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Moderates vs. Islamists


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Moderates vs. Islamists

By Hiwa Osman

The United States declared a truce, and the possibility of talks with the thugs and terrorists in Iraq are understandably welcome by Iraqis who want to save civilian lives.

But some Iraqi leaders, who two weeks ago were condemning the terrorists, today seem to be bowing to perceived popular sentiment and have begun to protest the tough U.S. response.

When a car bomb explodes, these leaders scream that the United States is not tough enough with the terrorists. But when the United States gets tough, they are the first to criticize the United States for being too harsh.

This flip-flopping may legitimize radical and violent elements in the long run and undermine the more moderate and democratic currents in society.

The military campaign would be more effective if Iraqis had stood up and taken the lead in the operation against the Sadr militias and the terrorists of Fallujah. But instead, Iraqi Governing Council members began to mediate, and the new Iraqi Army refused join in the operations. They have proven incapable of confronting radicals who have no clearly articulated goal but to destabilize the country.

In taking the soft approach, Iraqi leaders may be paving the way for these radical elements to become part of post-sovereignty politics, however limited their popular support.

They do not represent more than a few Iraqi people. And if not defeated now, they will be able to leverage themselves into the political process as legitimate players. Iraq cannot afford to have these violent and anti-democratic elements in strong political positions.

It is distressing for all of us to watch the Iraqi death toll climb, but people will realize the importance of an iron-fisted policy when it comes to elections and they want to exercise their right to vote free from coercion and fear.

Radicals are already on the offensive. They are issuing threats via leaflets and acting on those threats against Iraqis who have any dealings with the coalition. These are not the actions of people who anyone would want participating in the political arena. This intimidation will only increase if they are not stopped.

If the Sadr forces and the foreign terrorists of Fallujah survive this battle, the fight against them in a post-sovereignty Iraq will be impossible. They are supported by the autocratic Arab regimes, the Iranian theocracy next door and a small portion of a confused public, misleadingly presented by Arab satellite channels as the majority of the Iraqi public.

Iraq is not only Fallujah; the people of Iraq are not only Muqtada al-Sadr supporters. Despite Arab television rhetoric, a few thugs taking over a couple government buildings and holy sites does not represent an Iraqi uprising. A few terrorists using civilians as human shields do not make a popular resistance to occupation.

The Iraqi public, reacting to images of civilian deaths, may be demanding the United States end its operations today. But like all people, the Iraqi public has a short memory. When the next car bomb goes off, all eyes will turn once again to Fallujah, and they will demand tougher security measures by U.S. forces.

Iraqi leaders should not allow popular emotions to overwhelm them. Leaders should lead and not be led, especially in times of national crisis.

They have to decide whether or not they want these terrorist elements to remain in their society. If not, then they will have to stand tall and make courageous decisions to support the U.S. military campaign.

In choosing to mediate rather than to denounce, Iraqi leaders legitimize violence as a political tool in a country that is trying to leave its bloody past behind and move toward a democratic and peaceful future.

Concern for civilian lives is one thing, but mediating to keep the radicals afloat is another. At the end of the day, the battle is not between the Iraqi people and the "U.S. occupation." It is between radical and moderate Iraqis.

Hiwa Osman is a Baghdad-based journalist.

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