The New Iraq

Looks like George W. Bush has gotten his British political philosophers all bollixed up. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, he promised that Iraq would move to a Lockean social contract, a democratic compact enshrining majority rule and minority rights in the new Iraq. Instead, Iraq seems headed more toward a Hobbesian state of nature, a war, if not of each against all, then too damned close to that for comfort. The emerging Iraqi constitution, should it ever be enacted by the country’s interim parliament and then ratified by the voters, seems guaranteed to produce a more Hobbesian than Lockean outcome. After all, the insurgency that U.S. forces are fighting is largely Sunni Iraqi, and it’s the Sunnis whom the new constitution enrages and estranges.Not that you’d know that from our president’s pronouncements. He has looked upon this factional document — well, actually, Condi Rice has told him about it — and pronounced it good. He has spoken at long last about U.S. casualties in Iraq, and, with echoes of Lincoln at Gettysburg, vowed that, “We will finish the task that they gave their lives for.”But, of course, Lincoln at Gettysburg did not merely pledge to see the cause through. He redefined for all time the cause for which Union soldiers died; he expanded the scope of the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of human equality; he proclaimed that America would emerge from a Union victory as a freer and more democratic nation than it had been before. But what is the cause for which U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since they deposed Hussein? If we’re to take the draft constitution seriously, the Iraq we’ve fought and bled to create is to be a loose federation, in which the Shiite South, and perhaps the Sunni center, will be governed by Islamic law, with Shiite senior clerics given special status outside the writ of national law, and Shiite women offered up to the mercies of their friendly local Koranic law judges. Even now, before any formal federation structure is in place, Islamic fundamentalism is being enforced on the South by Shiite militias, who have adorned the walls in both religious cities like Najaf and until-recently secular cities like Basra with posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini. A de facto alliance with Iran is already a fait accompli. Nor is the sway of the Shiite militias confined to the South. It was a force from a Shiite militia that deposed at gunpoint the acting mayor of Baghdad several weeks ago. But then, as the Washington Post reported last Sunday, Shiite and Kurdish militias are already the dominant forces acting with tacit governmental approval in Iraq. The Iraqi government security forces that the U.S. is endeavoring to build are basically just the militias in official governmental uniforms.Their battles with the Sunnis, and the Sunnis’ battles with them, are approaching a low-level civil war. That’s not to say things couldn’t grow catastrophically worse. If all goes according to plan, the new Shiite-Kurdish constitution will be presented to voters in an October 15 referendum. The Sunnis, who constitute the majority in four of Iraq’s 18 provinces, are sure to reject it, and under the terms of Iraq’s interim governing rules, a two-thirds no vote in three provinces is sufficient to scrap the new document and force the drafters (or whoever succeeds them) to start over. At that point, if it doesn’t happen sooner, the Shiites and the Kurds might just say goodbye to the Sunni center and establish de facto quasi-states in their home regions, leaving the Sunnis with no oil revenues whatever. Large-scale civil war would be a better-than-even-money bet. And if all-out civil war does erupt, which side, which nationalism, which religious sect do we ask our troops to bleed for?Accordingly, the Bush administration will surely do all it can to ensure the ratification of this quasi-theocratic document, insisting all the while that it won’t really curtail the women’s rights it will in fact destroy. Indeed, our man in Baghdad, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, has been the driving force behind its drafting and enactment, plainly following the administration’s edict that any constitution is better than none. Getting this constitution right was never as important as getting it Monday. If the ratification vote count is close, Bush can always send James Baker to oversee the tally. But it’s very hard to believe that any accurate count won’t show a majority of Sunnis in opposition. Already, the indigenous Sunni militias are encouraging Sunnis to register to vote — and vote no — in the October 15 election, acknowledging that their previous abstention from election of the National Assembly was a strategic mistake.The pronouncements of Bush, Condi, Cheney and Rummy have long been dissociated from the actual state of affairs on the ground in Iraq. Now, they have begun to be dissociated from the new order whose existence we mandated. A factional theocracy arises, and they call it freedom. Our leaders are no longer in simple denial. They are in double denial.What we’re seeing today in Iraq isn’t the Pentagon’s much feared mission-creep. It’s mission-crumble. Our honored dead have died for a new burst of theocracy, for a government of the people, by the clerics, for the clerics. Worse, there were those in the State Department and the CIA who warned of just such an outcome, but their cautions were ignored by Bush, Cheney and the gang in their rush to war. They got their war, but what do they do with it now?


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