May 26, 2006

May 26, 2006 | Commentary on Middle East

Iraqi progress

Looking at the invariably mixed news from Iraq and the impatience here at home with the war now in its fourth year, words from an old patriotic song comes to mind, "Over there." In George M. Cohan's song, which captured the spirit of the World War I generation, "the Yanks are coming" with considerably more spirit than we are witnessing at least on the home front these days, -- particularly if you think about the emphatic last line: "And we won't come home till it's over over there."

Can Americans pride themselves on that kind of staunch commitment today? Or are we going to see a repeat of the Vietnam War in which the United States won on the battlefield, but lost the will to fight at home? As we ask ourselves more questions, we should keep in mind that there is absolutely no doubt that our commitment will determine the success or failure of the post-Saddam Iraq.

The successful formation of a new Iraqi government, which met for the first time Sunday after five long months of difficult negotiations, is a critically important step in the effort to make Iraq a self-sustaining state and a democracy. This achievement should be hailed as a milestone for the Iraqi people and for American commitment to their future.

The fact is that only an elected Iraqi government will have the credibility domestically to run the country and take control of internal security. Up to this point, Iraq after Saddam has had two governments that carried the imprint of American backing, and a constitutional assembly that paved the way for the December 15 elections.

But only now do Iraqis have a government chosen by Iraqi voters in a democratic vote. That this has been a lengthy process since the ouster of Saddam, there is no denying. Yet, it is equally true that this process has had consistent forward momentum.

Also important is the fact that Iraq's Sunni minority participated in the elections and took part in negotiations for the cabinet. Accordingly, the new government will be more inclusive and have greater credibility with the populationthan any previous governing body.

Speaking in Chicago on Monday. President Bush reminded Americans of the importance of our continued commitment in Iraq. "The government is still a work in progress, and overcoming long-standing divisions will take time," Mr. Bush said.

"The new Iraqi government does not change America's objectives or our commitment," he said. "As the new Iraqi government grows in confidence and capability, America will play an increasingly supporting role...This new unity government deserves American support, and they will have it."

Iraq's new government does in fact reflect real inclusiveness. Yes, the Shia, the majority population group, do hold a majority of the government posts, as one might expect -- currently 20 out of 40. This includes the prime minister post now occupied by Nouri Maliki, a little known politician who hails from a party that for years led armed underground resistance against Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party.

Yet, the Kurds hold eight government posts, including the foreign minister's post, occupied by Hoshiyar Zebari, for 10 years foreign-policy spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Party. Sunnis similarly hold eight posts, including the Ministry of Justice. The government also includes one Christian, the minister for human rights.

However, there is still more work to be done. Three crucially important posts remain to be filled; the powerful ministries of defense, interior and national security. Who controls them will control Iraqi's armed forces, police and intelligence services. Needless to say, a lot depends on their final distribution. Currently, they are split three ways between the Shia prime minister, and the two Sunni and Kurdish deputy prime ministers.

What the United States and allied countries are striving toward is the moment when Iraqi forces can assume responsibility for stability in the country. There is still a long and hard way to go, as we are regularly reminded by the news coverage of Iraq.

Yet, newly installed Prime Minster Maliki felt confident enough to tell British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived in Baghdad Tuesday for a surprise visit, that Iraqi security forces would be ready to assume full responsibility for some provinces and cities as early as next month. Eventually, this is the kind of progress that will lead to the drawdown of American, British and other allied forces that we are all looking forward to.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Middle East

First appeared in the Washington Times