It is frequently said that protracted terrorism has an atomizing effect on a polity, reducing civil society to so much human dust. In Iraq it may be having the opposite effect: Rather than disaggregating Iraqis, the force of the explosions -- especially the one on Feb. 22 that demolished the dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra -- seems to have blown them together, ruinously, into furious Sunni and Shiite blocs.
Just in May, just in Baghdad, sectarian violence killed 1,400 -- and that figure does not include victims of car bombs. It speaks depressing volumes about the U.S. predicament that the new idea is to ... conquer Baghdad. On April 20, the Iraq War became as long as the Korean War. This Friday the war will be as long -- 1,185 days -- as U.S. involvement in the Second World War was when U.S. troops captured the Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen and became the first foreign troops to cross the Rhine since Napoleon's in 1805. And Baghdad beyond the Green Zone is a war zone, which accounts for the flight from the country of many educated and mobile Iraqis.
But it did not take three years of Zarqawi and terrorism and sectarian violence to turn Iraqis into difficult raw material for self-government. For that, give another devil his due: Saddam Hussein's truly atomizing tyranny and terror did that. On June 20, 2003, just 72 days after the fall of Baghdad, The Washington Post reported this vignette from Fallujah:
"Military engineers recently cleared garbage from a field in Fallujah, resurfaced it with dirt and put up goal posts to create an instant soccer field. A day later, the goal posts were stolen and all the dirt had been scraped from the field. Garbage began to pile up again.''
An Army captain asked, "What kind of people loot dirt?'' There are many answers to that question. Here is one: A kind of people who are hard to help.