Outside view: Truth in Iraq

Outside view: Truth in Iraq
By Ed Hogan-Bassey, Outside View Commentator

United Press International
Feb 7 2005

Washington, DC, Feb. 5 (UPI) — It worked in South Africa after the
demise of Apartheid, preventing bloody civil war and enabling
forgiveness, reconciliation and peace to exist between white and
black South Africans. It worked in Lebanon bringing different
religious groups together to unite and live in peace. It also worked
in Bosnia, allowing Muslims, Christians and others to reconcile and
live together in peace. Iraq is not an exception. The Iraqi people,
young and old, Shiite or Sunni, Kurdish and others, must come to
terms with each other to reconcile, forgive, and move on as one

The Jan. 30 Iraqi election and the vote for democracy was a
remarkable success and victory for Iraqis. But the next 90 to 120
days will be critical for Iraq’s future as well as for the future of
U.S. policy in the Arab-Islamic world.

In the face of a successful election that has created a road map for
democracy, Iraqi people can now start to smell the sweet scent of
freedom. Thomas Friedman in his New York Times Op-Ed column of Feb. 3
said it best: “Whatever you thought about this war, it’s not about
Mr. (George W.) Bush any more. It’s about the aspirations of the
Iraqi majority to build an alternative to Saddamism. By voting the
way they did, in the face of real danger, the Iraqis have earned the
right to ask everyone now to put aside their squabbles and focus on
what is no longer just a pipe dream but a real opportunity to implant
decent, consensual government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world”.

But how will the Iraqi majority be able to build an alternative to
Saddamism and implant decent, consensual government without real
unity, forgiveness and reconciliation amongst its divided ethnic and
religious groups? How will the United States claim real success for
bringing democracy to the Iraqi people without a stable and unified
Iraqi government?

The basic, but most strategic, question that inspired the call for
Iraq unification summit was what can the United States do after the
successful election to save Iraq from disintegration and bloody civil
war? Implicit in this question is the ability to define what such
disintegration and bloody civil war would mean in the whole region
and the implication for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

The rising tide of tribal and religious disunity amongst the Iraqis,
including the Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis, and other groups, threatens to
destabilize and it signals a future social disintegration of Iraq and
a grim possibility that a civil war may be looming. If Iraq is
allowed to plunge into a civil conflict, it will be a devastating
blow to the Iraqi people and to America’s reputation in the world

Fundamental reconciliation of Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups is
critical to building democracy in that country and to establishing a
road map for spreading democracy in the Arab-Islamic world. This is
the reason for holding a high-level Iraq reconciliation summit. It is
designed to create a network and an infrastructure that facilitate
communication and implementation of both short and long-term goals of
reconciliation, forgiveness and unification that will bind the
different tribes, religious factions and ethnic groups in a new Iraq
democratic society.

If we are to take a realistic and honest view of establishing a
successful, stable, functioning, peaceful and democratic government
in Iraq, we must first address the following three essential factors:
reconciliation, forgiveness and unification among the Iraqi ethnic
and religious groups. These groups include: the Kurds, Shiites,
Sunnis, Assyrian Christians, Turkoman, Marsh Arabs and others.
Neither the United States nor the United Nations can bypass these
three essential factors to obtain a real, stable, peaceful and
democratic government in Iraq.

The United States must act now. Unless it act very soon, it faces a
dilemma where all its accomplishments and contributions to rebuilding
Iraq and bring democracy to that volatile part of the world will be
lost. The opportunities that it has for winning hearts and minds,
establishing democratic institutions and creating economic and
political stability in that region may well be washed away.

The immediate aim of the summit is to bring together the Shiites,
Sunnis, Kurds, Turkoman, Assyrian Christians, Armenians, Marsh Arabs,
and others, including various religious factions in Iraq, for a
30-day reconciliation, forgiveness and unification summit. It would
be patterned, organized and similar in nature to that conducted by
the state of South Africa following the demise of Apartheid. The
summit would consciously revitalize the spirit of nationalism,
brotherhood, patriotism, forgiveness and reconciliation among the
various tribes and religious groups.

(Ed Hogan-Bassey is a 22-year veteran of the United States
Information Agency. He is a fellow of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology Center for Advanced Study and the author of the soon to be
published volume: “United States Foreign Policy and the Rising Tide
of Global Anti-Americanism”.)

(United Press International’s “Outside View” commentaries are written
by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important
issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of
United Press International. In the interests of creating an open
forum, original submissions are invited.)