Politics & Policy

Standing Firm

Iraq's emerging generation of leaders need U.S. support.

Almost three years have passed since the liberation of Baghdad, three years full of work, full of struggle for a new Iraq. Like many others, I have seen my whole life change in these three years–plans cancelled, priorities reordered, friends lost. We have given up many things which once seemed important.

When I watched the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square, the meaning of all the work against the dictatorship was made clear. The moment was made all the more joyful by the presence of my parents. Once more we were proud to be Iraqis, and once more we were proud of America, which, after letting us down in 1991, had finally kept its promise.

Thinking back to the time before the liberation of Iraq, I remember a meeting where we dissidents were discussing the possibilities for a new Iraq. It was a vision of a democratic Iraq, respectful of human rights, which could be a new home for all Iraqis, including the millions who had been driven out of the country. We knew it would not be easy to rebuild our nation, but we could not have expected what we were actually to be confronted with. We knew from many who had been able to flee in the last few years that Iraq was in bad shape and its people were exhausted, but it was inconceivable that society was as defunct and dysfunctional as it turned out to be.

Today the world is discussing why there was no plan for reconstruction. But such criticisms should be honest: Could anyone have imagined back then that the enemies of the new Iraq would blow themselves up in marketplaces, in front of schools, at funerals–almost anywhere–killing dozens, along with themselves, each time? Could anyone have expected that people transporting flour would have their heads cut off on live television? Could anyone have expected that Baghdad’s water supply would be attacked on a daily basis? Or that the wives of policemen and military personnel would be raped and afterwards butchered?

Many mistakes have been made in these three years. The political parties in Iraq and their representatives demonstrate on a regular basis that they are incapable of uniting the country and leading it. Neither have our American partners been able to keep from making major mistakes. To be sure, the new Iraq is awash in corruption and suicide bombings. Nonetheless would I immediately reaffirm the decision to liberate Iraq with the troops of the Coalition. There is a major difference between Iraq before April 9, 2003, and Iraq today–now there is hope, there is the determination to win this war. We continue to believe in this new Iraq because we know that, despite the problems, Iraq is developing, and that despite the madness, there is progress. The Iraqi people are beginning to understand that they have rights in the new Iraq, and they are starting to demand them as well. They understand that they are no longer slaves to political powers, but that politicians are supposed to serve them.

World opinion says that this war was illegal because the Coalition found no weapons of mass destruction. What have been found, however, are heaps of bodies, buried in mass graves, which would not have been discovered otherwise. Five-hundred thousand people–men, women and children–had been executed or buried alive. Saddam Hussein and many of his henchmen were captured alive and, in contrast to the way they treated people, are being treated humanely. Saddam Hussein’s 35-year war against the population of Iraq cost over two million people their lives, and this campaign is not over yet. Now, however, we are no longer alone in this war. We have the United States on our side. We know that we can win this struggle. Our greatest worry is that we will run out of partners in the middle of the final, pivotal push.

It may be that world opinion is pessimistic about Iraq, but millions of Iraqis are optimistic. They support the new Iraq, because there is one thing our enemies–al Qaida and the former henchmen of the old regime–have yet to understand: This new Iraq no longer depends only on a few individuals. This new Iraq is a mass movement, and the seeds of democracy are slowly starting to sprout. It may be that the present Iraqi politicians are not the right ones, but a new generation is coming which loves and understands democracy. It is this generation which is becoming more and more active–and more confident about taking on responsibility, demanding that the torch be passed. For, although our present political leaders did a lot of work in their 35 years of opposition, it is time to make room for those who are guided by the vision of a new Iraq.

This new generation is now able to mobilize itself. Because we believe in this project, none of us has left himself an easy way out. If the U.S. turns its back on us and drops the Iraq project, it is dropping us too. If we are dropped, it is the end of the concept of a democratic Middle East–and the end of the idea, anywhere in the world, that the U.S. will stand by its friends in bitter, hard times.

The future of the Middle East will be decided in Iraq. The way America is perceived in the future will be determined in Iraq. The choice is between supporting this new generation a few years longer, and winning a grateful long-term ally, or betraying this generation of Iraqis which believes in, and risks its life every day for, the American dream of democracy.

Ali Al-Zahid is a member of the new Iraquna think tank. Born in 1978, he was imprisoned in 1982 after his father made critical statements against the Baath regime.

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