Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Country of Laws

Despite the passage of three new laws by the Iraqi Parliament, Iraq still remains a very divided place and now that our brilliant strategy of arming both parties in the civil conflict is about to explode in our faces, it is about to become a very dangerous place again. As our national history and the recorded history of many other countries can attest, nations are more than just laws. Nations are people, people with feelings and memories. These feelings and memories are not always subject to the ways of legal justice and have a way of causing people to implement laws in some unexpected ways. The Iraqi people are many years from national reconciliation and we are not even sure that they want it, the more we ride herd over the process and inject our own sensibilities into the process the more we prolong the day of reckoning.

Several legislators emphasized after the voting on Wednesday that achieving true sectarian reconciliation was far more complex than simply passing a law.

“Reconciliation will hang on more than a law, it needs political will,” said Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni legislator. “I believe there is no political will to achieve reconciliation. The law of amnesty is good, but not enough.”

The Iraqi government has no incentive to reconcile so long as we continue to play powerbroker not only in Iraq but in the region as a whole. As long as we continue to provide political coverage and cannon fodder the deeply held sectarian rifts will continue to acerbate under the surface. You cannot force people to like one another or to respect one another, that has to come from a common desire and goal for a people. I do not see that commonness of purpose for the Iraqis at this time.

While the laws put in place can lay the groundwork for change or reconciliation, they still require the trust of the people that they will be enforced in an equitable manner. There has to be an underlying trust within the people to submit to the laws on the books. Can we say that the Iraqis have this underlying trust in each other? I doubt it, we can’t even say with confidence that we have it in each other. Laws are merely the framework, the skeleton that holds the society together. If the people do not have a faith in those executing the laws, there can be no peace or any justice.

An example of this would be the Amnesty Law recently passed as part of the three new laws from the Iraqi Parliament, there are tens of thousands, mostly Sunnis that are being held without charges. The Amnesty Law was suppose to help ease the over-crowding and the appearance of revenge by the Shias, the problem of course is in the details. While the central government may have one definition of who the law would affect, you still have local and provincial officials who may have a different interpretation. Because of the central governments lack of any real power of enforcement the locals will still have the last word. How many of those tens of thousands of prisoners are there due to some local vendetta? The sheer numbers make it next to impossible to fully investigate each individual case, thus leaving many to rot in the jails and prisons of Iraq.

Thanks to our “surge” strategy we have increased the numbers of imprisoned to well past the breaking point. It seems we have not only exported democracy, but also our penchant for locking people up. It is also a documented fact that many of the Sunni detainees have been tortured and killed by their Shia guards. The Amnesty Law will do nothing to correct these injustices and only serves to reinforce in the mind of the minorities in Iraq their need to continue to fight the majority’s dominance.

While the passage of these laws will provide political cover for the Republicans and war mongers in America they will actually produce little in the way of reconciliation in Iraq. The current administration and the Bush-lite nominee waiting in the wings will state that this is a good sign that the Iraqi’s are making progress on the “benchmarks”, the true test is not in the laws we are forcing them to enact to meet our own political agendas, but in the trust created and developed by the opposing parties. This trust cannot be legislated or thrust upon them, but must be developed over time. If Iraq remains a sovereign nation in its current form, it will be up to the Iraqis to make this happen. It will not be at the behest of an occupying army, the history of the colonial powers should make this fact abundantly clear. The nations that they fashioned for their political expediency decades ago are still suffering from the tribal and secular fragmentation of trying to create nations from groups who do not share a national identity.

The war in Iraq will continue to define not Iraq’s but our national identity for years to come. Make no mistake about it the war in Iraq was not and is not about al Qaeda or terrorists, it is about one nation imposing its will over another nation. We can decorate that fact with the bouquet of spreading democracy and freedom, but the stench of imperialism will not be easily covered. How can a nation that violated international law now claim a moral superiority to bring law to the lawless? One must first remove the log that is in one’s own eye before trying to remove the splinter in another’s eye. Are there times when compassion and the acts of blood thirsty tyrants require action? Of course there are, we are confronted with them daily in Darfur, in Bosnia, and Rwanda. Iraq however was not one of them.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/14/world/middleeast/14iraq.html?pagewanted=2

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