Iraq Sovereignty Effect - on Arab World and US Politics

Article excerpt

Two moving imagescaught my eye after the handover of formal sovereignty to an interim authority in Iraq last week.

One was President Bush's scribbled note - "Let Freedom Reign!" - on the message Condi Rice sent into a meeting of NATO leaders in Istanbul to inform him that the handover was complete.

The other, a day later, was a picture in The New York Times of two young Iraqi women, both lawyers, working for the Ministry of Electricity in Baghdad. Their faces are vibrant and smiling. Their joy is evident. "Even the work is very beautiful today," one said. "The Americans are still in control. But soon we will have elections."

Let's hope this is a portent of things to come. Iraqis are freed of Saddam Hussein's long, dark tyranny. They have the opportunity to move in the direction of democracy, perhaps with bumps along the road, and possibly ending in a kind of democracy that is not necessarily as we understand it in the West.

But the Iraqis are taking control of their destiny. Their tough new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has moved swiftly to bring Hussein and his top lieutenants to trial on war crimes charges - a dramatic early assertion of the interim government's authority. Such activity would appear to be working to Mr. Bush's political advantage. Sen. John Kerry, his Democratic opponent in the presidential election, has supported the US war in Iraq, but faulted Bush's handling of the aftermath.

Now, however, the president seems to have fulfilled most of Senator Kerry's requirements. He has indicated willingness to send additional US troops, initiated a training program to involve more Iraqis in security operations, sought and gained the approval of the United Nations, appealed to allies and NATO to share the reconstruction burden in Iraq, and now established the sovereignty of Iraqis over their own country.

On the face of it, unless Kerry embraces a far left Ralph Nader- Howard Dean-type posture of criticism of the Iraqi policy - which would alienate centrist voters - the senator would seem to have lost traction on the Iraq issue.

Whatever the impact of all this on the American presidential election, the more tantalizing prospect is what developments in Iraq over the next few months may mean for the rest of the Arab world. It is early yet to suggest that Iraq can emerge as the inspiration for reform and parallel movement toward democracy in the Middle East, and perhaps in other Muslim lands. …