New Iraqi government is none of our business
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005
By my count, recent TV euphoria over the Iraqi elections constituted
the fifth American victory celebration in fewer than two years. First came
the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in April 2003, followed by
President Bush’s swaggering "Mission accomplished" aircraft carrier
photo op. Saddam was dragged from his underground hidey hole and placed
under arrest in December 2003. The Coalition Authority’s hastily
improvised transfer of sovereignty to Prime Minister Ayad Allawi took
place on June 30, 2004. Then came last month’s election, with its
emotionally charged images of ordinary Iraqi citizens courageously
lining up to vote. On each occasion, we peasants have been urged to
kneel in tribute to the brilliant foresight and steely resolve of
George W. Bush. Never mind those imaginary weapons of mass destruction.
Ignore the thousands of American and Iraqi dead. We’re not even
supposed to remember that the election wasn’t Bush’s idea, but
was basically forced upon him by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. An
Iranian-born Shiite cleric who won’t even talk directly to foreign
occupiers, Sistani demanded it to pacify his followers.
It’s also basically thanks to Sistani that Bush himself has quit
sounding like Pat Robertson and more like "a dorm-room Marxist," as
Michael Kinsley put it after the State of the Union speech.
Conservative pundits who had ridiculed persons naïve enough to
blame terrorism on anything other than sheer, implacable evil
suddenly heard Bush talking about "eliminating the conditions
that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder." "If whole regions
of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred," Bush said,
"they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror
will stalk America."
Well, yes. Exactly as thinkers like Anonymous (a. k. a. Michael
Scheuer,the former CIA agent who wrote the book, "Imperial Hubris:
Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror") have insisted all along.
See, human beings are human beings. Humiliate people, corrupt
their governments, mock their faith, steal their property, bomb
their children, and soon they start hating you. Charismatic extremists
like Osama bin Laden then gets a following. The U.S. didn’t
create today’s Middle East, but neither are we entirely blameless.
Since the Sunni Arabs (who constitute roughly 20 percent of Iraq’s
population, and maybe 90 percent of the anti-U.S. insurgency) boycotted
Iraq’s election, exactly as he’d anticipated, Sistani also emerged as
the big winner in the election. The ayatollah wasn’t on the ballot, but
his followers won more than half the seats in Iraq’s 275-member
assembly, charged with appointing a transitional government and writing
In combination with the Kurds, Iraq’s Shiite majority could seek
revenge if they chose to. Both have been victims of Sunni oppression
under the Ottoman Turks, the post-World War I British occupation and
the U.S.-backed (until the 1991 Gulf War) Saddam regime. And it does
appear that roughly 80 percent of Iraqi voters voted mainly on the basis of
ethnicity, including Turkmen and Assyrian Christian minorities.
The temptation for people like me who thought invading Iraq was a
terrible mistake is to mockery. After all, the same neo-conservative
ideologues who predicted that Iraqis would strew flowers in the path of
American invaders also envisioned turning the country over to a
hand-picked secular government. Headed by a well-financed, Westernized
politician like Allawi, the interim prime minister, the new Iraq was
supposed to be pro-Israeli and to serve as a bulwark against
neighboring Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
Instead, we’ve turned the place over to an Iranian-born ayatollah
wearing a beard and a turban. At Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution
meetings and during Friday prayers, crowds sometimes chant," Death to
Israel!" "This is a government that will have very good relations with
Iran," Juan Cole, a University of Michigan expert on Iraq, told The
Washington Post. "The Kurdish victory reinforces this conclusion.
[Kurdish leader Jalal] Talabani is very close to Tehran.... In terms of
regional geopolitics, this is not the outcome that the United States
was hoping for."
It also could be bad news for Iraqi women. As near as I can make out
from the ayatollah’s English-language Web site (sistani. org), for
example, temporary marriage is OK, except that "due to probably
committing sins [it] is not permissible" to actually talk to the girl
first. The decision’s up to her father or brother. Veils are mandatory.
Also, no music, no dancing, no chess playing. Sistani sounds like James
Dobson on crack. Islamic canon law also offers scant consolation for
boosters of American-style free enterprise. But you know what? That’s
none of our business and never was. Sistani’s admirers depict him as a
scholar of judicious temperament who, like Thomas Jefferson, believes
that clerics holding power corrupt both church and state. It’s
anticipated that he’ll seek an Iraqi constitution respecting minority
rights in the hope of avoiding a civil war. Then it’s further
anticipated that Iraq’s new government would ask Americans to leave.
If it takes an ayatollah to bring that off, then more power to him.
• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient
of the National Magazine Award.