The Iraq war is over.
It ends five years too late and at far too terrible a cost in lives, money and idealism. The difficult and tortuous negotiations over the American withdrawal now coming to an end in Baghdad offer a distorted glimpse of what might have been.
The independent, democratically elected Iraqi government now representing the interests of its people is nearly identical to the government that could have been formed in 2003. Five years of occupation have only hardened positions and damaged relations between America and Iraq. In fact, the only popular new political movements in Iraq are built around a desire for an end to the occupation, and the principal threat to the current government is its close relationship to the occupier.
Nonetheless, President Bush’s democratic approach to Iraq has, in many ways, succeeded. Iraq has the strongest constitution, the fairest elections and the most democratic government in the Islamic Middle East. This success stems from the democratic ideal expressed by the United States, through the uncountable sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives, and through the Iraqis’ profound belief in the gift of our nation. Iraqi freedom is a debt to America we will never forget.
This is true despite President Bush’s manifest failure to honor his word. At one time, the liberation of Iraq was to be the centerpiece of a new regional order in the Middle East founded on a new American emphasis on democracy, human rights and free enterprise. Instead, Iraq has endured occupation, the authoritarian installation of a prime minister, the strong-armed removal of an elected leader, the indiscriminate arrest, torture and killing of Iraqi civilians without recourse to law, and an utterly corrupt reconstruction program that oversaw one of the biggest financial crimes in history, which has left average Iraqis with little water, power, health care, education or even food.
Yet there are still those in Washington’s corridors of power who want to reduce Iraq to being an American puppet state, like Jordan or Egypt, nations governed through a corrosive mix of covert intelligence and military support spoon-fed to a permanent oligarchy. Iraq will not accept this.
Barack Obama has every reason to support Iraq’s efforts to greatly increase the world supply of oil, expand trade with the United States, and raise a new generation of Iraqis focused on education, achievement and cooperation. We must not be asked to focus on military expansion and arms purchases, which would mean raising yet another generation of ill-educated soldiers fit only for internal repression and external aggression.
Iraqis want the closest possible relationship with the United States, and recognize its better nature as the strongest guarantor of international freedom, prosperity and peace. However, we will reject any attempts to curtail our rights to these universal precepts.
We welcome Mr. Obama’s election as a herald of a new direction. It is our hope that his administration will offer Iraq a new and broader partnership. Iraq needs security assistance and guarantees for our funds in the New York Federal Reserve Bank. But we also need educational opportunity, cultural exchange, diplomatic support, trade agreements and the respectful approach due to the world’s oldest civilization.
We also hope that Mr. Obama will support the growing need for a regional agreement covering human rights and security encompassing Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran (and any other neighbors so inclined). We have all been victims of terrorism. The mutual fears that have been festering for decades, augmented by secret wars and the incitement of insurrection, are no longer acceptable.
The United States has agreed to Iraq’s request to inscribe in any regional pact a prohibition against the use of Iraq’s territory and airspace to threaten or launch cross-border attacks. This laudable commitment gives us hope that America has a new collective vision of security in our region as not exclusively a function of armed force but also dependent on a profound comprehension of others’ fears.
For the past five years, Iraq and America have had the closest of alliances. Now we must begin to work as more distinct partners, unified in opposition to terrorism and in commitment to democracy and human rights, but each standing alone as the guarantor of its people’s liberty and prosperity. Only wide-ranging bilateral negotiations under the leadership of Mr. Obama and the elected Iraqi leadership can be a foundation for this peaceful, productive and permanent partnership.
Iraq stands ready.
Ahmad Chalabi, a former oil minister of Iraq and the chairman of the Iraqi National Congress.