Sunday, March 14, 2004

It's time for Iraq to stand on its own


It has been a year since America went to war in Iraq. It is time to think of Iraqi independence.

Saddam Hussein is captured. The Iraqis have a constitution of sorts. The alleged weapons of mass destruction no longer are a concern (more on that later).

For much of the past year American forces have been trying to help Iraq rebuild from scratch. Democracy can be a hard concept to grasp when your only experience with government is brutality and terror. But there are signs that progress is being made. The Iraqi governing council has crafted a constitution that recognizes the rights of the country's different ethnic factions. That in itself is a concept alien to recent Iraqi history.

There are continuing attacks by people who want to retain the rule of force rather than the rule of law, but Iraqi police forces are slowly being trained, and in July, the American protectorate under Ambassador Paul Bremer is scheduled to turn authority over to the new Iraqi government. That government still has divisions and quarrels, but as last week's signing of the provisional constitution showed, those disagreements can be settled with debates and compromise rather than guns and assassination.

The Bush administration told the American people that Saddam was evil. He was. The man was an evil so despicable it is practically beyond description. He used poison gas on defenseless people in his own country. He defied United Nations' sanctions and mocked the demands of the rest of the world to allow inspectors into Iraq and to open his closet of secrets.

When faced with an ultimatum to reveal his weapons and give up his despotic rule, he refused, knowing that in doing so he invited a devastating attack. When his armies crumbled, he snuck away with his sadistic sons, stopping first to loot Iraq's central bank. He left a nation of impoverished people and empty palaces.

President Bush was right when he said Saddam was an evil that the world would be safer without. But Bush was wrong when he said Saddam's Iraq posed a threat to us because it had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and an ongoing nuclear weapons research program. It may have had them once, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence that such things existed at the time we attacked.

Had the American public or the Congress known that a year ago, we might not have gone to war. Perhaps American intelligence was misread, or misused, or simply inadequate. There are investigations under way into all of those possibilities now. How we went into this war and how we will leave it will, and should be, debated sharply in the presidential campaign.

Iraq is on shaky legs now, like a patient recovering from a serious disease. We have eliminated the cancer of Saddam's brutal regime, and we can hope with proper care that the country will recover. There are plenty of others available now to help Iraq in its recovery, including plenty of Iraqis. These others, such as France and Germany, have motives of their own, but as long as they are willing to help Iraq grow into a free and non-threatening nation, their help should be welcomed. Iraq may need our help for a while yet, but mostly it needs us to stand by and let it begin to heal itself.

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