up, we shall stand down.”  We should not be surprised, however, to find that when the Iraqis finally do stand up, they are standing on someone’s neck.

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Mr. Johnson, a writer and medical researcher in Cambridge, Mass., is a regular contributor to HUMAN EVENTS. His column generally appears on Tuesdays. Archives and additional material can be found at www.macjohnson.com.

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