- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

“We are not winning, we are not losing,” said President Bush recently of the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush continues to believe that “victory in Iraq is achievable.” Many Americans and many Muslims in the region, however, believe the opposite. They blame American officials for poor post-war planning — and now they blame the United States for planting the seeds of a regional war. Indeed, the United States has made many intolerable mistakes in Iraq. When Bush talked about bringing democracy to Iraq, he failed to grasp the gap in understanding of what democracy means to Iraqis who lived under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship for so long. He failed to understand how unprepared the Iraqis would be to bear the responsibilities of “freedom” after being liberated.

Once the U.S. army became occupiers, that gap in understanding hit hard, causing not only the deaths of nearly 3,000 U.S. military men and women, but also the deaths of more than 600,000 Iraqis. America is blamed for every Iraqi igniting a firestorm of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world and discouraging people from supporting democracy.

The puzzle becomes nearly impossible to solve when you ask why Iraqis cannot begin to take on the heavy responsibilities of a new government. Iraqis that wanted freedom from Saddam Hussein are fighting against democratic principles. Iraqis used to live in crisis under Saddam. Now they live in a crisis of freedom. And in order to calm down the people, there needs to be a summit attended by nations throughout the region to discuss and explore the fundamentals of democracy — both in Iraq and across the globe, in the same way the universal human rights declaration has been debated and accepted. It would give people an opportunity to unite around values and the politics of division would lose. It may be naivete or wishful thinking, but it’s worth giving it a try.

Many feel, after all, the same hope about Mr. Bush’s “new way forward” in Iraq. But before Mr. Bush goes public with his plan, it is crucial to accept that the United States can not contain the violence on its own,without Iraqis and their neighbors. Iraqis also must agree on the context of victory. In a world of conspiracy theorists, it is no easy task to know exactly what America wants either.

No leader in the region says that democracy is unwelcome. But those in power in the Middle East urge bringing it about at a slow pace to allow people to accept it and not alter the Muslim culture. On one hand, there is no question that Islam and democracy can exist in harmony. On the other hand, some Muslims feel threatened by the forces of democracy — bringing Shi’ites to power in Iraq, for example. Sunni Arab Muslim states think of Iraq as a Sunni state, and the United States made a critical mistake in empowering Iraqi Sunnis. First, the Sunnis need to understand the fundamental basics of democracy, and accept that Iraq is for Iraqis — not for Sunnis, not for Shi’ites and not for Kurds. What’s more, if Iran exercises heavy influence in Iraq through Iraqi Shi’ites, Sunnis have the same amount of influence — or even more — on Iraq’s domestic affairs. Both sides need to play a role in ending the sectarian violence.

Since Saudi advisor Nawaf Obaid wrote an article in The Washington Post suggesting that Saudis would come to the Sunnis’ defense if Iraq falls apart, the kingdom’s official position has been unclear. But even that debate is misleading. Saudis and all the other Sunni Arab states, which have Shi’ite minorities, are already intervening in Iraqi domestic affairs by fueling the fear that Iraqi Shi’ites are coming into power. Iraqi Sunnis will never again know the kind of power they wielded before Saddam Hussein. Now Sunni Arab Muslim states need to find ways to make peace between the Shi’ites and Sunnis. The suggested summit may in fact clear the ground for the nations in the region to really make their case whether they are willing to accept democracy as a way forward.

Those states may be right in blaming the United States for some of the region’s suffering, but it is time for them to help bring an end to the killing of Muslims — especially sectarian violence. It is time for Arabs to prove that they can do more than complain, to prove that they can solve problems as well. If what the Arab Muslim states really want is to get the United States out of the region, they need to take responsibility for its security and end the need for an American presence by helping to build prosperous, moderate nation states that coexist peaceably. And, yes, they have to live with Israel, too.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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