There were moments--long moments--during the Iraq war when I had my doubts. Even deep doubts. Frankly, I couldn’t quite imagine any venture like this in the Arab world turning out especially well. This is, you will say, my prejudice. But some prejudices are built on real facts, and history generally proves me right. Go ahead, prove me wrong. Of course, Iraq hasn’t turned out that well. Sunni jihadniks are still routinely murdering pious Shi’a on pilgrimage to Karbala.
Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq By Patrick Cockburn (Scribner, 227 pp., $24) To feel the power of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite cleric and tormentor of the Americans in Iraq, all you needed to do, in the years after the invasion, was go to the Mohsin Mosque in eastern Baghdad. There, spread in the street for a half a mile, as many as fifteen thousand young men would stand assembled, prayer mats in hand, waiting for the service to begin. The scene was safe: Mahdi Army gunmen searched the cars and the supplicants for bombs.
Nir Rosen has an informative and depressing piece in the new Boston Review about Iraqi refugees and sectarian violence. It's worth reading in full, but this bit near the end caught my eye: It has become popular with former supporters of the war to blame the Iraqis for the Americans' failure. The Iraqis did not choose democracy or the Iraqis did not choose freedom, Americans like to say, or the Iraqis have to decide to stop killing each other or Iraqis have to "step up." But such complaints misplace the blame.
The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace By Ali A. Allawi (Yale University Press, 518 pp., $28) Say what you will about the American experience in Vietnam, that war was well written. A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan had a character who could have stepped out of the pages of Graham Greene. John Paul Vann was an even more arresting figure than Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. "The odds, he said, did not apply to him," Sheehan wrote of the unforgettable man who embodied the war'shubris and the war's undoing.
Paul Bremer will testify before Henry Waxman's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee tomorrow. He's likely to have his head ripped off and pickled in a jar. And that's if Democrats are feeling nice. Today the Politico's Mike Allen asked Bremer if he's worried about getting kicked around: A: My experience with Congress is that congressmen tend to take their job seriously. It's kind of exciting to remember that this is the 110th American Congress. There are not a lot of countries in the world that can say they've been electing congress two years at a time, 110 times.
I see that Richard Perle--like a number of neocons--is promoting the notion that he got off the Iraq train way back in the early days of the war. He tells Pajamas Media's Richard Miniter: PERLE: I think the most serious, the seminal mistake, was getting into an occupation. The day Baghdad fell, we should have handed political authority to the Iraqis. . . . Instead, we sent in 8,000 Americans to administer Iraq like you'd administer Montgomery County. . .
Sheik Kadhim Fartousi is, by all appearances, a man of action. Dressed in an imam’s gray robes, black cloak, and white turban, he glides through the dusty streets of Al Thawra, Baghdad’s teeming Shia slum, pursued by a small entourage of acolytes and assistants. He is in constant motion, issuing instructions and signing forms on the go. Passing through the turquoise-blue metal gates of the Walaa General Humanitarian Organization, a charity he founded just after the fall of Saddam Hussein, he is met by several local residents, all seeking his advice.