October 17, 2005 | Washington Times

Making Progress in Iraq

By: Dr. Walid Phares.

On Oct. 15, a historic Iraqi victory was registered in the 6,000-plus polling centers across the country. Millions of Iraqis cast their ballot for a new constitution. Regardless of the final results, the political process in the post-Ba'ath Iraq is emerging as a victory against the stubborn terror attacks by al Qaeda and the Saddam regime's remnants. From that angle alone, the bloc of 15.4 million registered voters, including those who voted no or weren't able to participate because of fear, have defeated one more time the forces of jihadism and Ba'athism. On January 30, the very first free election in Iraq dealt the first blow to the terrorists. The Oct. 15 referendum produced the second defeat to the jihadists. Here is why:
Security victory: With 155,000 American troops, 22,000 coalition forces and about 200,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen deployed efficiently, Iraq's territories have been secured by significant deterrent forces. The jihadists and their cross-borders allies, who have been attempting to wage massive attacks since mid-summer, were denied the capacity to disrupt the voting process. That alone is a field victory for the U.S.-Iraqi alliance: For a second time in one year, the Iraqi people were allowed to express their will freely, while jihad terror was incapable of reversing the democratic process. However, on Oct. 15, the military defense of Iraq registered higher scores: Between January and October the more than 130,000 Iraqi troops who guarded the legislative elections were trained, equipped and strengthened with another 60,000 before being deployed on the ground for the referendum protection. The credit of this achievement goes certainly to U.S. but also NATO forces, which were able to equip the “new Republic” with arms and muscles within less than one year. It clearly paid off, for even while al Qaeda was recruiting within Iraq, and reinforced via Syria with thousands of terrorists, the qualitative and quantitative race was obviously won by the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi army. After two and a half years of terror insurgency, Zarqawi networks weren't able to stop or defeat the new Iraq's defenses. The success of the referendum is clear evidence: There was a security victory in Iraq.
• The national consensus widens and strengthens: On Jan. 31 8.5 million Iraqis challenged not only Zarqawi and the former Ba'athists, but also the vast networks of jihadism and many dictatorships in the region by casting their votes to select hundreds of candidates and elect an assembly. The new republic produced a parliament despite the calls for an emirate by al Qaeda and the skepticism of the Arab League. That was the beginning of the democratic journey in the country. But democracy doesn't mean one vision and one choice: many parties means many programs.
A national consensus between most Shi'ites and all Kurds and other minorities began, despite a misrepresentation of smaller groups such as the Christian ChaldoAssyrians, Turkomen and Mandeans: The big picture was being shaped. A numeric majority in Iraq was opposed at least to two foes. Naturally, the Sunni representation was missing. Jihadists and Ba'athists have used all the means to intimidate the moderates. Radical clerics used their influence to boycott the government. Besides, political mistakes were made by both the Shi'ite-Kurdish and coalition authorities have alienated other Sunnis. However, the January victory laid the ground for a change in the political landscape. Seeing a new parliament acting, media flourishing and political life developing, many Sunni groups, cadres and leaders crossed the line from boycott to engagement in the political process, first by adhering to the constitutional discussion, second by participating in the referendum, even with a “no” cast.
By August 2005, there was a Sunni “position” toward the constitutional debate. Many among them distanced themselves from the Zarqawi “refusal of all constitutions” to a “criticism of this constitution.” The integration was slow, and will remain so, but it is happening. The national consensus is not total, but it is widening and strengthening, by bits. By Oct. 15, an overwhelming majority of Iraqis have put an end to the dictatorial past and rejected the terrorist agenda. The differences are nevertheless wide, but the country wants political “treatments.”
• The federal structure is adopted: The Kurds want a strong federation, as an alternative of what they claim is their right for self-determination. Other smaller minorities support a federal entity, if they are allowed to shape ones for themselves. The Shi'ites have accepted a federated region for the Kurds, as a means to keep them in Iraq. As long as democracy is the choice, either option is a winning for the Shi'ites — if the country is centralized, the Shi'ites have a 65 percent majority. If they country is a federation, the largest entity will be theirs.
The Sunni political establishment was alone in its rejection of what it believes is a door to “partition” of the country. But their analysis is still influenced by the old Pan Arabist ideology. For if the various ethnic and religious groups are recognized and their rights guaranteed, why would they split the republic, even if they have a basic right for self-determination?
As I argued on an al Hurra TV panel on Oct. 15, along with other Iraqi, Arab and American analysts, the issue is not about the constitutional provisions, but about the determination by all Iraqi communities that the country is pluralist. The democratic Sunnis will soon come to realize that the federal solution is the only efficient alternative to partition. Not only Iraq will benefit from this solution, but also Sudan, Lebanon and other multi-ethnic countries in the region.
• The distribution of oil dividends: The current constitution provides a ratio for benefits from oil production. The bottom line is simple: In the past, Saddam Hussein robbed the country and used the money to buy weapons and to send Iraqi soldiers into bloody campaigns against Iran, Kuwait and the Kurds and Shi'ites. Future revenues will be used to help the marginal regions (mostly Shi'ites and Kurdish) to grow economically. But the Sunni areas will benefit as well. A federal Iraq is designed to have a national authority to administer the country-level development. The Sunnis, situated geographically in the center, are also in the center of Iraq's educational, economical and social life. They will be a part of the oil economic renaissance. Under a modern federal Iraq, a Sunni middle class has greater chances to benefit from a national growth than under a Saddam mono-party regime or a Taliban like system.
Jihadi terrorism is most likely destined to strike again and continue to do so, but the defenses of Iraq and democracy are growing stronger. In this decades-long conflict, which witnessed bloodshed and destruction on U.S. shores, the success of the referendum in Iraq is as valuable as a Normandy-like victory for U.S. and coalition forces. The war is long from being won, but one of America's most important allies has grown bolder and stronger. The United States sacrificed 2,000 of its best young soldiers to remove a dictator, fight al Qaeda in Iraq and protect the rise of a civil society. In return, a new republic was formed, and millions of citizens have been able to take their destinies in their hands.
In the middle of the war on terror, Oct. 15 was a great achievement of the United States, but above all an Iraqi victory. If we divide the number of U.S. soldiers who died in the conflict till Oct. 15, we'd realize that for each fallen hero, 4,500 Iraqi voters were given the right to vote against terror. In the global conflict with jihadism, U.S. efforts and sacrifices are triggering greater resources against the empire projected by Ayman Thawahiri and Osama bin Laden.
The most difficult times may still be ahead in this conflict waged by the jihadists, but somewhere in the Middle East, some people have spoken against democracy's enemies, and that is one victory.
Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and a professor of Middle East Studies. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Future Jihad.”



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