The real Iraq

Posted: Jun 06, 2006 12:05 AM

The Pentagon has concluded its investigation into the March 15 deaths of 13 Iraqis in the town of Ishaqi. It found that American soldiers acted within the rules of combat when they fired on a house after first being fired upon by a suspected al-Qaida operative. The investigation of a Nov. 19 incident in Haditha in which 24 Iraqi civilians were killed continues, though some people have already rushed to judgment and convicted a group of U.S. Marines.

Some news reports about the Ishaqi incident noted that U.S. military commanders believed the Iraqi police report was part of an attempt to discredit American troops and foment resentment among locals.

That view and the related strategy to undermine support for the war at home receives strong support from Amir Taheri, former executive editor of Kayhan, Iran's largest newspaper. Writing in the June issue of Commentary magazine, Taheri contends Americans are being presented with a false picture of conditions in Iraq. Noting the difficulty of covering Iraq adequately, Taheri writes, "...many of the newsmen, pundits, and commentators on whom American viewers and readers rely to describe the situation have been contaminated by the increasing bitterness of American politics. Clearly there are those in the media and the think tanks who wish the Iraq enterprise to end in tragedy, as a just comeuppance for George W. Bush."

For the anti-war left, hatred of the president is the filter through which all information flows. It has created a "conventional wisdom" that nothing good is happening in Iraq and even if it is, inevitable defeat awaits the United States when it must ultimately withdraw, leaving chaos behind.

"Current reality," writes Taheri, "is very different . and so are the prospects for Iraq's future."

One can understand nothing of the region without knowing its history. Taheri recalls that for some time history has been pointing "in an unequivocally positive direction." His evidence begins with refugees. He notes that when things were very bad in Iraq, people formed long lines at the Turkish and Iranian borders, hoping to escape. Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, he writes, they are coming home: "By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2 million mark." If the entire country is consumed by chaos and disorder, why would so many Iraqis return to their homeland?

Another encouraging sign cited by Taheri is the increased flow of religious pilgrims to Shiite shrines. When Saddam began massacring Shiites after a 1991 revolt against him, religious pilgrimages all but ceased. In 2005, the holy sites received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited places in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.

Other positive trends seen by Taheri include the increase in value of the Iraqi dinar, especially compared to the region's other currencies; a revival in Iraqi agricultural activity, which had experienced unprecedented decline under Saddam; and the return of "freedom of expression" to Iraq, especially in the media.

Taheri also has a strong rebuttal to those who claim the United States is trying to "impose democracy" on Iraq. He writes of Iraq's history with democracy prior to the 1958 pro-Soviet military coup d'etat that established a leftist dictatorship. Iraq came into being through a popular referendum in 1921. It established a constitutional monarchy modeled on Great Britain, with a bicameral parliament, several political parties and periodic elections.

Taheri says, ".contrary to received opinion, Operation Iraqi Freedom was not an attempt to impose democracy by force. Rather, it was an effort to use force to remove  impediments to democratization, primarily by deposing a tyrant who had utterly suppressed a well-established aspect of the country's identity."

The key to victory for Iraq and the United States is staying the course until the elected Iraqi leadership can defend itself and the country. The insurgents and terrorists are betting we won't. Much of the media and some politicians have already conceded defeat; giving sustenance to killers who believe that if they stay the course they will win. They will win if we don't. They won't win if we do.

The Taheri essay is a must-read for anyone not fixated on giving President Bush "his comeuppance."