As the days wind down to the Iraq election, scheduled for January 30, opponents of the Bush administration's project for democratization of the Islamic world, including Americans, Europeans, and Iraqis, continue to object to the timing of the vote. It has become common to hear calls for the balloting to be put off for weeks or months.
Critics of the date focus on the complaints by Iraq's Arab Sunni minority of some 20 percent, leaders of whom express immense fear at the probability that the election will result in a sweep by the Shia parties endorsed by Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Ostensibly, a Shia victory will lead to civil war and the breakup of "historic" Iraq -- as if a civil war were not already taking place and Iraq as we know it were not a creation of British colonialism dating back only 85 years.
Adherents of postponing the vote in effect idealize the "united Iraq" that suffered under the rule of Saddam Hussein, claiming that Arab Sunnis and Shias had never previously been separated from one another, and were loving partners until the recent arrival of the Americans. But anybody who has spent even a few minutes with Iraqi Shia leaders -- and I have spent many, many hours in discussions with them -- knows that the Arab Shias have waited 13 centuries for the right to govern their holy sites, centered on Karbala. Furthermore, the Arab Shias have always rejected the Iranian concept of clerical dictatorship invented by Ayatollah Khomeini -- fear of expansion from Iran to Iraq by the latter being another pretext for opponents of holding the Iraqi election on time.
And, above all, the record of Arab Sunni rule is one of grotesque abuse, of corruption, torture, and other atrocities inflicted on the Shia majority. It is well and truly time for the Arab Sunnis in Iraq to step back and allow majority rule to be established, and to assume a new attitude toward their civic responsibilities. Arab Sunni Iraqis should do everything they can to demonstrate that they accept the new reality and are willing to reconstruct their lives, families, and enterprises on the basis of equal, common citizenship.
Many Arab Sunnis in Iraq clearly want to do this. But they are caught between two fires. On one side, they fear that the Shias will wreak revenge upon them. On the other, they are called on to join the so-called "resistance" that faces American and coalition weaponry. But aside from the physical risk of supporting the terrorist faction, the Arab Sunnis in Iraq have learned from the experience of the people of Fallujah, who briefly lived under the dominance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Wahhabi bandits, that a Taliban- or Saudi-style regime controlled by the latter will terrorize the rank and file of the Arab Sunnis as much or more than it will strike against the Americans and their coalition partners.
It is for that reason -- real fear of the terrorists by ordinary local Sunnis -- that Iraqis have been replaced in so many of their operations by so-called "foreign fighters," many of them Saudis. As I reported in the New York Post and The Weekly Standard not long ago, 20-year old Ahmad Sayyid Ahmad al-Ghamdi, perpetrator of the December 21 bombing of the American mess hall in Mosul, which killed 22 people, was the son of a Saudi diplomat. Indeed, I have since learned that al-Ghamdi was carrying a Saudi diplomatic passport when he committed his terrible act.
Western media and governments hesitate, for unfathomable reasons, to pay close attention to the role of the Saudis in the Iraqi fighting. But Western journalists of a liberal bent are especially hypnotized by the false paradigm of "U.S. invasion vs. Iraqi insurgents," when the basis of the conflict is very different. Rather, the Iraqi terror offensive has its roots in homicidal Wahhabi, i.e. fanatical Sunni, hatred of Shia Muslims.
But Western media and governments are also handicapped in dealing with Iraq by a peculiar double standard regarding the very status of the Iraqi Arab Sunnis as a formerly-ruling, and oppressive, minority. Twenty years ago, nobody would have listened to the argument that dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the holding of elections there should be blocked out of fairness to the white minority in that country. Few today listen to those who declare that fair elections and the forging of a new political system in Northern Ireland should be delayed out of concern for the feelings of the Protestant minority.
The Iraqi Arab Sunnis are no different from the white South Africans. (I pointed out this parallel in an interview with Netherlands Radio on January 14 [see here]). The Arab Sunnis have exploited and degraded the Shia majority in Iraq for a long, long time, reserving the wealth of the country for themselves. But why is the rule applied to the white South Africans not equally appropriate in Iraq?
The only explanation seems to be that the causes of Black South Africa and of the Northern Irish Catholics were considered leftist, and were therefore identified with opposition to U.S. and other government policies, while the cause of the Iraqi Shias is "contaminated" by association with the Bush administration.
There is another, similar precedent that deserves to be cited here. Six years ago, Serbian rule was overturned in Kosovo by NATO arms; but the Western left suddenly became more concerned about the fate of the usurping and violently oppressive Serbian minority in that territory than about the rights of the Albanian majority. Again, the difference between the Serbs and the white South Africans was simple: the former came to enjoy the sympathy of radical leftists enraged by U.S. unilateralism, while the latter were despised by the very same left. It should also be noted that in Kosovo and Iraq, in contrast with South Africa, the progressives of the United Nations opposed liberation. (The UN, interestingly enough, seems to know better than to try to interfere in Ulster.)
I do not believe the Iraqi Shias will exact bloody revenge from the Arab Sunnis after January 30 and the emergence of a new government, in which Shias will certainly form the majority. They have too much to lose, politically, socially, economically, and above all spiritually; a Shia rampage would alienate the Americans, who put Karbala in Shia hands after so many centuries.
I also do not believe the Arab Sunnis will support further terrorist aggression in Iraq after January 30. Rather, I predict they will follow one of two paths: either that of accommodation to the new administration, along the lines followed by white South Africans, or that of sporadic disruption as pursued by the Kosovo Serbs. In Kosovo, the foreign administration has accommodated the Serbs, contributing to discontent among the Albanians. We must hope this error is not repeated in Iraq.
In preventing the continuation of terrorism inside Iraq as the election approaches, the Iraqi authorities have taken a necessary measure that should have been imposed immediately after the fall of Saddam: they have closed their borders. Although little about it appears in the Western press, the long Saudi frontier is especially crucial in this regard. The Iraq-Saudi border should remain closed for as long as it takes to choke off the stream of jihadists heading north, incited by the weekly sermons of Wahhabi clerics on the payroll of Riyadh.
Some critics of the Iraqi vote say it will lack legitimacy if a significant share of the Arab Sunnis -- that is, a large number among the 20 percent minority -- fail to cast ballots. That is absurd. At the end of the 20th century, the U.S. has had a voting turnout of only 48 percent; percentages of participation do not determine the legitimacy of elections. Iraqis of all religious groups will vote for the first time, and many will do so enthusiastically, with enormous appreciation of the U.S. and the coalition for making it possible. The outcome will encourage the march to popular sovereignty in Iran and the beginning of a transition to normality in Saudi Arabia. Like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush has taken an enormous chance, and there are numerous indications it will make him remembered as one of our greatest presidents.