Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Iraq: Across the confessional divide 

Christmas in Iraq was cheerier today than it has been in years; Gateway Pundit has a big round-up, including a link to the heartwarming story of the day:

Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Catholic Church and Iraq's first cardinal, celebrated Mass before about 2,000 people in the Mar Eliya Church the eastern New Baghdad neighborhood of the capital.

"Iraq is a bouquet of flowers of different colors, each color represents a religion or ethnicity but all of them have the same scent," the 80-year-old Delly told the congregation.

Muslim clerics—both Sunni and Shiite—also attended the service in a sign of unity.

"May Iraq be safe every year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year," Shiite cleric Hadi al-Jazail told AP Television News outside the church. "We came to celebrate with them and to reassure them."

William Jalal, a 39-year old father of three attending Mass at Mar Eliya, said this Christmas was clearly different.

More of that, please.


With the growing acknowledgement that the "surge" has substantially improved security in Iraq, the political opponents of the Bush administration -- Nancy Pelosi, for example -- have taken to arguing that there has been no "political reconciliation," and that therefore the entire effort is a waste. It is superficially easy for Speaker Pelosi and her followers to make this argument, because the government of Prime Minister Maliki is corrupt and inefficient and has not enacted the specific legislation that America has consistently requested be enacted (proving, by the way, that Maliki's government is hardly our puppet and the war we are fighting is no longer even arguably an occupation). If you look more deeply, though, you can see more meaningful reconciliation than would be revealed with any law or the appointment of any particular minister. The "Awakening" movement has brought the Sunni tribes into military alliance with the government against the jihadis. Shiite and Sunni clerics are not only attending a Christian service in a show of unity, but they are attending together.

Columnist Trudy Rubin, hardly a household name among hawks, made much the same point in her column today:
After two weeks in Iraq, I can report that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is as dysfunctional as ever, the prime minister's staff a collection of incompetents from his Shiite Dawa Party who are criticized by many in his own government.

"Things have changed a lot, but the changes need to be sustained," I was told by the savvy Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "If the government doesn't move faster, those gains could evaporate."

And yet despite the failure of the al-Maliki government to deliver vital legislation, or make anything function, things are changing politically in Iraq.

The changes are hard to see clearly because the country is still going through an ugly period of chaos and confusion, with Shiite militias battling each other in the south, and intra-Shiite violence in Baghdad. Fighting continues between Sunni tribal leaders and al-Qaida in parts of the country. And the al-Maliki government has failed to pass benchmark laws that had been viewed as signs of whether sects could reconcile.

But the sharp decline in sectarian killing has changed the way Iraqis look at politics and their post-Saddam Hussein leaders. "The less there is of sectarian killing, the more people will focus on their interests," I was told by Sheik Humam Hammoudi, an astute leader of one of the largest Shiite political parties, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). "We are in a transitional phase, from competition over identity to a competition over interests," the sheik continued.

Let me explain what that means. In the violent chaos of the post-Hussein era, even secular Iraqis turned to political groups that represented their sect as a form of protection. Long-oppressed Shiites, a numerical majority, were determined to gain the power they believed they had long been denied. Sunnis fought back to retain their old standing. Kurds focused on building their quasi-state in the north.

Now the violence has ebbed. "We have avoided a major sectarian war that could have spread," Mr. Zebari said. "It is not over, but it has died down. The overall atmosphere has changed."

Now people have the breathing room to assess their sectarian parties that have failed to deliver services or safety while indulging in astounding levels of corruption. The judgments I heard from every Iraqi I spoke with were unremittingly harsh.

Even the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has had to pay attention to popular dissatisfaction with the shakedowns and murders carried out by thugs in his Mahdi Army militia. He has dispersed hit men to try to eliminate some of the more egregious violators in Baghdad neighborhoods. I spoke to one, a hard-faced, middle-aged tough named Abu Ali, who was limping from a gunshot wound to the leg; he told me his men had killed 17 "criminals" in Baghdad's Hurriyah district on Mr. al-Sadr's orders. The Shiite mafiosi are cleaning house.

Iraq's Shiite religious leaders, too, are weighing in on the government's failures. The leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sent word through his spokesmen of his dissatisfaction with the fact that much of the parliament had decamped to Saudi Arabia for the Muslim pilgrimage at government expense. This at a time when crucial laws on oil and provincial elections are languishing in committees. Ayatollah al-Sistani said that parliamentarians would get no religious credit for the hajj because they had abandoned their duty.

