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Two Crucial Addresses on Iraq By: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 10, 2005

The past couple of weeks have been nothing short of brutal in Iraq, as the insurgents have stepped up their assault in the hope of forcing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the interim government to cancel or delay the January 30 elections.  The atrocities accompanying this new wave of attacks are many, including the assassination of the governor of Baghdad province, a car bomb exploding near Prime Minister Allawi’s political party headquarters, multiple suicide bombings, and the release of a video showing terrorists lining up and executing five captured Iraqi security officers in the middle of a street.  The most symbolically grotesque attack occurred on January 2, when the booby-trapped body of a decapitated civilian exploded when Iraqi police investigated it, killing one officer and wounding two.

This push by insurgents to derail the elections through the most barbaric kind of intimidation shows that they are attempting to wreck the willpower of those who wish to see the democratic experiment in Iraq succeed.  It can at least be said that the insurgents’ strategy is prescient, as one thing that will surely dash any chance of stability and freedom in Iraq is a loss of resolve – by either the Americans or the Iraqis.

On the eve of President Bush’s second term and the elections for Iraq’s National Assembly, we are at a critical juncture.  While the latest public opinion surveys of Iraqis suggest a resilient citizenry that is cautiously optimistic that the January 30 elections will improve their lives, American resolve appears to be waning.  A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll in mid-December found that not only did a majority of Americans disapprove of the way that the United States had handled Iraq over the past few months, but also that for the first time a majority of Americans disapproved of the decision to go to war in the first place.  Americans also seemed short on hope in the poll, as those who believed that the situation in Iraq was worsening far outnumbered those who felt it was improving, 47 percent to 20 percent.


Both President Bush and Prime Minister Allawi have an opportunity to raise their countrymen’s flagging spirits in the coming month, and it is vital they do so.  The populations of both countries will be listening carefully to their leaders’ articulation of their vision for Iraq’s future.


President Bush must use his State of the Union address to comprehensively outline his vision for Iraq in his second term.  It has become cliché to speak of how the country is divided politically, and yet poisonous division is one of the greatest pitfalls that could doom Iraq to many more decades of misery.  Thus, Bush needs to unite Americans around their common interest in Iraq.  The issue at this point is not whether Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was the right one; the simple fact is that we did invade, and there is now an enormous U.S. interest in Iraq’s stability.


The President needs to persuasively articulate this U.S. interest.  He should explain that instability in Iraq will rebound to threaten the United States.  Indeed, the EU’s counterterrorism coordinator recently warned that radical youths from Europe and the Arab world are being trained in clandestine Iraqi camps.  Bush has to emphasize that U.S. credibility is on the line.  The war on terror will be long and difficult, and the United States will certainly make many missteps along the way.  But if we develop a reputation for making a mess and then cutting and running, how will other countries be able to trust our commitment when the going gets tough? 


Bush also has to explain our deep humanitarian concern for the lives of ordinary Iraqis.  For the first time in generations, the Iraqi people have real hopes for the future.  It would be an unmitigated tragedy if these hopes were dashed.


The President also needs to outline a concrete plan for Iraq’s future.  For years, he has trumpeted the virtues of democracy and liberal institutions.  He now needs to explain how we get to the point where the rule of law reigns supreme in Iraq.  He needs to frankly acknowledge the insurgency’s unexpected strength, and explain how Iraq’s security can be guaranteed, and how we can ensure that the tragic American casualties will be reduced.


By reaching out to those who disagree with his decision to invade Iraq, by outlining Americans’ united interest in a secure and prosperous Iraq, and by providing a roadmap to Iraq’s security, President Bush can help to push Americans past rancorous debate over the decision to invade.  He can help to move Americans toward a more civil discussion about that country’s future.


Prime Minister Allawi will also have the opportunity to address his country after the National Assembly elections have concluded.  Unlike the American president, he does not have to convince his countrymen that the stability of Iraq is important to them; however, like Bush, Allawi needs to be keenly aware of deep political divisions.


The insurgents clearly have been attempting to drive a wedge between the Iraqi people, and to exacerbate tensions along ethnic and religious lines.  There is a danger of Sunni disenfranchisement deepening these rifts in the January elections.  It is entirely conceivable, if the insurgents’ campaign of violence and intimidation continues, that Sunnis or Kurds could be seriously underrepresented in the National Assembly due to depressed voter turnout.


Thus, Prime Minister Allawi must deliver a major address to the Iraqi people that emphasizes their unity in the face of an enemy that promises them nothing but chaos and tyranny.  In particular, he has to assuage minority groups’ fears that their voices will be silenced and their interests subjugated as the new Iraqi constitution is drafted.  He must emphasize that the National Assembly will consult extensively with acknowledged leaders from the Sunni and Kurdish communities, and that it is the Assembly’s unshakable intent to produce a constitution that does not favor Shiite over Sunni or Sunni over Kurd, but rather one that grants all Iraqis equality under the law.


There are major challenges ahead in Iraq, and it is sometimes difficult not to be overcome by pessimism.  Both President Bush and Prime Minister Allawi have a window of opportunity to explain their vision for Iraq’s future and convince their countrymen that victory is possible.  They cannot allow this opportunity to pass them by.


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based terrorism research center. 

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