Thursday, April 21, 2005


A Gurwitz Puzzler

I enjoyed Jonathan Gurwitz's insights as usual yesterday, but I was troubled by the opening sentence of his column:
Iraq sits on the precipice of a sectarian conflict.

It seems to me that if you read the rest of his column he directly contradicts this idea because there is hope in Iraq:
Some Sunnis had already come to the realization that the train of Iraqi democracy is leaving the station without them. Earlier this month, a group of 64 Sunni clerics and scholars issued an edict urging followers to join the Iraqi security forces and help protect the country.

And although Sunni voters largely sat out the Jan. 30 elections and hold only 20 of 275 seats in the National Assembly, a group of Sunni leaders has banded with Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer to negotiate for Cabinet positions in the new government.

The perils for Iraqis, and for the 142,000 Americans helping secure their country, are still great, the outcome of the democratic experiment in Iraq unknown. But Iraqis are finally claiming for themselves a greater stake in that experiment.

A society Iraqis are willing to risk their lives to build and defend is an Iraqi society that has taken on a life of its own.

And it's not just that he contradicts his opening line, but I am just not sure the premise is even correct. As he says, many Sunnis are starting to participate in the democratic process, and the Shiites have held back from reprisals for violence against them by the Sunnis for over two years now, so what makes it so likely that now is the time for this to all unravel?
The strategy of Zarqawi and the Baathists has always been to plunge Iraq into civil war. By committing atrocities against the Shiite majority, the objective has been to provoke a violent response. Thus far, the Shiite leadership hasn't -- to their credit -- taken the bait.

Two things have changed in recent months. U.S. forces have severely undermined the fighting capability of the insurgents. Hitting hard targets is a decreasingly attractive option for the insurgents, who have taken significant losses in recent ambushes. As attacks on U.S. troops have declined, they have risen against soft targets -- Iraqi, namely Shiite, civilians.

This is occurring as the the new government is struggling with sectarian power sharing. In other words, the insurgents have stepped up the Zarqawi strategy just as the sentiments and stakes are highest for the different political and ethnic groups and their leaders.

I'm not suggesting things are about to unravel. I am suggesting that the danger to Iraqi democrats is significantly greater. If a bomb takes out Jafari, I don't think you'll see the equivalent of the Cedar Revolution in Iraq.

In retrospect, it might have been better to write, "The forces seeking to plunge Iraq into sectarian conflict have intensified their efforts at a critical moment." But then I'd have to spend some space explaining the critical moment, as above. With only 140 lines, I wanted to move to the more meaningful -- to my mind -- development: Iraqis taking an increasing role in their own destiny.
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