Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 2003 / 18 Elul, 5763
Giving Iraqis a Stake
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | . Iraq has endured a brutal summer of deadly car bomb attacks, of isolated but steady assassinations of U.S. troops and those who work with them, and of sabotage of electricity, water and oil installations. And yet the country has not plunged into chaos or the bloody civil war that experts have long predicted. Iraq still stands.
It is far too early to say that the U.S.-led reconstruction effort has shaken off the worst punches its enemies can throw. Saddam Hussein's dead-enders and the Islamic jihadists who have poured into the country since the end of the spring invasion are certain to test America's strategic patience and Iraq's social cohesion again and again. Chaos that forces a U.S. withdrawal is their objective.
But there are signs that after each new horror inflicted by these forces of destabilization, which appear to be coordinating their deadly work, a fragile equilibrium of order returns in a country that has known only war and tyranny for the past three decades.
There has been relative calm, for example, in Najaf since the barbaric bombing there on Aug. 29 of the Shiite central mosque and shrine of Ali. Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim and 124 others died in that blast, which seemed planned by their killers to foment sectarian strife between the country's Shiite majority and the Sunni minority that was Saddam's base of support. But the Shiites have not sought bloody revenge nor taken to the streets in sustained protest.
Why is a matter of speculation. "Our conversations with moderate Shiite leaders since Aug. 29 have been extraordinarily free of bitterness and rancor. They would never say so directly, but perhaps this tragedy has emphasized for them the reality that the occupation is not the biggest problem they face," a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority office in Baghdad says.
That does not mean the occupation authority will not be criticized by those same leaders publicly for failing to protect Hakim -- even though the CPA provided weapons, funds for training and hiring guards and other logistical help to the governor of Najaf weeks before the explosion. Shiite leaders had asked that U.S. troops not be stationed near the mosque, according to CPA officials.
In a related development, FBI explosive experts have turned up evidence linking the Najaf explosion to the suicide bombing of the United Nations compound on Aug. 19 and to the Aug. 7 attack on the Jordanian embassy, both in Baghdad, according to one U.S. official. "They think they see the signature of one bomb maker in the three attacks," this official told me.
That raises serious questions about the extent of support for the insurrection, which could be dealt a severe blow by the capture of a lone bomb maker. The occupation authorities also see hope in a new effort to give tribes in the Sunni heartland a stake in protecting oil pipelines and other facilities from sabotage.
These authorities now understand much better the system of rewards and punishments that the Baathist regime used to keep these tribes loyal. For one thing, the tribes were given regular payments if the pipelines in their territories encountered no problems. Sabotage or other security problems in a tribe's area brought an immediate cutoff of those payments from Baghdad.
The protection funds ceased with the invasion -- and sabotage suddenly erupted. Now payments to the tribes are being restored by CPA officials, who are silently testing the theory that Sunni sheiks looking for a renewal of their customary meal ticket may have been negligent about, if not responsible for, damage to the national pipeline system. Paid town councils are also being established in Sunni areas and warned that salaries will stop if there are security problems in their jurisdictions.
Shocked at this accommodation of a protection racket? I'm prepared to hold the outrage. The biggest problem of the occupation has been the inability to find Sunni leaders who saw a stake for themselves in the occupation's success and who would protect that stake by joining the fight against the forces of destabilization. The tragic killing of Iraqi civilians in Fallujah on Friday may set back this effort, at least momentarily.
U.S. forces operating in a distant land of a seemingly unending nightmare need all the help they can get in isolating and eliminating the Iraqi dead-enders and the Wahhabi extremists moving into the country from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Help begins at home in this case. The sang-froid that Iraq's Shiites and Kurds have shown in responding to the killers' provocations and the new U.S. thinking on engaging the Sunnis at the local level will hardly guarantee success. They do suggest, however, that the struggle to rebuild Iraq has certainly not been lost.
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