May 20, 2003 | National Review Online

Road Building

By Ithaar Derweesh

Despite the latest terrorist attacks, the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C. remains that the “roadmap” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians offers the greatest chance to redefine the Middle East's political landscape. But, if an end to that conflict is to ever be realized, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair must first finish the job of creating a stable, independent, and democratic Iraq that will have the strength to repel the forces of fanaticism and terror still lurking in Baghdad, Basra, and elsewhere. It is only with democracy firmly established in the heart of the Arab world that neighboring dictators and their captive peoples will find their own routes to democracy and prosperity. Regional peace will follow. <br> <br> Despite the brilliant victory orchestrated by the allies and their nascent reconstruction efforts, Iraq stands at the brink of anarchy, poverty, and religious fundamentalism. Stirring the pot are the regional despots, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, which seek to foil the Iraqi people's quest for freedom as well as the regional interests of America and Britain. Their handiwork is writ large in every anti-American street demonstration; Arabic speakers recognize the sloppy hand of native Farsi speakers (i.e. Iranian intelligence officers) on the signs and placards carried by the mobs (the scripts of the two languages are very similar but differences can be detected by a native speaker of Arabic). These totalitarian regimes understand the threat that a free Iraq and regional peace would pose to their dictatorial regimes — without conflict and terror they cannot rationalize their power to their own long-suffering masses. It is no surprise that these same dictatorships are working overtime to wreck any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace by supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

The surest antidote to these predators and their destructive designs is to remain focused on Iraq, following a few key principles from which a “roadmap” for the rebuilding of Iraq is sure to emerge. The main tenets of the plan for Iraq's reconstruction should be:

 Iraqis must determine the future of Iraq: President Bush and Prime Minister Blair must continue to resist the pressure to emplace unrepentant, Saddam-supporting, U.N. bureaucrats at the helm in Baghdad. A U.N. trusteeship in Iraq, dominated by France, Russia, Germany, and the Arab dictatorships (as suggested by some) would promptly snuff out any hope for real democracy in Iraq.

 Lift the U.N. sanctions: Secretary General Kofi Annan should end the cynical French and Russian effort to hold the Iraqi people hostage by continuing to limit Iraq's oil exports. These same governments had been pressing for the removal of sanctions while Saddam was in power. Under the U.N.'s sanctions and a leaky “Oil for Food” program, Saddam siphoned off millions of dollars for weapons research and to support his regime.

 Share the wealth: The “Oil for Food” program should be transformed into a profit sharing plan that distributes the profits from the sale of Iraqi oil directly into the hands of every Iraqi citizen. Iraqis must learn that they share ownership of their most abundant natural resource, and a common destiny for which each citizen has direct responsibility. In this way, they can free themselves from their previously mandatory dependence on the state.

 Debt forgiveness: The future of the Iraqi people is threatened by overwhelming debts created by Saddam. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Iraq owes $199 billion in unresolved claims for compensation from creditors in more than a dozen nations arising from the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, $127 billion owed to other nations, and $57.2 billion in pending foreign contracts. Iraq's debt obligations amount to more than 12 times the country's gross annual GDP of around $30 billion.

A free Iraq already is taking strides to realize a democratic future: In Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, recent civil unrest has given way to a U.S.-U.K. inspired, elected town council representing Iraqis of all backgrounds and ideologies. All over Iraq, new media outlets are providing uncensored information for the first time in 30 years. But America and Britain have signaled their intent to invest their political and diplomatic capital elsewhere.

They would be better advised to consolidate freedom (human and political) in Iraq first to physically and ideologically confront the meddlesome dictators nearby who would prefer Iraq never taste democracy. These dictators are salivating over the prospect that Washington and London will focus instead on Jerusalem and Ramallah — giving tyranny another chance in Baghdad. For the near future, the only roadmap worth following in the turbulent Middle East is one that leads to a secure, democratic, and prosperous Iraq that provides a counterweight to the dictatorships and theocracies of the Middle East and serves as a beacon of hope to their voiceless peoples.

Ithaar Derweesh, M.D. escaped with his family from Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1979. He practices medicine in the Cleveland area and writes on foreign-policy issues and serves as a visiting fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.