The war between destruction and creation

Our friend William Shawcross, writing in the The Spectator, pays tribute to two brave Kansas National Guardsmen who saved the life of weapons inspector Charles Duelfer last year. Shawcross goes on to explain why “the struggle in Iraq really is between the worst of humanity and the best of humanity” and why America and Britain, being on the right side, must persevere.

The piece is available by subscription only. Given its importance, I have taken the liberty of publishing it in full:

Just over a year ago Charles Duelfer was almost murdered by a suicide bomber in Baghdad. He was saved by the Kansas National Guardsmen in his security detail, who sacrificed their lives for his.

The incident provides an allegory for what is happening in Iraq — a struggle, in Duelfer’s words, between ‘the worst of humanity and the best of humanity’, a war between the forces of destruction and creation. It is a struggle in which there can be no doubt as to who is right and who is wrong.

Duelfer, a brilliant and assiduous veteran of UN weapons investigations in Iraq, was recently head of the US’s Iraq Survey Group. His definitive four-volume report explains why so many of the world’s governments and intelligence agencies were convinced before the 2003 invasion that Saddam Hussein still had the weapons of mass destruction he had used before, against Iran and the Iraqi Kurds.

On 8 November 2004 Charles Duelfer was driving into Baghdad, escorted by Kansas National Guardsmen whose mission, said Duelfer, was ‘to protect life’. Suddenly a red car, loaded with artillery rounds, began to accelerate straight at Duelfer’s car. It was driven by a young man who, in Duelfer’s words, had been ‘channelled, like others before him, to commit his life to destruction’. The men from Kansas, said Duelfer, ‘unhesitatingly reacted to preserve life and drove their vehicle to block the car bomb. The blast was huge and chaos erupted as the impulses to destroy and protect clashed.’

Sergeant Don Allen Clary and Sergeant Clint Wisdom died saving Charles Duelfer. On the first anniversary of their death last month he said, in a tribute to them, that the awful incident showed him that ‘the urge to create must win over the urge to destroy’.

Those murders on the airport road symbolise the battle that is taking place throughout Iraq. For all the mistakes made by the US-led coalition, its mission is creative — to help the Iraqi people build a decent society for the first time in their lives, and to encourage other states in the Middle East in the same direction. By contrast, the mission of the terrorists who killed Sergeants Wisdom and Clary and so many thousands of other Americans and Iraqis, including women, children and teachers, is only destructive. They have nothing to offer Iraqis except vengeance, religious insanity and death.

There is much talk now, in both the US and Europe, of pulling out a large number of troops as soon as possible in 2006. This is very dangerous and could destroy all that is being achieved. Whatever the reasons for going to war (and I still think those reasons were valid), American commitment and sacrifice are creating a vital opportunity for both Iraq and the Middle East to progress towards civil society. Premature pull-out would be a disaster. One of the bravest women I know, Maysoon al-Damluji, left her architect’s practice in London to help build the new Iraq. In a recent interview with www.opendemocracy.net, she said that although she disliked the continuing occupation, ‘this doesn’t alter my belief that their withdrawal would have grave consequences: we could end up in a civil war’.

The news from Iraq — particularly on the BBC — is dominated by stories of destruction, of car bombs, murders, kidnaps and other terrors. But there is creation taking place as well. A lot of it.

The Iraqi economy is growing all the time; the currency remains strong; there has been no massive flight of refugees. House prices in Baghdad and elsewhere have soared — a house in the middle-class district of Mansour now costs almost a million dollars. Polls show Iraqis are more confident of their future than we seem to be.

Saddam has not been murdered. He is facing a trial which has so far been conducted with great difficulty but with clear attention to fairness, despite the assassination of several defence lawyers by terrorists desperate to destroy the process. It provides an example to the region.

As does so much of what the Iraqis are doing. Despite the brutal attacks upon them, they have kept to a complicated timetable of political progress with exemplary courage and patience. They are about to vote for the third time this year. Maysoon al-Damluji and thousands of other men and women are campaigning all the time on the issues that are important to them.

Baghdad is plastered with election posters. The political activity in Iraq is unprecedented in the Arab world. I do not wish to minimise the difficulties — the ruthless terrorist attacks will continue — but as a result of this next election on 15 December, Iraq will have a more representative government than any other country in the Middle East save Israel.

Bush’s enemies have scoffed at the knock-on effect of the overthrow of Saddam. But it has been real and beneficial in many ways — in Libya, in Lebanon and Syria, even in Egypt and Saudi Arabia where governments have begun to open up to the people more than ever before.

Critics of the Bush administration claim that the very presence of US troops inspires the insurgency. Of course it is true that no one likes to be occupied, but the critics ignore the fact that most of the 19,000 villages and towns in Iraq never see an American or any other foreign soldier — there simply are not enough of them.

US and other coalition troops should and will be withdrawn as soon as the legitimate Iraqi government believes its newly created security forces can defend the country. Those who doubt the importance of the commitment should ponder the consequences for the world, not just Iraq, if al-Qa’eda and the Baathist terrorists should succeed in defeating the United States.

Iraqis will make sure that the new Iraq succeeds. The only thing that could stop it now would be if the US and Britain really did abandon the Iraqi people and withdraw prematurely, thus allowing the few thousand terrorists to destroy the future of 26 million people. The Nobel Peace Prize winner from East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, said recently that he too believes the Iraqis can create a decent society. ‘But they cannot succeed if they are abandoned. And the brave young American soldiers whom we today see cruising the treacherous streets of Iraq, sometimes battling the terrorists, sometimes conversing with ordinary Iraqis, will be remembered as the heroes who made this possible.’

Like Sergeants Clary and Wisdom, the selfless men from Kansas who died on the airport road, we must remain convinced that the urge to create will win over the urge to destroy. The struggle in Iraq really is between ‘the worst of humanity and the best of humanity’ — and America and Britain are on the right side.

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