December 20, 2003


Iraqi Shiites Enter New Era of Inclusion, Not Exclusion (SUSAN SACHS, 12/21/03, NY Times)

Iraq's Shiites, long the underclass in a nation where they are the majority, stand on the verge of their first real chance at political power in Iraq.

After the Shiites were sidelined for centuries by successive Sunni and foreign rulers, their political and religious leaders have become the dominant players in the American-led process of shaping a new, more representative government for Iraq.

"Our tragedy will not occur again," vowed Muhammad Hussein al-Hakim, a spokesman for his father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, one of the four most senior Shiite clerics in Iraq. "There is no turning back the tide." [...]

The country's Shiite leaders have taken pains to avoid openly antagonizing the American occupiers, the Sunnis or the Iraqi Kurds. The Shiites have said they do not seek a theocratic form of government like that in neighboring Iran, the next-largest Shiite nation. They have said they do not seek to oppress other groups.

But the Shiite leadership has also made it clear that its modesty should not be mistaken for meekness. The Shiites are believed to make up as much as 70 percent of Iraq's population of 25 million, and Mr. Hakim, whose family has produced a long line of senior clerics, said they would not accept less than the presidency of an independent Iraq.

"We don't want a dictatorship of the majority to dominate," said Mr. Hakim. "But we do want to preserve the rights of the majority, which is the Shia, and the simplest right is to have the head of state come from the majority. Isn't that correct?"

Mr. Hakim seems to understand democratic theory better than those Westerners who are more conncerned about minority rights than majority governance.

A Break at Last: Is That Hissing Sound the Last Gasp of Iraqi Insurgency? (Hiwa Osman, December 21, 2003, Washington Post)

Saddam Hussein's humiliating capture freed him from a fugitive's gloomy life of rat holes and battered taxis. For thousands of his victims, his arrest meant release from their own silent isolation, and they took to the streets in wild celebration. Friends in Iraq with access to e-mail sent me messages saying: "Happy Capture Day," like joyful Merry Christmas greetings in the West. [...]

Some foreign observers and journalists have expressed doubts about the importance of Hussein's capture, and whether it will weaken the violent Iraqi campaign against U.S. forces and all other supporters of a new Iraq. Such doubts are misplaced. Saddam's role in the "resistance" was both symbolic and practical. His arrest should result in the collapse of the insurgency, even if the impact is not felt immediately. The insurgents may not lay down their weapons. When the head of a snake is cut off, the body twitches for some time. With Saddam sitting in jail -- and soon in a courtroom -- his loyalists will eventually get the message that the head is gone. [...]

Saddam's loyalists have provided the backbone of the insurgency. They are experienced security and intelligence officers with established networks, intimate knowledge of Iraqi geography (especially in the central region) and an understanding of the infrastructure of major cities. Operating with large sums of disposable cash from their hideouts in the Sunni triangle, they have been able to exploit the disgruntled and unemployed by offering money in exchange for conventional attacks on U.S. military targets. A pattern has emerged where reported sightings of former senior Baath officials in a given area have been followed by an increase in attacks on U.S. military and civilian targets. At the same time, this loyalist Baathist backbone has been providing the intelligence, local knowledge and guidance to foreign Islamic militants seeking to carry out suicide attacks.

The elusiveness of Saddam was an important symbol of America's ineptitude. Until now, those who suffered at his hands were too afraid to openly support the new American-led system, lest the dictator would somehow return. But more significantly, they were rapidly losing faith in American ability to deliver, which exacerbated fear. [...]

The capture of Saddam redeems the U.S. occupation and renews a marginalized, victimized people's hope that they can be part of the new national project of building a free, secure and democratic Iraq. It is important that the United States recognize this opportunity. The arrest of Saddam has flushed out his supporters, who are less followers of the man than Sunni Arabs who fear the loss of their minority rule to the Shia majority. Their open street demonstrations of support for Saddam should be welcomed, not feared, because it means their activities have ceased to be clandestine.

Those who were backing Saddam and believed he would one day return now feel that they are on their own. What do they fight for, if not his return? They will have to move into the political arena and fight for a place at the table alongside their fellow Iraqis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2003 3:49 PM

Mr. Judd;

Well, no, having the head of state from the majority is hardly a right, much less the simplest.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 21, 2003 2:14 PM

The majority doesn't get to rule?

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2003 2:47 PM