Jewish World Review March 9, 2004 / 16 Adar, 5764

Robert Stewart

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Consumer Reports

Is Iraq a success one year later? Ask the president of the Iraqi Governing Council | An important measure of success in Iraq is the answer to the question: Is the nation better off today than they were a year ago? Listening to Muhammad Bahr al-Uloum, president of the Iraqi Governing Council, the answer is clear. "The eighth of March represents a turning point in the history of Iraq for regaining sovereignty," he said at the signing ceremony for Iraq's first post-Hussein constitution. "This law provides for public participation in direct elections." Something he likely thought impossible just one year ago Monday.

Celebrating March 8 is not new, but this year's anniversary had far greater meaning. In 2003, Iraqi Kurds celebrated the 12-year anniversary of their uprising against Saddam Hussein. Following the first Gulf War, and with U.S. protection-including a no-fly-zone enforced by military jets-Kurds reached a level of autonomy and security unknown in the rest of a nation terrorized by the Hussein regime. But the celebrations had always been a bit hollow: Hussein still threatened, and their countrymen continued to live under a brutal dictator.

During last year's celebration, Saddam Hussein remained the absolute power in Iraq, ruling through fear and violence. Iraqis feared the midnight knock of the secret police, and women were brutalized by those sworn to uphold the law. The nation was a regional and international pariah. But on Monday, Iraqis took back their country; settled (for the time being, at least) centuries-old disputes; and enshrined freedom and individual rights in a constitution signed by members of the nation's many religious, ethnic and political groups. This despite being a nation in the midst of lingering violence from within and without-and one where most citizens had never lived under democracy.

And as important, the constitutional process was formed through discussions and debate rather than violence. In a difficult process that many pundits and experts thought at its onset would promptly fail, diverse views and rights were codified through democratic means. The interim constitution, a prerequisite for the planned handover of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the Iraqi people on July 1, is but the first step in many leading toward full autonomy for the nation, and newfound-and hard-fought-freedoms for its people.

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Though the path to a constitution was not an easy one, that story, too, is one of success. In developing the nation's guiding document, the newly liberated nation relied not on one group, one man or one religion, but on many. In what diplomats call robust discussions-and what most others would call a heated exchange, teetering on violence and failure-Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis debated, visited each other's homes and hometowns, and met with and learned about the different religions and religious leaders. The nation is learning democracy, not from books and scholars, but through the example of its liberators, and daily practice.

This burgeoning success is all the more remarkable given the hurdles in the path of democratic progress. Iraqis are accomplishing a genesis of democracy in a less-than-perfect environment: Baghdad in 2004 is far more dangerous than was Philadelphia in 1787. Frequent terror attacks against military and civilian alike disrupt progress and sow fear. Hours before the constitution was signed, mortar attacks injured four people miles from the signing ceremony. But the efforts to derail democracy have not, and will not succeed.

A year ago this week, Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq, his sons terrorized the nation, and mass graves were filled with those who dared seek authority or freedom for any but the chosen few. Now, for the first time in decades, Iraqis are living under a new constitution. This success is an important step toward a future and a nation that values freedom and democracy over terror and tyranny. And this year, for the first time, Shiites and Sunnis joined the Kurds in celebrating March 8.

So is Iraq a success one year later? In the words of Mr. Bahr al-Uloum, "we are today standing in a historical moment to lay the strong foundation for rebuilding a new Iraq. A new, free, democratic Iraq that protects the dignity of the human being and protects human rights." Sounds like a "yes."

JWR contributor Robert Stewart, a former Army intelligence analyst, is now a writer based in Washington, D.C. Comment by clicking here.


02/13/04: Kerry swings at Bush, hits Clinton
02/03/04: The coming anti-lobbyist lobby?
12/30/03: Bush Doctrine, often derided, is paying dividends in peace
11/24/03: Isolationism does not breed immunity
11/10/03: President Bush, like Eisenhower before him, is signaling the beginning of a new epoch
10/21/03: Is this war being won? You bet, just don't ask the congressman with the embarrassingly bad timing

© 2003, Robert Stewart