Iraq: the unstated assumption

Posted: Feb 11, 2003 12:00 AM
The Bush administration is moving forward on Iraq with the stated assumption that Saddam Hussein must and will be stopped. But an unstated assumption is equally vital. The unstated assumption is that since people are endowed by the Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those who live under dictatorship inevitably yearn for freedom. That familiar concept from the Declaration of Independence is crucial to the administration's calculation of how Iraq's people and ordinary soldiers will respond if a war begins and Saddam's forces suffer initial defeat. Bush planners believe that Iraqis will not rally to Saddam's defense and make every city a maze of death-dealing booby traps. They think Iraqis will celebrate as did Afghans when U.S. forces gave them independence from Taliban oppressors. They see the "we" in the famous line, "We hold these truths to be self-evident," as referring equally to residents of Boston, Beijing and Baghdad. Since Bostonians in 1773 tossed tea into Boston Harbor, we can expect those in Beijing and Baghdad to oppose authoritarian rule as well, whenever they have the opportunity. That's who we are. It's self-evident. Not to some journalists. When Saddam Hussein set up his referendum last fall, NBC's Keith Miller reported that Saddam was "re-elected to another seven-year term as president in a referendum where he got 100 percent of the vote! The celebrations were genuine." CNN's Nic Robertson quoted with a straight face laudatory statements from Iraqis such as artist Abdul: "To paint for the president for this special day is important. It shows our love to him." Those press accounts seemed nonsensical, but here's a wild card: Has Saddam's seven-year "Faith Campaign" to wrap himself in a green-and-white Muslim flag been successful? He spent $7.5 million building Baghdad's Umm al-Ma-arik ("Mother of All Battles") mosque, which is surrounded by minarets shaped like Scud missiles. He has plans to build many more mosques, including the largest in the world outside of Mecca. Although Saddam rose to power as a secular semi-socialist, he is now committed to Islam, his publicists say. Saddam purportedly donated 12 quarts of his own blood over three years for the dark red calligraphy that went on 605 gold-framed pages of a copy of the Quran exhibited in the rotunda of the Umm al-Ma'arik mosque. State-run Iraqi television now broadcasts lengthy readings of the Quran. Talent contests feature chanting of the sacred text. Posters show Saddam praying. How this change from the top has affected Iraq generally is hard to say. Mosque attendance is apparently up, as is the number of women wearing traditional Islamic garb. Students are flowing into the Saddam University for Islamic Studies. The Iraqi press is stating that any who die fighting Israel or the United States have "a great status in the eyes of Allah. ... With the first drop of blood (the martyr) is given absolution and he can see his seat in paradise. He is spared the torture of the grave. He is secure from the Great Horror (of Judgment Day). He is crowned with the crown of glory. He marries black-eyed (virgins)." How deeply is this believed among Iraqis? If they are only fighting to preserve Saddam, many will stop at the first opportunity. If death in battle will yield a guaranteed trip to Islam's heaven, they will fight hard. Which is it for many or most Iraqis? "We hold these truths to be self-evident," the Declaration of Independence states. Will they be sufficiently self-evident in Iraq, despite all of Saddam's propaganda, to make the likely war a short one? That's the key question. The Bush administration implicitly says yes. Let's hope and pray that's the case.