A year after the conquest of Iraq, the collapse seems to be only now beginning. Last week the Americans lost control of two cities, Najaf and Kut (Kut has, in the meantime, been regained), and Falluja has become a full-scale field of battle. Foreign nationals, journalists, contractors and activists in international charity organizations are afraid to go to work for fear of being kidnapped. One minister resigned and another was forced to resign from the temporary Iraqi Governing Council, the preparations for handing over power to a responsible government on June 30 are going nowhere, a separatist Shi'ite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, is the hero of the day, and the prospects for installing democracy in Iraq are rapidly fading.
The coalition forces, too, are beginning to announce their abandonment of the campaign. Spain will remove its forces in June, Korea is likely to follow suit, and Poland is already considering an early departure. The possibility that the American forces deployed in Iraq will be thinned out before the summer does not look likely for the time being, so the 135,000 U.S. troops that have already been in Iraq for a year will continue their missions there and may even be bolstered by more forces.
These developments are overshadowing the successes the coalition forces have chalked up in Iraq: restoration of the education system and the electricity grid, oil production, the formulation of a provisional constitution, and agreement on a timetable to establish a new government and hold elections. Iraq is occupied, yes, but it is no longer "tamed." Even as the current round of rough events unfolds, a political principle of surpassing importance looms: The U.S. administration is not forgoing a local leadership. It is succeeding in distinguishing between terrorist organizations and sectors that, even if not happy with the occupation, are ready to go the extra mile with the American authorities in order to establish an Iraqi government at the end of the process.
The Americans were quick to grasp the mistake in the appointment of a temporary Iraqi government under the leadership of Ahmed Chalabi, and brought about the appointment of a rotating temporary government of 25 members. The United States is not positing an ultimatum concerning the composition of the responsible government that will be established at the end of June and is not ruling out any candidate. If elections are held at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2005, according to a proposal that was agreed upon with the Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the U.S. will not decide who will head the government. Groups that were originally intended to be kept away from positions of power, such as supporters of the Baath Party, or soldiers of the Iraqi army, are in part returning to service and in any event are no longer being referred to as enemies. The general impression is that the U.S. government is no longer competing with the Iraqis for the management of the country. It's possible that things will change if Iraq slides into a civil war, but the principle that Iraq will be governed by Iraqis is a strategic decision.
The Americans could easily fall into the Israeli mistake and assert that, in light of the latest events, the Shi'ites are the enemy, the Sunnis are terrorists and only the Kurds are "all right." They could just as easily decide that, as long as terrorism continues, an Iraqi government will not be established, there will be no elections, and there will be no political negotiations with Shi'ite clerics who do nothing to calm things down and restore quiet. They could also be tempted to carve up Iraq into cantons - Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish - that might perhaps go some way toward facilitating control in the country, at least during the occupation period.
The principle of Iraq for the Iraqis is perhaps the most solid element that is keeping the country from disintegrating, the political horizon that this war is showing the Iraqi people. This is a lesson Israel could and should learn from the war in Iraq, despite the mistakes that were made ahead of and during the war. Israel believes it can administer the territories without a Palestinian leadership, whereas the United States did not even pause to consider such a question, as it has no desire to rule in place of the Iraqis. The entire leadership in Iraq will be acceptable, whereas in Israel the entire Palestinian leadership is considered unfit from the outset. The Americans would no doubt be very pleased if there were an Iraqi leader available who could command the support of the majority of the country's citizens, a kind of Iraqi Yasser Arafat, or a body such as the Palestinian Authority with security capability.
Israel still has the possibility of finding a Palestinian leadership, but only if it adopts the American principle: Palestine for the Palestinians.
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