Politics & Policy

Sovereignty Equals Responsibility

"The security of the country lies in our hands."

Imagine a senior Iraqi official facing his own public and press and actually taking responsibility for some pressing shortfall–whether it be lack of security, jobs, or electricity–because it’s no longer a credible option simply to blame the Americans.

That long-overdue day is fast approaching, hastened by Monday’s accelerated transfer of sovereignty–and responsibility–in advance of the scheduled July 1 deadline.

“The security of the country lies in our hands.” These were practically the first words spoken by Awad Allawi on assuming office Monday as Iraq’s interim prime minister.

Monday’s well-kept surprise, undertaken at the initiative of Iraq’s new interim government, was designed in part to seize the initiative from Baathist/jihadist terrorists, who were almost certainly planning large-scale attacks to coincide with the scheduled handover of sovereignty. Now such attacks will be seen more clearly–especially by Iraqis–as directed against Iraqi interests, just as Jordanian terrorist kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarkawi foresaw last February. “How can we kill their [Iraqi] cousins and sons and under what pretext,” he asked, when “the sons of this land will be the authority”? Zarkawi’s unwelcome answer: “This is democracy, we will have no pretext.”

What is more, Monday’s transfer of sovereignty underpins Allawi’s shrewd strategy of delegitimizing and isolating the Baathist/jihadist terrorists. Taking advantage of a backlash against recent atrocities, Allawi has rightly emphasized that most homicide bombings–by far the deadliest and most indiscriminate terrorist tactic–are the work of foreign “mercenaries”–”enemies of God and the people.” “We do not believe that those behind these attacks can be Iraqis,” Allawi maintains, adding that the perpetrators are “supported financially and logistically by foreign resources.” The jihadists in turn have played into Allawi’s hands with their counterproductive claims that “the flesh of those working with the Americans is more delicious than American flesh itself.” Little wonder that recent U.S. airstrikes against foreign jihadists holed up in Fallujah drew no criticism worth mentioning, and indeed Allawi’s explicit support.

As for Iraq’s Baathists, Allawi is rightly pursuing a more nuanced strategy. Unrepentant Baathists with blood on their hands–”mercenaries of Saddam and his gang”–can expect to be hunted down. But Allawi–himself a Baathist in his youth–is offering an olive branch to former Baathists now sitting on the fence:

I caution those Baathists who have not committed crimes in the past, I ask them to stay away from the mercenaries of Saddam. Those who pledge to continue in their crimes, I ask all of those [other] Baathists to fight the enemies of the people and to inform the government of any suspicious activities they see. The Iraqi people are asked to tackle these challenges by scrutinizing any suspicious activity and informing the government and the police.

Allawi’s appeal to the Iraqi people is the gamble on which he and his colleagues have staked the future of their government and the future of Iraq itself. Ordinary Iraqis are practiced fence-sitters, thanks to the legacy of brutally efficient dictatorship that taught them to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Unlearning those hard lessons is the basic challenge Allawi has set for his fellow citizens. As Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib put it: “It is the responsibility of every Iraqi to cooperate with us to remove this cancer from our midst. You cannot expect the police to do it on their own.”

Allawi and his colleagues have made an impressive start in decidedly inauspicious circumstances, starting by seeing off the U.N.’s hare-brained scheme to create a political vacuum by imposing a caretaker government made up of political nonentities. Their initial success accounts in no small part for the interim government’s remarkable 68-percent approval rating (73 percent for Allawi personally), as against the dismal 28-percent rating registered by the former Iraqi Governing Council. And it is due in no small part to Allawi’s straight talking to the Iraqi people, day after day.

Allawi himself is an impressive figure, hardheaded, pragmatic, and principled. He is very much his own man, especially in comparison with colleagues in the pay of Iran. And the grievous wounds he suffered at the hands of an axe-wielding Saddamist while in exile lend him unique credibility and insight into a deeply damaged society. Above all, he understands what’s possible and what isn’t, based on the imperative to take men as God made them–and as Saddam unmade them. “We need to regroup, reorganize and pool our resources in a fashion which is understood by the Iraqi culture,” he says. “We are Iraqis–not Americans or Swedes.”

What must not be overlooked is that Allawi and his colleagues are staking their lives on the gamble that they can mobilize their fellow citizens to assume the responsibilities of free men. In Allawi’s words, “we are prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die for these objectives.” Bear in mind that three of their former Governing Council colleagues were murdered, along with hundreds of other officials and civic leaders. And the odious Zarkawi boasts of having prepared “a useful poison and a sure sword” specifically for the prime minister. The grave risks Iraq’s new leaders have freely accepted should remind Americans in particular of the approaching anniversary of our own Declaration of Independence, especially its forthright conclusion:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


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