Iraq is a sovereign state and its leaders want national reconciliation. That’s our story, presented last night by our war-weary, yet determined President, and we’re sticking with it.
If only reality comported with these lofty notions. As Philip Shiskin wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s lead story on January 2:
Preserving the new Iraq as a Shia-controlled state is an indispensable ideological consideration for the latest crop of Shiite leaders, who still recall a missed opportunity back in 1920. After an armed uprising against the British colonial rule back then, Shiite sheiks withdrew from politics and paved the way for the ascendancy of the Sunni minority that lasted until 2003.
“The current leaders learned that lesson very well,” says Sadiq al-Rikabi, the prime minister’s political adviser. Nouri al-Maliki has a personal connection to the events of 1920: His grandfather was a cleric who took part in the uprising, wrote national-liberation poetry and was detained by the British several times. Maliki went on to write his master’s thesis on his forebear, whose verses he can recite from memory.
Furthermore, regarding Saddam Hussein’s execution, Shiskin reported:
Mr. Maliki wanted to leave nothing to chance. His mind raced through several scenarios, however improbable, that might have derailed the execution, says a close adviser who spoke with him. What if the Americans struck a secret deal sparing Mr. Hussein’s life in exchange for a halt to attacks against U.S. troops? (Italics added)
This last sentence shot right through me.
Imagine! Prime Minister Maliki was unwilling to spare Saddam Hussein in exchange for sparing our soldiers from sniper shooting, IEDs, and other grisly terrorist methods, that mercilessly kill and injure them. Besides the obvious humanitarian purpose, this magnanimous act would have enabled the troops, thus spared, to help spare Iraqis from sectarian violence that is killing and maiming thousands month after grueling month—blood literally flowing in the streets and alleys.
It’s almost too much to believe. In fact, when I told a friend this alleged fact, he simply refused to believe it.
Who, he thought, would not rather let the deposed dictator stew in his juices for 10, 20 years—perhaps a more severe punishment than the brief moments of pain from hanging—in exchange for setting the country on the path of peace?
Clearly, sectarian ties—forged over centuries in which 1920 is very recent history—have overriding sway in the current Iraqi regime’s decision-making, neoconservative rationalizing notwithstanding. Otherwise the opportunity to quell the violence would have been seized in a New York minute.
And, now President Bush is sending thousands more American troops precisely to try and quell the violence, thus giving this “reconciliation” government a chance to succeed.
Fine. As most all agree, Iraq is too strategically important to let it fall into further chaos.
But—let’s be clear—the price of this “surge” must be to demand that the Maliki government purge the Iraqi army and police of militias loyal to sect not nation.
Otherwise, it’s not fair to ask our soldiers to die and sustain life-altering wounds—e.g., severe brain damage, one or more limbs missing, sometimes rendering them virtual basket cases—in the service of a government with an apparent agenda of revenge far from the shores of national reconciliation.
If Maliki is unwilling to act decisively in cleansing army and police of militias bent on ethnically cleansing Iraq, then it’s high time for a leader who will stand up for what’s right, whatever the cost.
Ah, but this does get to the nub of it: What is right? In the Shiite mind, what is right is often eye for eye, tooth for tooth revenge on their Sunni persecutors. And vice-versa.
This, in turn, gets to the sine qua non of healing—finding a political solution, e.g., building on that barely-reported trip to Mecca of Sunni and Shiite Iraqi clerics last October to call for an end to sectarian violence.
Yes, it’s time for more intervention—but not, fundamentally, the kind of intervention that our military embarked on starting March 19, 2003, when, in the initial hours, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus reportedly asked, “Where does this end?” and then a little later, “Where does this end?”