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Tuesday, February 08, 2005


How not to react to Iraq?

posted by praktike at Tuesday, February 08, 2005 permalink View blog reactions
David Holiday has a few interesting posts related to the Iraqi elections.

David's first post--Surviving the Embrace of Bush--quotes extensively from this Henrik Hertzberg piece that takes a harder look at the 1967 Vietnam elections that were discussed last week on DailyKos and Political Animal:

Iraq is not Vietnam, and Iraq’s election was not like Vietnam’s in 1967. The latter was a winner-take-all presidential and vice-presidential “contest,” staged on American orders. The predetermined winners were the military strongmen already in power, Generals Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky. The exercise was as meaningless as one of those plebiscites by which the cowed citizens of banana republics ratify whichever colonel or corporal has lately mounted a coup. The Iraq election was the real thing. Voters had a choice of a hundred and eleven party lists, ranging from Communists to theocrats to secularists. (The murderous “security situation” made personal campaigning next to impossible, but this was less important than one might think; there were some seventy-seven hundred candidates on the national lists, far too many for voters to keep track of, so the election was about political, religious, and ethnic identity, not about personalities.) Moreover, the voting was the first stage of a process that, if it goes as planned, will provide fairly strong incentives for consensus and disincentives for civil war. Once the votes are counted—a laborious process—the result will be an extremely diverse two-hundred-and-seventy-five-member assembly, which will choose a transitional government and write a constitution. Since the draft constitution can be vetoed by two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq’s eighteen provinces—a provision which, though originally designed to protect the Kurds, could prove equally efficacious in protecting the Sunnis—the assembly will have every reason to design a mechanism that accommodates the interests of minorities.

Be sure to read the rest, too.

David's next post provides some background on Frank Smyth as an introduction to this piece, in which Smyth writes:

Progressives familiar with Iraqi history can understand why neither Shi’ites nor Kurds have much love for Sunni Arab Ba’athists, thousands of whom are currently anti-American insurgents. But some anti-war figures, like novelist and activist Arundhati Roy, have not only minimized the roots of today’s indigenous Iraqi insurgency but have unabashedly apologized for the indiscriminate use of violence against Iraqi civilians. “[I]f we were to only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity,” said Roy in a speech in San Francisco last summer.

Anti-war activists like Roy have long championed the poorest of Iraqis, whose children suffered the most in the 1990s under U.S.-backed, UN economic sanctions. But how many of these same anti-war activists have been willing to acknowledge that most of these Iraqis were Shi’as and that they suffered domestically under Saddam?

Other progressives have—perhaps unwittingly—become bedfellows with bigots who stereotype Shi’ite Muslims, unfairly painting Iraq’s Shi’ite Arab majority as an alleged tool of Shi’ite Persian clerics who dominate neighboring Iran. This may be a convenient cheap shot at the Bush administration, but it is based on ignorance. Scholars like Moojan Momen, author of the first major English-language text on Shi’ite Islam, Yitzhak Nakash, who wrote the first study of Iraqi Shi’ites, and Juan Cole have documented that Iraqi Shi’ites have their own particular history, long competing for influence with Iranian clerics. If anything, Iraq’s Shi’ites are likely to assert themselves even more if given the chance.

The one Iraqi Shi’ite group that has been lauded by some anti-war columnists is the al-Mahdi militia led by the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. His father—a widely revered cleric—and two brothers were all murdered by Saddam, whose administration tortured and killed hundreds of Shi’ite clerics. The young al-Sadr later ordered his followers to rise up against U.S. troops after the chief U.S. occupying authority in Iraq, Paul Bremer, closed down his movement’s newspaper. The irony of progressives’ support for al-Sadr is that he is among the most socially reactionary of Iraq’s Shi’ite leaders (he has not earned the status of cleric) and has, in his opportunistic search for allies, reached out to the misogynist, anti-democratic mullahs who run Iran. The most respected Iraqi Shi’ite cleric, Ali Sistani, is Iranian-born, but he has consistently sought to keep theology and politics at least somewhat separate in a “quietist” tradition based on ancient Shi’ite scriptures, unlike the modern ruling Shi’ite theocracy in Iran.

Iraq is still a bloody mess, and the choice now for both Iraq’s elected government and the United States is whether to pursue a military victory over the insurgents or to reach out to them and to Iraq’s Sunni Arab community to negotiate a settlement of the ongoing conflict. U.S. progressives should support attempts at reconciliation in order to minimize further bloodshed.

Let me first say that I think it is very bad practice to use "some progressives" or "some anti-war columnists." I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone laud Muqtada al-Sadr, but maybe I just don't read the same publications that Smyth does. I guess Roy has lauded the Iraqi insurgency, so she deserves to be singled out. But name names, hombre.

That complaint aside, his point is well-taken: there's no reason for anyone, whether they supported the Iraq War or not, to be excited about Sadr, Zarqawi, the neo-Ba'ath, or anyone else in Iraq who is killing civilians and American troops. Good for Smyth for making that clear. We should all be rooting for the good guys here. At the same time, however, we ought to keep pressure on Iraq's new leaders to be good democrats and support the rule of law.

UPDATE: See also Eric Martin's post on the same articles.


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