Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Gloomy Despair in Washington; Cautious Optimism in Baghdad

Fouad Ajami is a Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and the Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. Today, in the WSJ.com OpinionJournal, he reports on the contrast between the political atmosphere he found in Baghdad on his recent visit and the prevailing sentiments in Washington D.C.:
A traveler who moves between Baghdad and Washington is struck by the gloomy despair in Washington and the cautious sense of optimism in Baghdad. Baghdad has not been prettified; its streets remain a sore to the eye, its government still hunkered down in the Green Zone, and violence is never far. But the sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable. I crisscrossed the city--always with armed protection--making my way to Sunni and Shia politicians and clerics alike. The Sunni and Shia versions of political things--of reality itself--remain at odds. But there can be discerned, through the acrimony, the emergence of a fragile consensus.
Ajami, himself a Shia from Lebanon, writes movingly of the awakening among Iraqi Shia to the fact that for the first time in any Arab nation, they hold the ruling power. "In the long scheme of history, the Shia Arabs had never governed."

Optimistically, from my perspective, he writes that even though the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr had been viewed by the Shia of Baghdad as heroes who won the fight for Baghdad against the Sunni Baathist and Al Qaeda insurgents, the Shia are nonetheless cautiously backing the current U.S. crackdown against the Mahdi Army:
There is a growing Shia unease with the Mahdi Army--and with the venality and incompetence of the Sadrists represented in the cabinet--and an increasing faith that the government and its instruments of order are the surer bet. The crackdown on the Mahdi Army that the new American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has launched has the backing of the ruling Shia coalition. Iraqi police and army units have taken to the field against elements of the Mahdi army. In recent days, in the southern city of Diwaniyya, American and Iraqi forces have together battled the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr. To the extent that the Shia now see Iraq as their own country, their tolerance for mayhem and chaos has receded. Sadr may damn the American occupiers, but ordinary Shia men and women know that the liberty that came their way had been a gift of the Americans.
This lengthy analysis is well worth reading. Unfortunately, it will not be read by those who need to read it most--the Democratic majority in Congress.

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