Politicians in Baghdad are paying attention; many factions are discussing the possibility of a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Mr. al-Maliki in the next months. The Kurdish bloc has sent him a warning letter demanding that he reform his government so it functions, or risk losing its support.

Meantime, new segments of society are trying to get into the political system, instead of aiming to seize power through force. New Sunni tribal militias in Anbar province, known as the Anbar Awakening, that drove out al-Qaida in Iraq, are now starting to form political parties that are less sectarian in nature than the existing Sunni parties. The group may draw substantial votes away from those existing parties because it has improved Iraqis' lives.

This last point is particularly important. In the end, the provision of security is the cornerstone of a government's legitimacy. If a government does not protect its people one way or the other, it will not last. The first truly successful government of post-Ba'athist Iraq will protect its people -- with or without American help -- from al Qaeda jihadis, Iranian infiltration, Shiite militias, and organized crime. The "surge" -- which was in fact a sweeping change in tactics -- was crucial not because it would create the "space" for the current batch of clowns to "reconcile," but because the "Iraqization" of security would legitimize a new generation of political leaders with the credibility to lead the country after the American withdrawal. That is, in fact, textbook counterinsurgency, and there is evidence that it is happening.

Of course, the Democratic leadership will argue that President Bush set specific "benchmarks" -- the fair distribution of oil profits, the confessional integration of the government, and so forth -- and those have not happened so we should declare the operation a failure and bring the troops home. There are at least two responses. The first is that grass roots reconciliation may in fact be more durable than superficial reconciliation between national pols. Perhaps we are getting something better than an oil law (and, besides, more oil money is going to the provinces anyway). The second is so obvious that I am almost reluctant to write it. The American president could not very well say that a core objective -- or even a hoped-for consequence -- of the Petraeus strategy was to raise up a new generation of Iraqi leaders to supercede those presently in power, could he?

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Dec 26, 01:18:00 AM:

Given the current partisanship and rancor, I see no hope for reconciliation between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. We should pull our troops out of Washington DC immediately.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Dec 26, 08:56:00 AM:

The need for safe roads and cities is what drives the desire for totalitarian government. Corruption is ugly, but I have to believe the average Iraqi is going to decide whether he/she is "pro-democracy" based first on how safe they feel walking the streets and sending their kids to school. It's the first duty of government, as you say, but it rests on a common desire for safety and security plus a willingness to fight for it. Stories like this one are evidence that might be happening. Thanks for posting it.  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Wed Dec 26, 10:49:00 AM:

My problem is when “the political opponents of the Bush administration” cross the line and oppose the President on even things that they admit are good for the country, because they have become locked into the Zero Sum Game mindset. We have progressed politically to the point where the Democrats are the party of rage and fury, and their main political selling point is “Elect us to the Presidency and Legislature or we will throw a royal hissy fit and break things. You’ll be sorry!” After all, if we elect a Republican President in 2008, he/she will be faced with a Senate where around 5% of the membership directly opposed him/her in the most recent primary, a recipe for confrontation if there ever was one. I suspect Senate Majority Leader Hillary Clinton would be more than happy to issue a whole bale of subpoenas to President Rudy and make his first 4 years into a living heck.

Perhaps it is time for a new amendment: Resolved, that no sitting member of the US House or Senate, or of the Federal Judiciary, be eligible to run for the office of the Presidency. (Note: I did not include the State Houses, or Governorships for good Federalist reasons. Serving members of the US military should probably be counted too, but I can’t figure how to phrase it and still allow those in inactive service)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Dec 26, 11:56:00 AM:

Active duty service members are already banned from running for office.

And Gary beat me to the punch, unfortunately. The Iraqi government is dysfunctional in the middle of a counter-terrorist/quasi-sectarian struggle that is only now simmering down, in a country with no democratic tradition and no civil society outside the obliterated Baathist regime.

Congress has no such excuse.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Wed Dec 26, 09:16:00 PM:

What will al-Qaeda's counter move be in this situation? Or, more accuratley, what can their response be?

Austin Bay argues that they'll try some sort of Tet Offensive with simultaneous mass bombings in a number of Iraqi cities. Their ability, he points out, to pull something coordinated on this level is impossible - a fantasy - since they don't have any type of nation-wide system to pull it off.

But they'll try something spectacular. My guess is something inside the Green Zone or a massive attack on the Iraqi Parliament.

They've tried before; they'll try again. As they said in Animal House, it may require a really futile and stupid gesture.

They're just the guys to do it.

Let's hope with the same results.  

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