Tuesday, May 04, 2004

But is Iraq really plunging into chaos? Anyone in contact with Iraqi realities would know that the answer is: No.

Yes, a variety of terrorist, insurgent and ordinary criminals are active in the country. Parts of Baghdad remain unsafe. Some roads, especially in the desert area bordering Jordan and Syria, are prone to attacks by bandits. And, as in many other parts of the world where criminal gangs operate, there is also some hostage-taking. But most of Iraq's 18,000 villages and 200-plus towns and cities remain as safe, if not safer, than those in some other Arab countries.

The Coalition faces a problem in Fallujah. But Fallujah accounts for no more than 4 percent of Iraq's Sunni Arab community. Other major Sunni cities - Mosul, Ramadi, even Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown - remain calm...

Those who claim that Iraq is in chaos also point to Najaf, where Muqtada al-Sadr, a 30-year-old Shiite cleric, is hiding in a number of holy shrines and mosques along with his so-called Army of the Mahdi. But talk to anyone in Najaf and you'll soon know that the overwhelming majority of the city's population wants Sadr to get the hell out. (After more than two weeks of contacts with Iraqi Shiite leaders and opinion-makers at various levels, this writer has not found anyone who supports Sadr and his shenanigans.)

Sadr is abusing the old Shiite practice of "bast," which consists of taking sanctuary in a holy shrine. But Najaf is a city of 500,000 people, while Sadr's followers number 3,000 at most...

There is no nationwide insurrection in Iraq. Nor is Iraq suffering from a general breakdown in law and order. To be sure, it is no bed of roses. But the violence and insecurity are within the remit of normal in a post-liberation situation, and remain manageable...

When President Bush announced the start of the war to liberate Iraq, he promised to stay the course until the Iraqi people built a new democratic system. Implicit in that offer was that the Iraqis should play their part in what is by far the greatest challenge they have faced since their state was created eight decades ago.

The people of Iraq have kept their end of the bargain. They did not fight on Saddam's side, allowing the Coalition to achieve victory with remarkable ease. Since then, they've continued to do what is required of them - not only by isolating insurgents and terrorists, but also by beginning to rebuild their shattered country. As a string of recent polls, complemented by personal and anecdotal information, indicates, the overwhelming majority are still prepared to work with the Coalition to achieve their dream of a new political system based on human rights and pluralism.

The real question is: Will the Coalition keep its end of the bargain? Or will U.S. and British leaders, for reasons of domestic politics, lose their nerve, throw Iraq to the United Nations or some other ineffectual custodian and sacrifice the strategic goal of a democratic Middle East to tactical electoral considerations?

What to do in Iraq? The answer is simple: Don't lose your nerve!

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