Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tragic misunderstanding

Robert Dreyfuss says that most people have got Iraqi politics all wrong:

The conventional wisdom is that Iraqis can’t get their act together; that Iraqi politicians are hopeless squabbling, fratricidal hate-mongers; and that there’s really no use trying understand what passes for Iraqi politics. The narrative continues like this: that Iraq’s civil war is hundreds of years old, with Sunnis and Shia killing each other since the dawn of Islam;.that Iraq isn’t really even a country, since its borders were arbitrarily drawn up by a cigar-smoking Winston Churchill in the 1920s; and that there is no chance that Iraq will meet the 18 so-called “benchmarks” that were enacted by Congress earlier this year because it’s impossible that Iraqis will ever forge a consensus that can hold their country together.

Is any of that true? Even careful consumers of news about Iraq would be hard-pressed to challenge any of it, since by and large the press has failed to ask the kinds of questions that might shed light on Iraqi politics and society: Is the real cleavage in Iraqi politics between Shia and Sunni? Or is it something else? Is it possible that the real division within Iraq is not the cut along sectarian lines, but one that pits Iraqi nationalists against separatists?
To that last question, Dreyfuss would answer in the affirmative.

Dreyfuss adds that this misunderstanding, perhaps (too) conveniently, lends weight to calls for the US stay in Iraq. But an expedited American withdrawal, he claims, would probably dissolve the most fundamental political fault line in Iraq, the one that seems to be driving the sectarian strife, and open up space for a recasting of Iraqi politics along more cooperative, problem-solving lines. With American boots on the ground, this sort of reconciliation, which is what Iraqis most sorely need, is impossible.