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Catfish and Cod
Friday, August 29, 2003
(Link path: the Beeb)

Another bomb in Najaf has killed at least 17 (some reports are saying over 20) and damaged the Tomb of Ali. No one has claimed responsibility, but ten to one it's part of the SCIRI/al-Sadr rift in the Najaf religious community.

These tactics must end. One of the basic rules of a democracy is that, when the going gets tough, the tough don't get bombed. Or to put it in more refined terms: civil society must remain civil in its actions. No matter how bad the invective gets, assassinating your opponent (or attacking his physical power base) is never a legitimate tactic in a civilized country. If this becomes acceptable, or even tolerated, while U.S. troops are present in the city -- then you can hang up the rule of law in Iraq.

We impeached Richard Nixon simply for breaking and entering his opponent's lair. (Okay, okay, conspiracy to obstruct justice by obscuring the conspiracy to break and enter. Picky, aren't we?) Imagine what America would be like -- both then and today -- if Nixon's men had smuggled a bomb in to kill DNC operatives (and just maybe a senior Democratic staffer) instead.

Is it any wonder that both sides are now raising militias?

Militias are created when people believe that the duly constituted government cannot or will not protect them, and is unable or unwilling to prevent their organization. They are the first step toward independent polities and civil war. Najaf is no longer simply 'friendly territory', a place where people can relax compared to the (relatively) bloody Sunni Triangle. Neither side is trying to take potshots at us, but they're taking potshots all the same, and that means insecurity on the streets and in the minds of ordinary Iraqis. In the middle-to-long run, that translates into instability, a poor economy, and unhappy Iraqis.

Keep your eyes on the prize. The goal -- the real reason we invaded and occupied Iraq -- was to create a stable, prosperous, democratic, open, and happy Iraq. A proud people secure in their standing, who didn't have to blame the West and the United States for all their woes. A nation that can help lead the Middle East into the twenty-first century.

(And, yes, a base for our troops and a source of oil. Many people say that delegitimizes our war. But does that mean that only interventions that do us no good whatsoever are legitimate? We'll discuss this another time.)

Iraqis won't like it if we crack down. Surpress one side, and we'll be partisan and interventionist -- meddling in Iraqi politics. Surpress both sides, and we'll be accused of opressing Iraqi politics. Inevitably, we'll be seen as surpressing Iraqi aspirations in favor of our own.

A better answer would be to have Iraqi troops do so. But -- d'oh! -- we disbanded the Iraqi Army, and the corps of policemen and traffic cops we have trained up so far can't do the job. In another year, thanks to the miracles of cadre training and geometric growth, the Iraqi government (American-influenced or not) will have a sizable force that can stop this insanity. If we set the government and army up in such a way that no single tribe, faith, or region can dominate the apparatus of government (the way Saddam's al-Tikritis did), then such a force could surpress violence and rebellions without formenting discord and (say it softly) seperatism. But that's next year; we need solutions today.

Which is why Gen. John Abazaid, CENTCOM commander and Arab-American, supports recruiting occupation troops from other countries, particularly Muslim countries that will be less vulnerable to accusations of impropriety. Some people think that's a bad idea, as Muslims may refuse to fire on fellow Muslims, especially if the occupation force in Iraq is forced to fight Iranians, Syrians, or Saudis. Nonsense. If you're concerned about invasions or border patrols, simply make sure the Muslim forces aren't near the border. (That's not where they are needed, anyway.) And if you're concerned about firing on fellow Muslims, you're ignoring much of Muslim history.

The real sticking point is placing Muslim troops under American command. It's been done before, and it might be done again, but right now it's distasteful to many Muslim rulers. (Not really dangerous to the rulers, mind, just distasteful. It runs counter to current propaganda efforts.)

A potential compromise might be to use troops from countries originally opposed to the invasion. If the currently proposed UNSCR passes, and the occupation forces receive UN blessing, then it's possible that French, German, or Russian troops might join the occupation forces. They could be the visible hand that shuts down terror in the name of politics, without causing people to say that "you're in the American's pockets!" They might carry around a pro-Saddamite stink (which is close to deadly in much of Iraq now), and they'll never be respected by ordinary Iraqis, but at least they won't be perceived as the direct imperalist threat.

When put that way, I think I might even support the French joining the occupation effort. It would allow them to experience, firsthand, the consequences of coddling dictators. They created the Saddamite mess at least as much as we did, and they hung on to him long after the excuses used to justify their support rang hollow.

In the meantime, who will stop the bombings? The Special Forces and other shadowy organizations will do what they can, raiding bomb manufacturies and dismantling terror infrastructure. We can install better security at sensitive sites. But, in the main, it appears that the bombs may go on. That's definitely a negative, but there's a ray of hope: it will make all Iraqis detest anyone who uses tactics to gain power. Once the people are organized, they can surpress local madmen themselves. And once they do, they will have what everyone wants them to have: a peaceful, civil society.

One last point: the American troops went far out of their way to avoid shelling or bombing the Mosque of Ali. Yet some of the Iraqi people are willing to bomb it. What does that say, from either a Western or a Muslim perspective, about the relative righteousness of their causes? Who would you trust the most to guard the Mosque of Ali -- SCIRI, al-Sadr's militia, or the Americans?

(Yes, the above question forces a hard choice; that's intentional. I didn't put an entry for an honest, nonpartisan Najaf City Council police force, because they are obviously a better choice than all three of the above.)

UPDATE: Ayatollah al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, is among the dead. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the purpose of the attack was to assassinate al-Hakim, which means the blast is the work of al-Sadr. Chalabi, among others, have already blamed us for the attack, saying it was our duty to provide better protection. Others are blaming Saddamites, who are now about as easy to pick on as Nazis. (Not that this development is a bad thing.) Also, this is apparently the third attempt on an al-Hakim family member in the last week. (Only this attack succeeded.)

The Boston Globe characterizes this fight as a "generational power struggle." No doubt it is. But whatever struggles occur are the business of the people involved. When you set off bombs, it becomes other people's problem. The Iraqi people must believe, down deep in their bones, that bombs are not the way to resolve conflicts. But how can this idea be instilled? I really don't know. Perhaps the Iraqis themselves can try some ideas.