The mostly bad news from Iraq this summer left a lot of people in Washington, including a few in the Bush administration, feeling confused, anxious and doubtful about whether the Iraqi government can deliver on its promise to stabilize the country. As it turns out, some of Iraq's most powerful leaders have had similar feelings as they have watched the news from Washington.And now for the first contradiction:
That was the message of a quiet pre-Labor Day visit here by Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has been one of America's key allies in the attempt to replace Saddam Hussein's totalitarianism with a democratic political system. Mahdi is now Iraq's vice president, but he called his meetings with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and key senators and congressmen a "private visit."
In fact, he was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq's single most influential figure -- and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani's message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that "Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy." But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well.Now this would seem to be a direct contradiction to the report we had this weekend the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had thrown in the towel and part of the problem was that he could not get the Malaki government force the Americans to come up with a timetable for withdrawal. and there is more:
Mahdi, Sistani and other Shiite leaders in the government don't share Washington's perception of a downward spiral. They also don't buy the American sense of urgency -- the oft-expressed idea that the new government has only a few months to succeed.Now we know this is not how Sistani feels and if there is anyone in Iraq who feels that way they must be even more delusional the the Bush administration. Diehl concludes with this:
Though it's not clear that the government to which he belongs is capable of transcending the sectarian passions of its various parties -- who battle each other in the streets more than they bargain in the cabinet -- there's no question that Mahdi himself, and many other Iraqi politicians, remain deeply committed to the goal of Iraqi democracy.Now with Sistani out of the picture and the Kurds in the process of setting up their own country it would appear the party is all but over. Time to bring the Americans home.
Whether they can reach it will depend in large part on whether the political skills of leaders such as Sistani will be enough to stop the sectarian warfare before it destroys the political system they created. But it will also matter whether Americans are willing to go on believing in that project, and provide the time for which Mahdi asked.