Iraq Is On the Brink; But Of What?

We’re a day late linking to this column that Ralph Peters wrote for Real Clear Politics, but it’s an interesting analysis of why western journalists give us such one-sided coverage of what is happening in Iraq:

Consider just a few of the inaccuracies served up by the media:

Claims of civil war. In the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a flurry of sectarian attacks inspired wild media claims of a collapse into civil war. It didn’t happen. Driving and walking the streets of Baghdad, I found children playing and, in most neighborhoods, business as usual. Iraq can be deadly, but, more often, it’s just dreary.

Iraqi disunity. Factional differences are real, but overblown in the reporting. Few Iraqis support calls for religious violence. After the Samarra bombing, only rogue militias and criminals responded to the demagogues’ calls for vengeance. Iraqis refused to play along, staging an unrecognized triumph of passive resistance.

Expanding terrorism. On the contrary, foreign terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have lost ground. They’ve alienated Iraqis of every stripe. Iraqis regard the foreigners as murderers, wreckers and blasphemers, and they want them gone. The Samarra attack may, indeed, have been a tipping point–against the terrorists.

Hatred of the U.S. military. If anything surprised me in the streets of Baghdad, it was the surge in the popularity of U.S. troops among both Shias and Sunnis. In one slum, amid friendly adult waves, children and teenagers cheered a U.S. Army patrol as we passed. Instead of being viewed as occupiers, we’re increasingly seen as impartial and well-intentioned.

Peters argues that many western journalists are in the dark largely because of their dependence on Iraqi stringers who have figured out that there is a market for bad news, not good. Maybe. But the emphasis on bad news fits the ideological predisposition of most mainstream reporters, and would come through, I think, regardless of the sources of individual reports.

Iraq is going through a critical period. After three successful elections, its newly-minted politicians are struggling to form a government. They have little time; they are working in a climate of violence and terror; and their country has little or no tradition of democracy. These are formidable obstacles that our own founding fathers did not face. al Qaeda knows that the moment is a crucial one; hence the recently-uncovered plot to infiltrate the Iraqi forces that guard Baghdad’s Green Zone:

Security officials foiled a plot that would have put hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists at guard posts around Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies as well as the Iraqi government, the interior minister said yesterday.

A senior Defense Ministry official confirmed the plot and said 421 al Qaeda men had been recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, the official said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said in an interview that the al Qaeda recruits were one bureaucrat’s signature away from being accepted into an Iraqi army battalion whose job is to control the gates and main squares in the Green Zone. The plot was discovered three weeks ago.

Had this plot succeeded, the political consequences here in the U.S.–always a prime concern of al Qaeda–would likely have been disastrous. It will be a long time before a verdict can be reached on the success of Iraq’s nascent democracy, or on President Bush’s strategy of undermining the terrorists by bringing freedom to the Arab world. But the next few weeks will be one of many critical moments.

SCOTT adds: James Robbins writes about the plot and its rationale in “Baghdad Tet.” He writes: “This is one of the most dangerous terrorist plots in recent memory, one that had a chance of making a strategic impact.” The terrorists appear to be better students of American history than our own high school students are.

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