Margaret Hassan, head of CARE International in Iraq, is seen here during one of her better days. On 19 October 2004, Hassan is kidnapped by an armed group in Iraq. Nearly a month later, whilst the news from Iraq dwelt upon the US invasion of Fallujah, a video of Hassan's execution at the hands of her captors was shown on al-Jazeera. (photo courtesy of CARE International and Associated Press)

Facing a Reality However Grim

Born in Ireland, Margaret Hassan was a Briton who married an Iraqi and became an Iraqi citizen. For three decades, many of those years living under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, Hassan worked tirelessly in Iraq to improve the lives of the poor, bringing them food, water, medicine and textbooks.

Then she was kidnapped, forced to beg for her life on al-Jazzera television, and murdered.

Such is the typical predicament of this terrible and absurd conflict. The invaders went in without just cause, in haste, and too ill-prepared to rehabilitate an already-troubled nation. The insurgents, too cowardly to face their enemies in open battle, resort to terrorist tactics, slaughtering mostly their fellow countrymen as well as the stalwart peacemakers who stay on to rebuild their country, however ungrateful their beneficiaries have been.

I say this to the leaders of America, Britain, Italy, Australia, and all the friends they have hoodwinked to believe that Iraq is becoming a fountainhead of western-style democracy in the Arab world: Wake up. It's not going to happen for a while, certainly not within your lifetimes, let alone your current terms in office.

So the Sunni Arabs want to fight, now that the dictatorship that gave them an unfair share of the nation's wealth is no more? Let them, since we all know they won't have any weapons of mass destruction to use against their own people again, not since the UN and IAEA inspectors declared that none was found, well before President Bush supposedly sent the troops to Baghdad to get them.

So the Shia want to fight, even if it's behind the banner of some rabble-rousing cleric bent on revenge for the murder of his kin? Let them. They are, as they have been, the majority of this country; let's see if they can finally take advantage of that fact, now that their erstwhile Sunni repressors are entrenched in that little triangle of theirs.

The Kurdish minority in the north would prefer to stay out of the fray. Thanks to the enforcement of the no-fly zones after the liberation of Kuwait, they've been rebuilding their roads, schools and businesses during their de-facto autonomy, a period of relative peace and prosperity marred only by the often-violent disputes over property and oil rights with the Sunni Arabs, dispatched en masse to the region by Saddam over the last decade in a drawn-out effort at ethnic cleansing. However, should a civil war commence in full swing, the Kurds knew they would hardly protect their interests by remaining perilously idle at the sidelines.

Rest in peace, Margaret. Your suffering is at an end. (AP photo, Al-Jazerra TV image via APTN)

       So the (un) holy warriors pouring in from all over the Islamic world want to fight, too? Let them. After all, they didn't get the chance to wage jihad against the Great Satan in Iraq with Saddam, who distrusted al-Qaeda just as much as the Shia fundamentalists he brutally repressed at home, lest they foment a theocratic revolution la their neighbors in Tehran. 

It was President Bush and especially VP Dick Cheney who insisted upon linking the Iraqi dictatorship with the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks, in one political campaign speech after another. Well, now that they sent soldiers to Iraq, their terrorist enemies -- dogging them ever since they almost sank the USS Cole in Yemen -- have indeed followed. Way to go.

There's more. The current and re-elected administration in Washington is adamant to see through the first national elections in Iraq come next January, civil war or no. Well then, they'd better brace for the possibility that their forced experiment in democracy might end in utter failure, bringing more disillusionment to an already cynical Iraqi people.

Granted, the same thing was said of Afghanistan's first-ever elections this month, held three years after the ouster of the Taliban, who still practice their occasional rocket attacks and car bombings. That was three years of Loya Jirgas (grand councils amongst the Pashtuns, the Uzbeks, the Turkmen, the Hazaras and other Afghan tribes, led mostly by a handful of warlords who hold sway even today), NATO peacekeeping, a booming trade in opium poppies, and the charisma of a lucky-to-be-alive Hamid Karzai who, once a mere US-approved mayor of Kabul, finally legitimized his presidency with an untainted popular mandate.

US-appointed Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, on the other hand, has only one year between the nominal restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and the elections scheduled for January 2005. Now well into November 2004, the insurgency has only escalated, while there are fewer peacekeeping troops, no clear slate of candidates, and no polling infrastructure in place -- while the economy is moribund, and unemployment stays at nearly half of the entire adult population.

Heed these words, Mr Howard (congratulations on your recent re-election, by the way, and the good fortune of suffering no Australian casualties in Iraq), Mr Blair, Sr Bellusconi and especially Mr Bush: 

Know that the more you carry on the way you do in Iraq, the longer it becomes necessary for you (and your successors) to finish it. Know that more innocent civilians -- journalists, engineers, aid workers, foreigners and Iraqis alike -- will die because of your ill-made decisions. Admitting that American soldiers are undermanned and overwhelmed in the Sunni Triangle is one thing; asking Britain to send troops to cover them, on top of their own peacekeeping troubles in Basra, is quite another. The restive British public, who already saw their countryman Ken Bigley beheaded by his captors a month earlier, may well regard the loss of Margaret Hassan as the last straw.

Winning the peace in Iraq has never been, and shall never be a military objective. Be creative -- do something, anything. Oh, I don't know, how about pulling some troops out of Iraq, clearing the way for the ethnic factions to sort themselves out in war or peace -- or at least to rid themselves of the likes of al-Zarqawi, who would have less reason to cause mischief and grief in a country that is not his own? Bribing the Israeli and the Arafat-free Palestinian leadership (such as they are) so that they'll return to the negotiating table? Starting a rapprochement with (i.e., be nice to) Syria? Declaring the entire "war on terror" an ideological fallacy, while "spinning" your way towards reconciliation with the Arab world?

How about letting the fledgling leaders in Baghdad decide when, if at all, they will have their elections for all the good that will do?

CW, 23 October 2004, updated 16 November 2004


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