June’s Catch-22

By Yousef Munayyer

A conversation I imagined happening in Iraq:

Lieutenant: Mr. Bremmer, Sir, we’ve been intercepting an Iraqi newspaper that seems inflammatory. It claims we are not here to liberate. It says we, the Americans, are here to oppress. It says we are lying about giving people rights like freedom of religion and freedom of speech and press. Sir, what should we do about this?

Bremmer: Shut it down. Immediately.

The United States’ presence in Iraq has managed to accomplish a marvelous feat: it has given the Sunni and Shiites in Iraq a common enemy. The disturbances, fighting, and demonstrations in Fallujah and Najaf show that anti-American sentiment is widely held and is not concentrated in small factions. As soccer fields continue to turn into the new graveyards of Iraq, a sight we would have imagined under Saddam, more hate develops for the American presence.

As Iraq grows to look more and more like the war zone we thought we avoided last spring, allies in Europe and other members of the coalition of the willing are having doubts about what to do. I can imagine world leaders thinking, “Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble. If I stay there will be double.” Unfortunately, that has become the reality of what has happened in Iraq.

President Bush made a major mistake when he announced the June 30 date of transition. There is no doubt this was done for domestic political reasons. No adviser who has studied the region and the scenarios could have possibly concluded that Iraq would be ready for transition by June 30. Now with that date and elections approaching one of two things can happen: First, June 30 can come and the U.S. could hand over control to the Iraqi National Congress, which is in no way prepared to handle that duty. Second, June 30 can come and the U.S. will not hand over authority which would make the president seem like he is misguided, confused and lying for political gains, again.

Hostages are being taken in waves including Americans like Thomas Hamill. When I saw the look on Hamill’s face, I couldn’t help but think that he really represents America’s presence in Iraq. He was confused, doubtful, afraid and just seemed to look like he couldn’t understand what in the world he was doing there. So many people here, praying for Mr. Hamill and all those involved, are wondering the same thing.

Now, in Iraq, the United States has managed to do something it does very well: create monsters. The U.S. has managed to make Ayotolah Sistani, a man who only months ago was made out to be a trouble-making threat to stability, seem like a moderate centrist. That just shows how bad the situation has become. Now a younger cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, has crowds of followers behind him and is leading a resistance movement out of a holy site. With droves of loyal followers behind him, prepared to lead a resistance against what they may perceive as the “great Satan,” he has taken over the city of Najaf.

American forces shouldn’t get their hopes up if they thought they would be going home soon. As much as they and everyone else would like to see them reunited with their families, there is no way American soldiers will be leaving Iraq soon. There is too much work to be done. What is becoming clearer is that this administration knew very well that American soldiers were going to be in Iraq for a long time. The ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee have said that they don’t expect an Iraqi police force to be ready for another three years. There is no way the United States can pull out of Iraq unless they have someone to turn it over too.

The worst possible scenario and my greatest fear is that when the United States does eventually pull out and that common enemy is no longer present, the newly energized and zealous religious factions in Iraq will commence a slaughter that would make people wish Saddam was still in power. We are unfortunately moving closer to what seems to be this inevitable reality. Our presence in Iraq is helping to Balkanize the nation to the brink of internal religious civil war.

So is there a way out? It really does not seem like there is. There is no good outcome to this. Yet something has to be done. The president of the United States has to address the American people candidly and tell them that the June 30 date was a mistake, and that the path through Iraq will be much longer and much harder than they had been told. He has to tell the American people this and be prepared for it to cost him his presidency if he truly values the American interest. All he has to do is tell America the truth about what is the reality in Iraq. Though elections are approaching, it’s time for President Bush to be honest … better late than never.

Yousef Munayyer is a Collegian columnist.