fallujah - tim hames (times)

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    November 08, 2004


    Iraq isn't Star Wars. It just looks that way when you're from Planet Kofi
    Tim Hames

    MUCH OF the media coverage of Fallujah has been conducted in the spirit of Star Wars. The Americans are portrayed as imperial stormtroopers, determined to destroy everything in their path, while the “insurgents” are cast as faintly romantic rebels. That these bandits and their allies are responsible for car bombings such as the massacre in Samarra this weekend and willing to disarm 21 police officers in Haditha, tie their hands behind their backs and shoot them in cold blood, seems to be regarded as extremely unfortunate but somehow understandable. It is presented not as evidence of the depth of their evil but the extent of their frustration.
    It is bad enough that television channels have decided that Fallujah is a latter-day Alamo with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi serving as an improbable Davy Crockett. It is worse when Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, chooses to echo such sentiments. His letter to the Iraqi and American leaderships reveals just how far from reality he and the organisation which he represents have drifted. Diplomats were once described as honourable men sent abroad to lie for their country. The UN appears to exist today so that figures such as Mr Annan can peddle falsehoods to themselves.

    Mr Annan intoned that “forthcoming elections are the keystone in a broader process to restore stability and legitimacy in Iraq”. Having thus stated the obvious he went on to muse that it is “essential that current efforts to attract a spectrum of Iraqis to join the political process succeed”. Moving from platitudes into code, Mr Annan next reached the crux of his argument. The issue, he surmised, is one of “persuading elements who are currently alienated from, or sceptical about, the transition process to compete politically in Iraq”. After all, “the process of insecurity can only be addressed through dialogue and an inclusive political process”. In other words, any assault on Fallujah would undermine Iraq’s drive towards democracy and prosperity.

    As an expression of Mr Annan’s “let’s hold hands” outlook on life, this homily could hardly be beaten. As a practical formula for dealing with Fallujah it could scarcely be more mistaken. The ad hoc coalition of diehard Baathists, Sunni nationalists and al-Qaeda inspired terrorists such as the al-Zarqawi faction are not merely “alienated from” or “sceptical about” the “transition process”, they are fundamentally opposed to it. They have not been waging their vile campaign of murder because they are dissatisfied with the form of proportional representation the elections might employ or perturbed about Article II, Clause 3, line 6 of the present draft constitution. An “inclusive political process” is the last thing that they want to see emerging.

    Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister of Iraq, charitably described Mr Annan’s intervention as “confused”. As he has spent months inducing the Fallujah fanatics to disarm, he could have been more blunt. He hinted at his real thoughts in remarking that if Mr Annan believed he could stop these sadists, then he was “welcome to try”.

    So before a new, inevitable, round of “bonehead American troops flatten sleepy Iraqi market town” reports occur, there are three things worth remembering about this conflict.

    The first is that the battle for Fallujah is now the battle for Iraq. The Shia uprisings inspired by the opportunist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf and Baghdad mysteriously ended once Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returned from medical care in London and reasserted his influence over his community. The whole focus today is whether or not a relatively small band of well-armed extremists can impose anarchy on a nation.

    It is not, unfortunately, the case that if the terrorist network in Fallujah is crushed, then bombings and killings across Iraq will stop in short order. To deprive al-Zarqawi and his ilk of their base would, nevertheless, make life considerably more difficult for them. The sort of meticulous planning displayed in the atrocities at Samarra and Haditha would be hard to duplicate when forced to operate on the run.

    Further, and contrary to what Mr Annan has deduced, unless order is restored in places such as Fallujah, then credible elections in Iraq in January may well be impossible. The victors in that contest can claim a mandate only if all parts of the Iraqi population are are to participate in the ballot.

    This will not be easy but, as the recent poll in Afghanistan illustrates, it is not impossible either. To leave Fallujah in the hands of outlaws means effectively abandoning the democratic process. The “dialogue” which Mr Annan aspires to foster would have no meaningful forum.

    Finally, the January and December elections next year will make or break Iraq politically. If they pass off reasonably peacefully, then by 2006 there will be an administration in Iraq blessed by the voters there, in command of substantial oil revenues (one of the unreported stories of the past month has been the recovery in output since the summer), in receipt of vast financial aid for physical reconstruction courtesy of the American taxpayer and some other contributors and in charge of what would then be a substantially improved army and police force.

    The extent to which such an authority in Baghdad would serve as a “beacon” to the rest of the Middle East is, of course, debatable. At a minimum, it would constitute a far brighter light and cause for hope than that which Saddam Hussein provided to the region.

    One might, by contrast, assert, as Benjamin Franklin did, that “he who lives upon hope will die fasting”. It is easier to be a fatalist about Iraq than an optimist. I concede that the aftermath of the war has been more awkward than I thought it would be. All the signs are, though, that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want elections to be held, approve of democracy, and endorse full national sovereignty without the Baathists or acolytes of Osama bin Laden.

    Fallujah is not akin to Star Wars or a modern Alamo. It should prove instead to be Iraq’s Gettysburg.

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