A persevering optimism
About two years ago, an acquaintance of mine, a retired Army colonel, Middle East expert and Arab specialist reported after returning from Baghdad that the shops were full, commodities plentiful, satellite dishes were mushrooming, Iraqis were watching American TV shows, and that Arab music flowed through open windows. For all intents and purposes, life was normal.
He mused about the contradictory data revealed by a recent Oxford poll of Iraqis nationwide that showed about 95% of them disliked Americans, but only 1% wanted Americans to leave.
The colonel posited some explanations: 1. Iraqis distrust authority; 2. Americans are not Arabs nor are they Muslims; 3. though US troops were liberators, they are viewed now by many Iraqis as occupiers; 4. it is very difficult to erase decades of living in fear and intimidation during a Mafia—like Baathist regime and to build trusting relationships with Iraqis.
Since that time, US commanders and their troops countrywide have, along with many Iraqis, learned to trust and respect one another through ongoing civil affairs activities and reconstruction programs. Though the forces of Operation Iraqi Freedom did everything possible to avoid damaging the infrastructure while liberating Iraq, years of abuse and spoilation by Saddam's regime left it in poor shape.
While terrorists and murderers continue to rip to shreds Iraqi civilians — men, women and children — in vicious attacks; as they kill men committed to Iraqi's security and Iraq's future; as they attempt destroy the means of improving Iraqi quality of life, the relentless momentum towards a free and independent Iraq rolls forward.
The vast, mostly unreported positive improvements proceed. More electricity is generated, a water project is completed, a school is rebuilt and stocked with books supplied by Americans, a medical clinic is re—opened and furnished with supplies provided by Americans, a law school gets new computers, an Iraqi child in dire need is flown to the US for life—saving emergency surgery. The list goes on and on, as day by day, week by week, month by month, American soldiers strive amidst hostile conditions and constant peril to improve the lives of Iraqis.
In Iraq, there are 20 functioning universities and 43 technical institutions and colleges.
In the northern city of Samarra a tense and festering situation was settled peacefully through joint 1st Infantry Division—Iraqi cooperation. In the aftermath, a city council was selected, a mayor and police chief named and US troops were invited back into the city.
Iraq's electricity minister has ordered 24 hours of power a day in Najaf until sufficient repairs have been made to that city, so badly damaged in the wake of the battle with Sadr's thugs. Most residents don't blame Americans for what happened, but they do want things fixed as soon as possible. And Americans are helping them recover.
Looking at the 'religious equation' it must be emphasized that Ayatollah Al—Sistani, viewed by a majority of Shias as their Marja Ala or leader, believes that politics and religion don't mix. His sermons lately have been mostly exhortations for peace. Remember that his intervention settled the Najaf imbroglio. His stabilizing presence will be important to Iraq's nascent democracy.
Most importantly, Iraqi men continue to volunteer for service in the National Guard, police and Border Guard units. More and more, these Iraqis are going it alone, conducting successful patrols and raids; helping to secure their country as national elections draw near.
Those elections will set the stage for the new Iraqi constitution and will solidify Iraqi independence. The current Transitional Iraqi Law states the reasons why Iraqis are undeterred by terrorism and thuggery and are now fighting and dying for their country. The Preamble says:
'The people of Iraq, striving to reclaim their freedom, which was usurped by the previous tyrannical regime, rejecting violence and coercion in all their forms, particularly when used as instruments of governance, have determined that they shall hereafter remain a free people governed under the rule of law.'
Further strengthening the civic force leading to those elections, Iraqis recently created a fully representative 100—member interim parliament, which will exercise broad powers over the current interim government, be responsible for upcoming elections and for a constituent assembly. To date, this parliament has elected a Kurdish president and four vice—presidents; two Shiites and two Sunnis.
In America, news of the death toll in Iraq, the latest terrorist bombings and a leaked, negative assessment pervade the news coverage. The colonel, cited above, was feeling gloomy himself and called friends in Iraq to ask how they were doing. They told him they were optimistic, and so were their friends; that despite the violence, latest bombings, life goes on; that things are getting better day by day.
And so they are. Which is why the terrorists, the forces of darkness, are trying to fill those days with death and destruction. They grab headlines, but they don't embrace life. They rivet attention, but they don't cement stability. They dramatize the moment, but they obliterate the future.
Iraqi Prime Minister Awad Allawi puts it this way: 'Democracy is going to prevail. A lot of positive things are happening in Iraq. We are succeeding against the forces of evil.' America and the Multi—National Force will help ensure that democracy does indeed prevail; that liberty and freedom triumphs over the enslaving tyranny of terror.
John B. Dwyer is a military historian