This is a sad, sad thing.
For an Arab world resistant to political reform, the new Iraq taking shape under U.S. tutelage is a troubling harbinger.
In the five months since U.S. forces rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein's rule, the country's ethnically and religiously diverse people have, in one giant leap, overturned decades of social and political injustice, replaced a brutal one-party system with a multitude of groups advocating a rich range of ideologies and created a free press.
Shiite Muslims, a majority in Iraq oppressed for decades by a Sunni minority favored by past colonial masters and later by Saddam, are now free to worship in public and visit their holy shrines. Kurds, non-Arabs whom Saddam killed by the thousands to suppress their struggle for self-rule, are now main players in the new Iraq — their voices strong, their ideas sought.
Already Iraq's interim leadership is the only Arab government with a Shiite Muslim majority, and its foreign minister isn't even Arab.
"Most Arab intellectuals stood by the Iraqi regime for different motives and without any consideration for the suffering of the Iraqi people, simply because the regime was Arab and opposed America," Abdel-Khaleq Hussein, an Iraqi, wrote in an article published Sept. 7 in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
From the viewpoint of most Iraqis, Saddam was a brutal dictator who remained in power for as long as he did — 23 years — partly because Arab leaders kept quiet about his crimes in exchange for the large financial gains made from trading with Baghdad and so as not to invite criticism of their own dismal human rights records.
While most Iraqis celebrated Saddam's fall despite their misgivings about the Americans, Arabs beyond Iraq's borders were dismayed to see TV images of U.S. troops in central Baghdad. For their leaders, it was a question of who might be next.
Last week, the Arab League reluctantly accorded Iraq's interim leadership a measure of recognition when it allowed Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd and a longtime Saddam critic, to fill Iraq's seat in the Cairo-based organization.
The league also broke its silence on Saddam's crimes, condemning the mass graves in which the deposed dictator buried thousands of Shiites and Kurds who rose against his rule in 1991 or were suspected of dissent.