Iraq: The View From Up Close

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December18, 2006: One reason soldiers in Iraq react so differently, than journalists, to events there, is because the troops come up against the reality of Iraq every day, and don't have to worry about editors back home who want exciting news, not that reality. While the troops have to deal with the Islamic and Sunni Arab terrorists, this is a small part of their daily lives. The majority of troops work with Iraqis who are eager to build a better life, not fight foreign troops. Most Iraqis want the foreign troops to go home, but most Iraqis don't want that to happen just yet. At least not until the two most dangerous terrorist groups, Sunni Arab and Shia Arab militants who advocate the return of dictatorship, are completely shut down. In the Middle East, bringing tyranny back to Iraq isn' t such an outlandish idea. There are very few real democracies in the region (Turkey and Israel), and Iraqis are finding that it takes more than elections to make representative government work. The return of tyranny is seen as very real.

The elections put a lot of thieves in power. This is the traditional Middle Eastern approach to having a government job. You now have an opportunity to steal, and an obligation to grab as much as you can, and share it with your family (and often tribe as well). While many Iraqi politicians can understand, intellectually, that this sort of theft is bad for the country as a whole, they are not able to translate that into themselves not stealing. The recent American proposals that Iraq be threatened with the reduction of aid if the Iraqi politicians did not achieve certain goals, was partly aimed at the corruption. No one wants to go on publicly about this too much. It is embarrassing, but you can't run the government without money. All that oil money is too attractive to too many Iraqis. Stopping the theft is a battle that must be won, yet it gets very little attention. Not very sexy, it's true, but a decisive part of the war nonetheless.

The three major factions seeking to bring back a police state, are not offering to eliminate corruption. The Baath Party terrorists, who were, for some two years, responsible for most of the violence, want to bring back the kind of government Saddam ran. The Sunni Arabs would control the money, and keep most of it for themselves. That is unlikely to happen, because the Sunni Arabs are too few, and becoming fewer every day. Another Sunni Arab faction, the religious fanatics (including al Qaeda), want to establish a religious dictatorship, run by Sunni Arab clerics. This is also unlikely to happen, even if this crew promises a reduction (but not elimination) in corruption. The Islamic radicals are but a small faction of the shrinking Sunni Arab minority. The most dangerous rebel group are the Shia Arab Islamic radicals. These are bankrolled by Iran, and represent some twenty percent of the population (a third of the Shia Arabs). This crew wants a religious dictatorship like the one in Iran. However, the Iranian police state is hated by the majority of Iranians, especially the Arab-Iranians (one of several Iranian minorities, that, together, comprise half the Iranian population.) Iraqi Shia know what is going on in Iraq, and can several better alternatives.

What's at stake in Iraq is the ability of Arabs to govern themselves. The lack of democracy in the region is not popular. People are not content to be ruled by dictators, but have not been able to organize themselves to ditch the tyrants, and build a better governments. Many Iraqis want to do this. And that's what American soldiers see every day. That's why American soldiers re-enlist in record numbers, and return to Iraq to continue the work. Before September, 2001, the rest of the world was content to leave the Arabs to their struggle for good government. But now that chaos in the Arab world has demonstrated its ability to threaten everyone. Most of the world would just like to go back to the good (or at lest less scary) old days. The troops in Iraq know you can't go back, because they see the Arab world changing every day. The troops see progress that does not attract journalists. Good news isn't news you can sell.

Iraq's neighbors see Iran trying to turn Iraq into a puppet state. The Sunni Arab majority in the region sees this going on in Lebanon, where the Shia majority is trying to take over the government. For decades, Syria, with a Sunni Arab majority, has been run by its Shia Arab minority. Saudi Arabia has now come out and said out loud, what many suspected. If the Iraqi Sunni Arabs are threatened with expulsion from Iraq, the Saudis would openly support the Iraqis Sunnis. What was left out of these announcements was the fact that wealthy Saudis have been supporting Iraqis Sunni Arab terrorists for several years. Thousands Saudis have gone to join the Islamic terrorists in Iraq. The Saudis see themselves as responding to what Iran is doing. Iran has also sent money, men and weapons to pro-Iran factions in Iraq. In effect, the Shia and Sunni world are fighting it out in Iraq. What is forgotten is that the majority of Iraqi Shia want nothing to do with Iranian control of their country. Remember, during the 1980s war with Iran, most of the Iraqi soldiers were Iraqi Shia Arabs. They fought hard, and there was no rebellion against the Iraqi Sunni Arabs, who started the war. Indeed, there was some enthusiasm among Iraqi Shia, because the 1980 invasion was to "liberate" the Iranian province of Arabistan, which contained most of Iran's Arab population, and most of Iran's oil. The Iranians never trusted their Arab population, and still don't. The world always looks different when you come in for a close look.

 

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