- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

Great strides have been made since America entered Iraq 2 years ago, much of it largely unreported.

Saddam Hussein’s evil dictatorship was toppled. Schools and hospitals are functioning. Girls are being educated for the first time. People have access to information and a choice of news sources. A free market is allowing families to start small businesses, many of which are prospering. Air-conditioning, once reserved for the regime’s elite, is now enjoyed by many Iraqi households.

Particularly significant is the trial set for Saddam’s 1982 murder of 143 Shi’ites in Dujail, for which he could face the death penalty.

Most importantly, democracy is beginning to take root. In January, Iraqis held a democratic election for the first time in three decades, voting for an interim government.

That transitional government wrote a draft constitution and held an Oct. 15 referendum. Despite threats of violence, 9.8 million Iraqis voted, many walking for miles or on crutches.

Voter turnout was much larger than in January, and the threatened violence never occurred.

Sunni leaders who vowed to defeat the constitution were gravely disappointed. To defeat the referendum, three out of 18 Iraqi provinces had to vote “no.” Yet, two of four predominantly Sunni provinces voted “yes” overwhelmingly.

Discontented Sunni leaders claimed fraud. But a 10-day audit by Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission uncovered no fraud. On Dec. 15, Iraqis will vote on a permanent government, in a historic display of democracy.

Finally, Iraqis are undergoing training as police officers, and several Iraqi security forces have led counterinsurgency operations. Though not yet self-sufficient, Iraqis are gradually assuming responsibility for their own security.

America has a moral obligation to see this war through to victory. Once we decided to tear down Saddam’s heinous regime, we created a duty to stick by Iraqis’ side in fighting off the insurgents until they can fend for themselves.

We owe it to the millions of innocent Iraqis who yearn for freedom — and peace — not to abandon them, as we did in the past. Most Iraqis appreciate our support — and our presence — as well as our help in fighting terrorists.

American soldiers are not fighting the average Iraqi. Rather, American and Iraqi soldiers are fighting side by side to ward off the evils of the terrorist threat from Syrians, Iranians and others who have crossed the Iraqi border, as well as from left-over forces of the Ba’athist regime.

From a national security viewpoint, leaving now would be a disaster. Withdrawing our troops would not lead to peace. The terrorists would view our withdrawal as a victory for them, and it would embolden them. After all, the terrorists will stop at nothing to achieve their desired goals. They don’t abide by the rules of war. For them, the ends justify the means. There is no compromise or negotiation, only intimidation and violence.

Were America to withdraw prematurely, civil and religious war between the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites would likely ensue. The Ba’athists could regain power. The instability we would leave behind would inevitably make the United States a target. We cannot allow that to occur.

The antiwar movement seems to be under the illusion that those who support the war are against peace.

It’s simply not true. We are all pro-peace. But what kind of peace do we want, and how will we achieve it?

Some believed leaving Saddam’s regime in power constituted “peace.” Yet, in addition to his animosity toward the United States, and his invasion of neighboring countries in prior years, Saddam murdered an average of 16,000 people annually. This practice, aside from the 300,000 Kurds he gassed, would doubtless have continued indefinitely but for the U.S. invasion.

Is it peace when children under age 10 are thrown into torture chambers? Or when a loved one, who laughs at a political joke, mysteriously disappears in the middle of the night?

Is it peace when people can’t vote, work or speak freely, and officials rape, torture and maim — all without a trial?

I don’t want peace at all costs. I envision peace with freedom, where people’s talents can flourish without day-to-day fear.

Freedom should not be taken for granted; it is a rare and precious gift. Tyrants and dictators steal the freedom of complacent people. Only by war, or the threat of it, have communism, Nazism, fascism and slavery loosened their grip.

Some things are worth fighting for. Liberty is one of them. Only those with the noblest intentions give their lives to such a worthwhile cause. Troops who died in the line of duty did so with honor and integrity. The best way to honor their memory is to ensure their mission is accomplished. Their lives may have been cut short, but the cause they served — an enduring freedom — will live on.

DEBORAH WEISS

Lawyer and political consultant.

(Ms. Weiss has written for the Weekly Standard, The Washington Times, Human Events and other publications.)

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