Keen observers of reports emerging from Iraq will have seen a change of terrorist tactics over the past few months. The point of attack has shifted from U.S. and Coalition forces to Iraqi citizens. Particular targets have been policemen, security forces, and soldiers in the rebuilt Iraqi army. But they are not the only victims. Innocent Iraqi civilians have also been targeted, many in the impersonal, cruel manner that typifies Islamic fascists. Hospitals, wedding parties, school children, and religious facilities like mosques and Christian churches have been deliberately attacked.
These attacks on civilians have not been randomly selected, as some might think. Victims are picked precisely because of the amount of terror and fear their deaths can generate among the populace. Targets are also chosen with an eye to exacerbate ethnic and religious divisions among the populace. The terrorists’ nightmare is a united, democratic Iraqi state. Therefore they try to kill, maim, and intimidate with the goal of creating civil unrest, even civil war. The terrorists recognize that the Sunni population is the smallest but contains the largest percentage of unrepentant Ba'athists. Sunnis have become fertile recruiting ground for al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists like Abu al Zarqawi.
The terrorist promise is that Sunni predominance – a benefit of supporting Saddam Hussein in the old days – would be restored under a fundamentalist Islamic state. Even in the short time that Zarqawi occupied Fallujah, he managed to impose Taliban-like rules upon the populace and force them to adopt Shari'a law practices and behavior that most relatively secular Iraqis would consider extreme. Fallujah was a preview of the terror state these thugs intend to spread throughout Iraq. That example repelled the majority Iraqi population. By splitting the Sunnis from the rest of the population, predominately Shia and Kurds, the terrorists hope to replace an Iraqi national identification with a religious/ethnic one. By intentionally selecting soft Shia targets – weddings, religious ceremonies, hospitals, and markets, for example – the terrorists hope to provoke an extreme reaction that will spiral violence into an out-of-control cycle.
So far major ethnic groups such as Shia and Kurds have demonstrated remarkable patience in the face of unrelenting, merciless terrorist attacks. In fact these targeted populations have shown considerably greater understanding of the strategy of the terrorists than have most outside observers, particularly those in the American and European media. Many media analysts and pundits, some simply muddle-headed, others consumed with an anti-Bush or anti-American hatred that distorts their ability to comprehend the terrorists, have imparted a romantic, nationalistic spin to the terrorists that is incredibly naïve and utterly wrong. These are not freedom fighters or Minutemen but are cold-blooded murders desirous of suppressing the rights and liberty of Iraqi citizens and imposing their own savage will upon them. Whether the terrorists envisage a return to the glory days of Saddam’s despotism or the tyranny of an Islamic state, they all want to kill a nascent democracy before it takes root.
To a greater degree than anyone in the West, the Iraqi people know full well that what they face is not simply banditry nor insurgency, but a movement that intends to subjugate them and their families and descendants for all time. They recognize that they are in a war, a fight to the death, and that, like our Founding Fathers their lives, liberty, and sacred honor are at stake. They realize that the only options in war are victory or defeat. The Iraqi people are choosing victory and they are doing it in a most courageous manner. They overwhelmingly support the concept of upcoming free elections. That is something that the entire population can join together to make happen as a visible, tangible sign of success and progress and ultimate rejection of the terrorist ideology.
An election in Iraq deserves our unqualified support. Indeed the very concept of an election in this oppressed, terror-torn country ought to strike us with awesome respect for the indomitable quest for freedom that beats in the human heart. Next week the world is going to watch people risk their lives to exercise a basic right that far too few in the world enjoy and which among some countries – America, for example – is a right taken much too much for granted. Iraqis will suffer the very real pains of homicide bombers, beheadings, automatic weapons fire, and exploding grenades to do something that they have never previously had the opportunity to do: to pick their government and to select representative leadership.
They realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that their future lies in these many pieces of paper; these precious ballots, once cast, will inexorably move Iraq from an oppressed, terrorized land into a land of opportunity and development. Naysayers claim that because there is no tradition of democracy in Iraq that elections are an exercise in futility. Nothing can be more wrong-headed. We need only look to countries that similarly had a culture of oppression to see how quickly human beings are able to grasp the opportunities and the challenges of democracy successfully and build upon them. Japan, South Korea, El Salvador, and Afghanistan are examples of democracies that were built upon a foundation of monarch, fascism, authoritarianism, or theocracy. Those people are changing their own lives and so will Iraqis succeed after this election.
Will change come overnight? Will it be quick enough to satisfy the carping critics who insist on instant fixes? Of course not. Transitions take time, but with completion of this first general free election time shifts to the side of free Iraqis. The terrorists are losing, which is the reason that their attacks have degenerated into mass brutality and cruelty. Iraqis recognize too that there is a price for freedom. That they are willing to pay that price can be seen by the large numbers who are also sacrificing their lives in order to defeat the terrorists. Day after day recruits, brave volunteers, line up to enlist in the army, security forces, and police.
Day after day they see colleagues blown apart, humiliated by beheading and mutilation, murdered in public. Yet they accept the danger and in so doing accept the responsibility for taking care of themselves, their families and their fellow citizens. That sense of moral courage coupled with the real, quiet courage of the population in exercising free voting rights is going to defeat the false bravado of the terrorists. Their strength is our example: We need only stay the course, and we can help change the world.