Iraq’s Ripple Effect


Your quest for the “right Sunnis” implies that Iraqis are being blown up on a daily basis because the insurgents (or their representatives) want to join the government. This premise is backward: The insurgents and their advocates have never wanted to be in the government; they are against any sort of democracy and want to destroy it.

I’m concerned that you believe that we can co-opt the insurgency by empowering the “right Sunnis.” This ignores the potential for revolt from the Iraqi majority—from the very communities holding the center in Iraq today and keeping the country’s democracy on track.

The coalition tried a similar backfiring approach last spring with the establishment of the Fallujah Brigade. The goal was to transfer meaningful responsibility in Fallujah to general officers from Saddam’s army. Soon after, however, irate Shiite leaders pointed out that we had empowered a senior general involved in the massacre of 5,000 Shiites in Karbala in 1991.

We need to be very careful about how we try to solve problems in Iraq and to whom the Iraqi government grants authority in that pursuit.

Sure, there must be truth and reconciliation if failure is to be averted. But nothing would guarantee failure more than immediately bringing Sunni insurgents and Saddam loyalists to power.

What matters most is that the Sunni population—not the insurgents—see that democracy includes them and will increasingly represent them the more they increase their participation in the system.

And that is exactly what is happening. Last January, the vast majority of Sunnis took a pass on the election. And they soon regretted that they did not have a seat at the table. The lesson was clear: If Iraqis want to have influence, they must vote. Better this be the message than rewarding those Iraqis that have been murdering their fellow citizens.

Sure enough, every Sunni leader I have spoken to—most of whom sat out the last election—expects Sunnis to turn out in the next election.

As for minority rights of Christians and women, I share your concerns. While there is much work ahead in this area, I am encouraged by something you point out: Iraqi women are responding by publicly protesting the government—something that they are not allowed to do in almost every other part of the region.

Larry, we should not measure our success based on a handful of overzealous politicians abusing their power. This dangerous combination of ideologues and opportunity for corruption exists in some of the world’s healthiest democracies. Rather, the success of Iraq’s democracy should be measured by whether we have created the space and institutions for average citizens—especially minorities—to hold their government accountable. Iraq may not be a perfect democracy just six months or so after its first election. But the space for democracy does exist and the institutions continue to develop.

And with this space and these institutions, post-Saddam Iraq is stimulating a ripple effect of reform throughout the Middle East that is advancing U.S. interests.