This didn't necessarily go unnoticed by the American press, it just went under-noticed. For example, in 1999 the editors of the Chicago Tribune decried the paucity of information about what they called "America's Other War." "We know there's shooting going on, but to what purpose?" they asked. "What is the Clinton administration trying to accomplish with this low-grade war?"
Interestingly, the one group of people who understood clearly that there was a war on was the hard left, which consistently held rallies, sit-ins, tofu-marshmallow roasts, etc. against America's war "on" Iraq. Despite their dishonest and/or disputable assertions about who was to blame and what the repercussions were, the leftists understood that economic sanctions, military patrols of their airspace, and, of course, bombing were not acts of peace. The funny thing was, the moment George Bush started talking about finally pulling the band-aid off, the left immediately started griping about how we needed to give "peace one more chance." The French, who had been working tirelessly to end the sanctions regime, abruptly claimed the sanctions had been working great. (We now know why some French officials liked the sanctions, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) Suddenly, sanctions and no-fly zones weren't the stuff of war, but the stuff of peace.
In other words America's war with Iraq overlaid an older war - or wars - within Iraq. Ibrahim Jaafari and Jalal Talibani were both anti-Saddam combatants long before America was anti-Saddam. Jaafari had been the spokesman for the militant Dawaa Party. He went into exile in the 1970s when Saddam crushed it. Talibani headed one of the two main parties seeking an independent Kurdistan.
The hope is that Messrs. Jaafari and Talibani have seen the light and understand that rather than fight a sectional conflict, the brighter future lies in uniting their country. They certainly seem to be saying the right things in this regard, and there's good reason to hope they mean it. More important, and more telling, is that these men attained their positions through an imperfect but nonetheless historically heroic democratic process. Mr. Talibani is not only the first Kurdish head of state in the region, he's arguably the most prominent Kurdish Muslim leader since Saladin. Jaafari, whatever his faults, represents the democratic aspirations of the majority of Iraqis.
This is truly joyous, exciting stuff to behold. It wouldn't have happened were it not for George W. Bush, and that fact seems to blind many from appreciating it.
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