Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Thoughts on the Iraq Transition

The big news from Iraq so far this week has been Monday's transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government. This was an essential step in the strategy of Iraqification. The challenges facing the new government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are immense, but there are reasons for optimism.

The main cause for hope is that the majority of the Iraqi people have embraced the interim government. According to a survey of Iraqi public opinion, reported in the June 25th Washington Post, 68% of Iraqis expressed support for the interim government. In addition, "73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government, 84 percent approved of President Ghazi Yawar and almost two-thirds backed the new Cabinet. These impressive showings indicate that the new leaders have support spanning ethnic and religious groups, U.S. officials said."

Even more encouraging, according to this poll, "(f)our out of every five Iraqis expected that the new government will "make things better" for Iraq after the handover, with 10 percent expecting the situation to remain the same and 7 percent anticipating a decline, the poll shows." Two thirds of Iraqis believe the upcoming elections scheduled for January "will be free and fair", 70% expressed confidence in the new Iraqi army, and 82% in the police.

(Link courtesy of Daniel Drezner, who provides some good analysis of his own)

The Post recently published two other articles that indicated these poll numbers might indeed be accurate. The first, on Saturday June 26, notes that the wave of terrorist atrocities that occurred in Iraq on June 24 were condemned even by some radical anti-American Shia and Sunni clerics:

Key Iraqi opponents of the U.S. occupation expressed unease Friday over the wave of insurgent attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis a day earlier, and rejected efforts by foreign guerrillas to take the lead in the insurgency and mate it with the international jihad advocated by Osama bin Laden.

The second article, published on Sunday the 27th, describes the hard fighting faced by US troops in subduing terrorists in the city of Baqubah. In addition to the superb performance of our soldiers, the article contains this very encouraging news:

At the start of the day's fighting, Col. Dana Pittard, the brigade commander, had met with the city's police chiefs, who pleaded for heavier weapons to repel the attack.

"We're going to arm them," said Pittard, who would provide machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. "They want to fight, which is something we did not see in April" when the police fled in the face of a similar uprising.

Pittard also said he received reports that Iraqi civilians, carrying AK-47s permitted under occupation regulations for protection of homes, had begun pursuing the insurgents on their own. According to one report, a group of them ran into the palm grove, a favorite insurgent staging area, amid heavy firing on the Blue Dome.

Of course, we must be careful not to make too much of these accounts. Still, the general trends are clear:

1. Iraqis seem to be mostly supportive of the new government, and are showing a greater willingness to fight on its behalf. Instead of an American occupation, Iraqis now have a sovereign government offering the hope of a better future.

2. With the "Iraqi resistance" becoming increasingly Wahhabist in character, and being absorbed into the global jihadist movement, many Iraqis heretofore sympathetic to the insurgents may start to turn against it.

Of course, there are still many security, infrastructure, and political issues to be resolved. Places like Fallujah will continue to be a problem. If the Allawi government is unable to show any discernable progress, popular opinion may turn against it. Still, the Iraqification strategy looks like it is starting to bear fruit. The trend is clear: Instead of Americans vs. the "resistance", it is becoming the Iraqi government and people vs. the jihadists. If this is the case, there is indeed hope for the new Iraq.


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