Daily Archives: March 3, 2010

The Triumph of Operation Iraqi Freedom by Gregory Hilton

The 325 members of the Iraqi Parliament will face the electorate on Sunday. At the same time, America’s seven year old Operation Iraqi Freedom is being renamed Operation New Dawn. The name change is appropriate because the Iraqi people now live in freedom and they are experiencing a new dawn of democracy and human rights.
The most recent polls indicate the ruling party will receive about 30% of the vote, but the outcome is very uncertain. The opposition has run a strong campaign and could well claim victory. The government which will be formed as a result of these elections will be the first to rule over a fully sovereign Iraq.
The transition to democracy has not been easy but it has been accepted enthusiastically.
Unlike 2005, the U.S. presence has not been an issue in the campaign, and the nation is now a powerful symbol of democracy in the authoritarian Middle East. Candidates in all parties have acknowledged the profound changes which have occurred over the past five years. Compromise was an alien concept when the first parliament was seated. It was difficult for these new politicians to work together, especially when there was so much sectarian violence throughout the nation.
Not only did they succeed in improving daily life for the long suffering Iraqi’s, but their record of legislative accomplishment is impressive. The Parliament has also helped to foster dialogue between Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups.
Their first democratic election was in January of 2005 for a transitional national assembly which drafted the constitution. It was approved in a national referendum in October 2005 and two months later Iraqi’s voted for a new parliament.
The victor was the United Iraqi Alliance which received 58% of the vote. They are a broad based Shia coalition, and the main Sunni coalition (the Accord Front) received 19%. Prime Minister Nouri Malaki is now seeking re-election by pointing to a dramatic decline in violence and increased wealth from oil revenues. His coalition cuts across religious and tribal lines.
The unified Shiite bloc of 2005 has now split into two camps: Maliki’s nonsectarian State of Law coalition, and the more religiously inclined Iraqi National Alliance, which includes supporters of Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. They have strong support in the south, and they could form an alliance with the Kurds in the north to oust Malaki.
Malaki is the dominant figure in this campaign. In a highly successful move, the Prime Minister ordered the army to take on Shiite militias in 2008, but this also cost him support by alienating the powerful Sadrist movement which is now part of the opposition.
No party will come close to receiving a majority, and forming a new government will require building a coalition. Similar to 2005, the process could take weeks or months. When the parliament took office four years ago, security was the major concern and car bombings were a common occurrence. Al-Qaeda Iraq had 10,000 recruits and significant terror attacks occurred for the next two years.
Many predicted the Parliament would fail because of the requirement to achieve a two-thirds majority to pass legislation. Sunni’s were boycotting the Parliament and it was thought that religious discrimination would be rampant. In addition, 30 members loyal to Moktada al-Sadr abandoned the legislature for the last two months of 2006.
Because of security concerns, most of the lawmakers had to live at the mediocre Rashid Hotel across the street from the Parliament, and all of them described their work as a hardship post. It was a difficult situation but it has resulted in a triumph for the Iraqi people.
Muhammad al-Ahmedawi, a Shiite member of the Fadhila Party, describes the situation in Parliament by saying “Our work is too important, and we have been too busy to hate one another. We don’t like the opposition but of course we are committed to working with them.”
Ad Melkert, head of the U.N. mission in Baghdad, recently wrote in The Washington Post “after three decades of wars, sanctions and dictatorship, the shape of a new era is clearly visible from where I sit.” Thomas Barnett in World Politics Review says “this will be the first election truly conducted under stable conditions, even if the peace is decidedly fragile … If expectations of a 70 percent turnout hold and Iraq’s Sunnis are not perceived as having withheld their participation (as in 2005), this election will constitute the biggest victory yet for democracy in the Middle East.”
Parliamentary seats are reserved for religious minorities including Christians, and the Baptists have a guaranteed seat. The Parliament also has a quota which guarantees women will hold 25% of the seats. Women make up only 15% of the U.S. Senate.
The quota was instituted because Iraq is a male dominated society, but now the women have been so readily accepted by all factions, the quota may be lifted. While women disagree on many issues, they have still been an effective force for change.
When acerbic former Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said women were only interested in romance and were not serious legislators, they responded in unison. The women boycotted the Parliament and denied the Speaker the quorum he needed to conduct business. A day later the Speaker apologized for this remarks. He said someday Baghdad would have its own version of Margaret Thatcher, and “Iraqi women have talent and ability. They deserve to be doing much more in Parliament.”
Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari says there are now many people in the Arab world who want to enjoy the freedom women have in Iraq, “We have obviously experienced setbacks, but no one can deny the change. In this campaign people are already starting to ignore religious differences, and they will instead be voting for the best candidates. They are not defining themselves by their religion but as Iraqi’s. We all suffered under Saddam, but adversity builds strength. Iraq now has a strong freedom loving population and we are already contributing to the peace process.”
At the height of his power, Saddam Hussein controlled a one million man Army, sent rockets into space, financed and trained dozens of terrorist groups, and came close to developing an atomic bomb. Thanks to the United States, there are no longer any political prisoners, no executions, no torture at Abu Ghraib Prison and no limit on the freedom of expression. The terrorists have not completely abandoned Iraq, but the large scale inhuman carnage and suffering has stopped.
Some Americans are criticizing or downgrading Iraq’s triumph. They refuse to see the substantial progress which has occurred, and they claim Iran has too much influence in Iraq. Fouad Ajami of John Hopkins University addressed by saying it is not true Iranian theocracy “is emerging in Baghdad, as some American officials have suggested. This is a slur on Iraq and Iraqis, and on the vast Shiite majority to be exact. They display no deference to the theology of Iran’s holy city of Qom. . . . no one of any consequence in the clerical hierarchy in Iraq believes Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader,’ Ali Khamenei, is a scholar of genuine standing and religious authority. Iraqis of all stripes are wary of Iran. In the provincial elections of 2009, pro-Iranian candidates were trounced and Iraqi nationalists carried the day.”
Iraq has switched from the axis of evil and a state sponsor of terror, to a front line terror fighting state. The majority of the credit belongs to the brave people of Iraq, but Americans should also be proud of their role.
In his Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln said “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Over 4,300 Americans perished in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the remarkable outcome has merited their sacrifice. They established a foundation of peace for generations to come.
They liberated an oppressed people who had endured 35 years of a brutal dictatorship, and 29 million Iraqi’s now have a far better life. They sent a powerful message to the 315 million residents of the Middle East who lack democracy and human rights. American soldiers also stopped the terrorists and they protected us against an enemy whose ultimate goal is the destruction of innocent American lives. Operation Iraqi Freedom has been achieved, and the mission has been accomplished.