Iraq: Bush's Islamic Republic
Volume 52, Number 13 · August 11, 2005
Iraq: Bush's Islamic Republic
By Peter W. Galbraith
The New York Review of Books
On June 4, Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, attended the inauguration of the Kurdistan National Assembly in Erbil, northern Iraq. Talabani, a Kurd, is not only the first-ever democratically elected head of state in Iraq, but in a country that traces its history back to the Garden of Eden, he is, as one friend observed, "the first freely chosen leader of this land since Adam was here alone." While Kurds are enormously proud of his accomplishment, the flag of Iraq—the country Talabani heads—was noticeably absent from the inauguration ceremony, nor can it be found anyplace in Erbil, a city of one million that is the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region.
Ann Bodine, the head of the American embassy office in Kirkuk, spoke at the ceremony, congratulating the newly minted parliamentarians, and affirming the US commitment to an Iraq that is, she said, "democratic, federal, pluralistic, and united." The phrase evidently did not apply in Erbil. In their oath, the parliamentarians were asked to swear loyalty to the unity of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Many pointedly dropped the "of Iraq."
The shortest speech was given by the head of the Iranian intelligence service in Erbil, a man known to the Kurds as Agha Panayi. Staring directly at Ms. Bodine, he said simply, "This is a great day. Throughout Iraq, the people we supported are in power." He did not add "Thank you, George Bush." The unstated was understood.
When President Bush spoke to the nation on June 28, he did not mention Iran's rising influence with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. He did not point out that the two leading parties in the Shiite coalition are pursuing an Islamic state in which the rights of women and religious minorities will be sharply curtailed, and that this kind of regime is already being put into place in parts of Iraq controlled by these parties. Nor did he say anything about the almost unanimous desire of Kurdistan's people for their own independent state.
Instead, President Bush depicted the struggle in Iraq as a battle between the freedom-loving Iraqi people and terrorists. Without the sacrifices of the American servicemen and -women, and the largesse of the US taxpayer, the terrorists could win. As Bush put it, "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11—if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi."
Bush's effort to revive the link between Iraq and September 11 produced a flood of criticism, leading some of his critics to dismiss him as a habitual liar on Iraq matters. Alas, the comment may be more indicative of how disconnected administration strategy is from the realities of Iraq. Unfortunately, many of the administration's sharpest critics seem to share its assumption that there is a people sharing a common Iraqi identity, an inaccurate assumption that provides fodder for misleading Vietnam analogies.
There is, in fact, no Iraqi insurgency. There is a Sunni Arab insurgency. And it cannot win. Neither the al-Qaeda terrorists nor the former Baathists can win. Even if the US withdrew tomorrow, neither insurgents nor terrorists would be knocking down the gates to Iraq's Presidential Palace in Baghdad.
Basically, the military equation in Iraq comes down to demographics. Sunni Arabs are no more than 20 percent of Iraq's population.....