Iraq needs a statesman, not a strongman

September 26, 2004|By Fawaz A. Gerges

IRAQ'S INTERIM prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in concert with the White House, painted a rosy picture of developments in his war-torn country in a charm offensive last week aimed at Americans to offset the bad news from battleground.

In an orchestrated public relations blitz at the United Nations and in Washington, Dr. Allawi lent his support to the Bush administration by underwriting its overly optimistic view that real progress toward democracy is gaining momentum in Iraq.

In a rare speech to a joint session of Congress and in interviews with U.S. and British news media, Dr. Allawi insisted that the insurgency is dissipating and national elections will proceed as planned in late January. "Elections will occur in Iraq on time in January because Iraqis want elections on time," Dr. Allawi told Congress.

He portrayed the insurgency as mostly a terrorist phenomenon that was part of an "international war" on terrorism fought on Iraqi soil. And he dismissed concerns that Iraq could plunge into a full-scale civil war while conceding that the country is plagued by a "disintegration of law and order" and that it is a "tough struggle with setbacks."

But contrary to Dr. Allawi's assertions, the 17-month-old guerrilla insurgency is getting stronger, more sophisticated and more widespread.

Suicide bombings and attacks against Iraqi officials and civilians, coalition forces, foreigners and the infrastructure continue unabated.

According to U.S. military commanders, the number of attacks on U.S. forces nearly quadrupled from 700 in March to 2,700 in August.

Hundreds of Iraqis were killed over the last two weeks. Insurgent militias have succeeded in terrorizing Iraqis and foreigners and have torpedoed reconstruction efforts. Kidnapping and executing foreign personnel is routine.

Evidence also contradicts Dr. Allawi's assertion that the widespread insurgency is mostly due to an influx of terrorists from neighboring countries.

Though Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist leader, and his radical Islamist followers from abroad are suspected of carrying out the deadliest attacks in Iraq, homegrown Iraqi Islamists, nationalists and disaffected young men predominate. The number of foreign fighters is estimated to be only in the hundreds, while indigenous Iraqi resistance fighters can be mobilized locally by the tens of thousands.

Dr. Allawi's professed strategy is to divide Iraqi insurgents from Mr. al-Zarqawi' s militants by offering the Iraqis leniency and Mr. al-Zarqawi's men the punishment that hardcore criminals deserve. Yet so far, the prime minister has not shown genuine interest in following through with his promise of peace.

Members of the country's largest group of Sunni clerics - the Association of Muslim Scholars, which represents more than 3,000 mosques - complain that Dr. Allawi has not met with them, let alone tried to integrate their representatives into the nascent political process. The minority Sunnis were in power under Saddam Hussein.

If Dr. Allawi does not meet with these Sunni clerics, who have close links to Iraqi insurgents, how will he tame the spiraling insurgency or detach homegrown fighters from foreign militant groups? To show its dissent, the Association of Muslim Scholars decided not to participate in the January vote, throwing doubts on the elections' legitimacy.

Further, Dr. Allawi's treatment of the Shiite radical Muqtada al-Sadr raises alarming questions about his commitment to political inclusion and reconciliation.

Is this how to build a new, democratic Iraq? Is Dr. Allawi creating another authoritarian Iraq? An Iraqi politician bluntly told Western journalists that Dr. Allawi "appeared to be reverting to his roots as a former member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, where political dissent was often silenced with the gun." Iraq does not need another autocrat. It already had more than its share of dictators who promised heaven but delivered hell.

Dr. Allawi is acting like an entrenched strongman with no intention of retiring soon. He has shown little regard for the rule of law, particularly the interim constitution. He pushed sweeping laws through the Cabinet that concentrate more power in his own hands. He has relied more on force and arm-twisting than on a genuine process of persuasion and inclusion. His governing methods are divisive and do not take into account the deep ethnic and religious divisions that exist among Iraqi communities, which threaten to plunge the country into a civil war. He publicly denies the danger and has done little to reduce the threat.

At this critical juncture, Iraq desperately requires a statesman with a unifying vision and political skills who reassures the warring communities of their place and stake in the new Iraq. The key to success and peaceful coexistence is the equitable inclusion and integration of all social and religious segments of the population.

Dr. Allawi's American benefactors must impress on him the urgent need to build bridges to all Iraqi communities and honor the rule of law. Paying lip service to reconstruction and democracy won't do. A policy of reconciliation must be fully embraced, and all Iraqis must be given a stake in their country's future in order to defeat the brutal insurgency that has caused too many deaths and too much pain and destruction.

Fawaz A. Gerges is a professor of Middle East and international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and author of the forthcoming The Jihadists: Unholy Warriors.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.