Can brave Iraqis stand against the chaos?
Published June 28, 2005

The bad news out of Iraq has taken on a sort of life of its own. Since the inception of that country’s new government, attacks have accelerated, and every day, every headline, brings news of another bombing, another suicide strike, another assassination. The latest series of killings, leaving hundreds dead, has taken on a chilling pattern: Iraqi police and army officers are being targeted in an attempt to destabilize the fledgling government and the country as a whole.

The New York Times’ Friday, May 6, article on the recent attacks was staggering. Bombing after bombing. Twelve tortured civilians found buried in a garbage dump. One of the police investigating that horror remarked, almost casually, that normally two or three bodies turn up on the streets each day, but never this many. And, by the way, they found two other dead bodies in that garbage pile, apparently unrelated to the torture victims.

Meanwhile, heavily-armed gangs of insurgents drive off-road vehicles mounted with machine guns to police checkpoints with the sole purpose of killing police. Even when the cops are dead, that’s not good enough for the ruthless terrorists here: they shoot the bodies in the head, just to leave a message.

The message, of course, is clear: if you value your life, if you value the lives of your family and friends, stay clear of the police and the army. Don’t volunteer to protect your country and your neighbors. Stay away, or die.

Some no doubt do, but others come anyway. One man injured in one of the many attacks promised he would return to serve. Even when they say nothing, the Iraqis are speaking with their feet: one attack was successful in killing many people because the bomber blew up a crowd waiting to sign up for police training. Knowing the dangers, there are still Iraqis willing to stand up and try to make their country a better place.

Still, the situation in Iraq is not good. Some areas are, for the moment at least, peaceful, and some rebuilding is going on. But imagine if you saw all these news reports and replaced Baghdad with New York, or Washington, or L.A. Would we be satisfied knowing that the rest of the country—ninety-nine percent or more, after all—was at peace if bombs were going off every day in one of our premier cities?

The fact is that Baghdad is where the action is. The government is there, the hated American invaders are there, it’s the cultural and economic center of the country. It matters to the citizens of other places that bodies aren’t turning up in their streets, to be sure, and what peace there is, is no mean achievement. But if the government and the whole, staggering force of the United States military cannot grant the people of Baghdad an equal feeling of security, we will never be able to credibly say we have succeeded in Iraq.

Unfortunately, instead of building our coalition, instead of bringing in new allies for the effort to create security in Baghdad and all of Iraq, the Bush Administration is watching many of its friends withdraw from the fray. Bulgaria is next on that list. Britain may follow, now that the election there has significantly weakened Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labour Party. One of the biggest negative issues for Labour was the war in Iraq, hardly popular even among its own ranks. It may well prove impossible for Blair to maintain the British troop presence in Iraq, a loss that we would feel much more sharply than Bulgaria’s handful of soldiers.

Bush and his advisors seem to believe that the war in Iraq takes place in a vacuum. Our cause is just, they argue, thus freedom-loving peoples from around the world should willingly step forward to bear part of the burden. Even countries that might support us, however, continue to be ignored, intimidated, and ill-treated by the administration. We do nothing to support causes championed by our allies—like the court of human rights, the Kyoto Accord, and countless other international agreements—yet expect them to stick out their necks to support us.

The question they are asking, no doubt, is, “Is this worth it?” So far, the answer has to be a resounding “No!” for the majority of the world. Until more of them can answer “Yes!” just as enthusiastically, we will continue to be alone in Iraq. And brave men and women there will continue to wake up to bodies littering the streets, will continue to wonder if this trip to the market might be their last, and will be forced to live in fear. The Iraqi people deserve better.