Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Remember Iraq? That country we invaded a couple of years ago?

It seems as if everyone in America has more or less forgotten about it (except for, y'know, the hundreds of thousands of people who are either risking death there or waiting back home for a loved one to return home safe), but in the meantime the Iraqis are trying to put together a government.

And, apparently, not doing a bang-up job of it:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 29 - The second meeting of the new Iraqi constitutional assembly descended into a series of contentious exchanges today, as some members accused others of hijacking the political process and betraying the Iraqi people by failing to form a government.

Prominent politicians also said in interviews that the delay in forming a government could force the assembly to take an extra half-year to write the permanent constitution, pushing the deadline for a first draft well beyond the original target date of Aug. 15. That means the delay could significantly throw off the timetable for the establishment of a full-term democratically elected government....

That's from a story that went up on the New York Times site today. But meanwhile, there's just so much love in Iraq. This is from an article in Sunday's Washington Post about Jalaledin Saghir, a highly influential Shiite preacher/politician whose get-out-the-vote campaign in January is said to have really boosted Shiite turnout:

In contrast to the public statements of the Supreme Council, with their emphasis on reconciliation with and inclusion of disenchanted Sunnis, Saghir is brusque with his followers....

Insurgents? They are dismissed as Hussein loyalists disguised as holy warriors -- "Baathists wearing beards and turbans," he calls them in one sermon.

... He ridicules the doctrine of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the most influential Sunni Muslim group, as "Saddam Hussein's Islam." And purges lie ahead, he warns, for Iraq's outgoing interim government, which he calls tainted by "the dirty faces of the Baathists.".

"The killers of today," he says in another sermon, "are the same killers as yesterday."

National reconciliation? "With whom?" he has asked in more than one talk. "With those criminals who have shed the blood of our people in Hilla, Karbala, Najaf and every other place in Iraq?"

And this is from Sunday's Boston Globe:

For the first time, Sunni Muslim sheiks are publicly exhorting followers to strike with force against ethnic Kurds and Shi'ites, an escalation in rhetoric that could exacerbate the communal violence that already is shaking Iraq's ethnic communities.

''The Americans aren't the problem; we're living under an occupation of Kurds and Shi'ites," Sattar Abdulhalik Adburahman, a Sunni leader from the northern city of Kirkuk, told a gathering of tribal leaders last week, to deafening applause. ''It's time to fight back."

Such calls for violence are being voiced against the backdrop of an alarming rise in tit-for-tat ethnic and sectarian killings.

According to several Iraqi leaders, Shi'ite death squads routinely kill Sunnis suspected of ties to the Ba'ath Party or insurgency. Bands of Sunnis target Shi'ites in retaliation, Sunni political leaders like Adnan Pachachi said, suggesting that significant organizations, rather than small splintered cells of vigilantes, are driving the killing.

...''In hot areas, our dignity is humiliated every day," Sheik Amash Awad al-Obeidi, leader of 17,000 tribesmen in Ramadi, told the Sunni gathering, exhorting his fellow chiefs to concentrate on action, not endless political meetings. ''We are sinking in blood. Enough words."

And in Basra, as I've noted a couple of times already, followers of Moqtada al-Sadr recently beat students who were engaging in such moral outrages as picnicking with members of the opposite sex and listening to music, while the local authorities said they were helpless to intervene without the backing of a central government. (More on this story here, from today's Washington Post.)

Kidnappings? Did I mention the rash of kidnappings?

I keep thinking that -- to use the terms Woody Allen used in Annie Hall -- Iraq has gone from the horrible to the miserable. And could turn horrible again at any moment.

Was it worth it?

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