December 11, 2006

Blame the Iraqis - Part 2.

I wrote a few days ago that a lot of people in America are now trying to shift blame for Iraqi debacle onto Iraqis. This is a really good article in this context by Peter Beinart in the New Republic (requires free registration).

He points out the fact that for most of Iraqi history (since its creation out of the Ottoman empire in 1919) the relations between Shiites and Sunnis were largely cordial, and at any rate any conflict between them was subordinated to a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism. Indeed, quoting Iraqi historian Reidar Visser, Beinart says, "in all of Iraqi history, the Shia South has never launched a broad-based movement to secede". Moreover, there was a strong tradition of cooperation and harmony between the two communities as long as there was order and security in Iraq.

All this began to change in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980s and the first Gulf war in 1991. The US bombing in 1991 and the subsequent sanctions in 1990s devastated the civil society in Iraq leading to social unrest. Traditional ties began to weaken in the face of uncertainties and hardships. In the words of Beinart, "[i]f your survival depends on it, you'll develop a neo-Nazi or Nation of Islam identity awfully fast".

The current Iraq war of course completed the disaster for Iraqi people. There was a total collapse of all infrastructure and social organizations.
A Zogby survey in August 2003 found that almost 30 percent of Iraqis had friends or family killed in the war or its anarchic aftermath. Basic services like water and electricity remained scarce as the U.S. reconstruction effort foundered because of corruption and lack of security. Unemployment hit 50 percent.

It is immoral for Americans to suppose they have no responsibility for all this.
It may be too late for the United States to provide the security required for those bonds of civility to return to Iraq. But we should, at least, have the decency to acknowledge that it was Americans (not Iraqis) who bore the responsibility under international law to provide security after Americans (not Iraqis) overthrew Saddam. It was we who failed and then handed Iraqi politicians the poisoned chalice of a government that did not sit atop a state. To be sure, Iraq's elected leaders are an uninspiring bunch. But the state fell, the army was disbanded, chaos reigned, the insurgency began, reconstruction faltered, and the die was cast in 2003-- before Iraqis first went to the polls.


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