Saturday, October 29, 2005

With gruesome precision, cutting out the heart of Iraq 

Dexter Filkins reviews Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace in tomorrow's New York Times. The subtitle of the book is "Surviving under Saddam, dying in the new Iraq. It tells the story of the author's interpreter during the time he spent in in Iraq covering the war. Ahmad Shawkat was murdered in late 2003.

Shawkat is one of many in the Iraqi professional classes who have been murdered in the last 30 months, the victims of a barbarous insurgency that would rather destroy the country than live under a majority government elected by Shiites and Kurds. Filkins, who often conveys the sense that he does not believe representative government will succeed in Iraq, puts it this way:
Two and half years later, it's clear that a large percentage of Iraqis were either too traumatized or too tangled up in their traditions to grasp a democratic future. The United States has found that out the hard way.

But a great many of the country's people saw precisely the opportunity that presented itself on April 9, 2003, when the American Army chased Saddam Hussein and his confederates from their palaces on the Tigris. These Iraqis realized that they had to seize the moment, that it might not come again. And they knew, better than anyone, how difficult it would be to carry their broken and brutalized country with them. So they started newspapers, they organized political parties, they called meetings to start a national conversation. Some of them, surveying the psychological ruins that Hussein and his torturers had left behind, formed institutes to teach their countrymen to think for themselves.

And now, today, many of these Iraqis, if not most of them, are dead. They have been shot, tortured, burned, disfigured, thrown into ditches, disappeared. Thousands of them: editors, lawyers, pamphleteers, men and women. In a remarkable campaign of civic destruction, the Baathists and Islamists who make up the insurgency located the intellectual heart of the nascent Iraqi democracy and, with gruesome precision, cut it out. As much as any single factor, the death of Iraq's political class explains the difficulties of the country's rebirth. The good guys are dead.

The good guys are dead. Not all of them, but Filkins' point is well taken, even if it may yet prove to be too pessimistic.

What do we take from this? Do we leave, condemn the rest of the good guys, and damn ourselves? Or do we stay, and fight for those that remain, knowing that we cannot abandon the majority of Iraqis to such people again? Neither of these options are good, but they are not difficult to choose between.


By Blogger Final Historian, at Mon Oct 31, 04:20:00 AM:

The US was not nearly bloody enough when we took Baghdad and Tikrit. At the very least we should have jailed thousands of mid-level Bathists, and perhaps even executed a few. Delaying the violence only made things worse.  

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