Eye of the Storm: Two Iraqi camps

And their friends and foes in the West.

Last weekend demonstrations were held in Paris, London and Washington to call for an end to what the organizers described as "a foreign military presence in Iraq." The crowds were smaller than the organizers had hoped for a few dozen in Paris, a few hundred in Washington, and a few thousand in London. Leaving aside a handful of old leftists, there were no Iraqis in the crowds. In a sense, the demonstrations had nothing to do with Iraq, and were designed to serve other purposes, including an orgy of Bush-and-Blair bashing. The organizers want Iraq destroyed so they can claim they were right to oppose the toppling of Saddam Hussein. The demonstrations came a day after Iraqi Sunni clerics called for "outsiders" to leave Iraq. But the outsiders the Sunni ulema want to leave are not the US-led forces the "anti-war" crowds see as "occupiers." By "outsiders" the Sunni clerics meant Abu-Mussab al-Zarqawi, the Palestinian-Jordanian terrorist, and other non-Iraqi killers who are on a rampage in the name of Islam. "Those who have crossed the border to kill us in the name of Islam should leave," the statement signed by 30 clerics said. The statement was followed by a "declaration" from the more hard-line Council of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni outfit with ties to the fallen Ba'athist regime. "We remind al-Zarqawi that Islam is based on shura (consultation), and that he cannot impose his opinions. He must abandon his threats and apologize [for what he has done]." The council also called on Arab Sunnis, whom it had advised to boycott the political process, to return to it and take part in the October 15 referendum on the draft constitution. The council may have acted to avoid isolation. For all Arab Sunni organizations, including the largest, the Islamic Party of Iraq (IPI), had already decided to take part in the referendum. The "anti-war" crowds in Western capitals are right: Iraqis are unanimous in demanding that foreign fighters leave their land. But the foreign fighters they want to see the back of are the self-styled jihadists. The Arab Sunnis' belated realization that al-Qaida was doing more harm than good to their cause, whatever it might be, reinforces calls by other Iraqi communities, notably the Shi'ites, who account for 60 per cent of the population, and the Kurds, who claim 20 per cent, for the expulsion of foreign jihadists from Iraq. NO ONE in Iraq, Arab or Kurd, Sunni or Shi'ite, Christian or Mandaean, demands that the US-led coalition leave before Iraq has an effective army and police with which to not only drive the jihadists out but also frustrate the schemes of predatory neighbors such as Syria, Jordan and Iran. Whether the "anti-war" crowd and the useful idiots like it or not, a majority of Iraqis support the strategy of creating an elected Iraqi government which would, when it judged the time right, ask the US-led forces to leave. And this is what Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari means by "staying the course" when he appeals to public opinion in Western democracies to continue supporting Iraq in this crucial phase in its history. Two recent public opinion surveys highlight that important fact. One survey was conducted by the Civil Alliance for Free Elections (CAFA), a grouping of 76 non-governmental organizations representing all ethnic and religious communities. CAFA held over 1,000 workshops in all of Iraq's 18 provinces in July and August, with more than 40,000 respondents. The survey showed that more than 80 percent were determined to take part in the constitutional referendum. The key features of the proposed draft enjoyed considerable support. For example, on the controversial issue of federalism, 44 percent were for and 35 percent against, with the rest having no opinion. Only 21 percent said they wanted a highly-centralized system of government. On the role of religion in legislation, another controversial issue, 65 percent said they agreed for Islam to be a source of law rather than only source. Twenty-five percent, both Shi'ites and Sunnis, wanted Islam to be the sole source, while nine percent wanted it to have no role. As for the draft constitution's requirement for 25 percent of lawmakers to be women, 72 percent either agreed or wanted the figure to be higher. Only 10 percent wanted to keep women out. THE SECOND survey, conducted by the Iraqi Center for Development and International Dialogue (ICDID), showed that 88 per cent of those eligible to vote intend to vote, while six percent remain undecided. Only five percent would not vote. The poll surveyed the opinions of 3,667 people, aged 18 years and older in 15 of the 18 provinces, including Baghdad. It found that 88 percent believed in the need to hold the referendum under the present circumstances, 10 percent did not believe so, and 2 percent did not respond. Only 34 percent of the sample thought that Iraq was not an independent and sovereign country at present, largely because it did not have an army and police of its own to ensure internal and external security. In this survey 46 percent supported a federal or decentralized system of government, while 45 percent wanted a centralized model, indicating that Iraqis are divided on this crucial issue. About 42 percent supported Islam as a source of legislation and 24 percent supported it as the only source. About 13 percent thought no laws that contradict Islam should be enacted. About 84 percent supported granting women all freedoms without contradicting Islam, and 13 percent believed the rights of women should be guaranteed through equality with men. About 60 percent supported maintaining the present percentage of women in parliament (25 percent), 21 percent thought women should have 33 percent, and 14 percent thought there should be equal representation of males and females. About 78 percent expected the security situation to improve after the referendum, 15 percent expected it to remain the same, and 2 percent believed things would become worse. About 85 percent showed interest in the elections to be held in December to choose a National Assembly (parliament), while 10 percent did not show interest. (The assembly will, in turn, name a new government.) TODAY IN Iraq there are two camps. In one we find virtually the entire Iraqi nation which, despite its ethnic and religious diversity, is united in support of the democratization process. It wants the referendum and the subsequent general election to take place. In the other camp are the foreign jihadists and some of Iraq's neighbors that wish to disrupt the process. As always in politics, one has a choice. One could support the people of Iraq in their quest for democracy or, obsessed by anti-Americanism or anti-Bushism for reasons other than Iraq, one could aid al-Qaida by mocking the Iraqi political process and calling for the US-led coalition to leave before the Iraqis can defend themselves against the jihadist invaders. Last week the "anti-war" cabal and the useful idiots that support it showed they had made their choice.