- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

One would hardly know it from listening to the politicians and media elites who caricature them as Iranian agents who loathe the United States, but many Iraqi Shi’ites have positive feelings about the role that American troops are playing in their country. These Iraqis believe that the kind of precipitous troop withdrawal plan advocated by Sen. John Kerry would be a disaster for their efforts to rebuild Iraq and for the larger U.S.-led war against Islamofascism as well.

In a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday, Mr. Kerry took aim — not at the terrorists seeking to murder innocent Iraqis and foment a civil war — but at the Iraqis who are engaged in delicate, complex negotiations over the formation of a broadly representative government for their nation. According to Mr. Kerry, Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 “to put together an effective unity government, or we will withdraw our military.” And if Iraqi lawmakers manage to jump through Mr. Kerry’s first hoop, “then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year’s end.”

But the Kerry proposal would be a disaster for the Iraqi people and for the United States as well, according to Ayad Jamal al Din, a Shi’ite Iraqi legislator visiting Washington this week for meetings with members of Congress and administration officials. According to Mr. al Din, who met Wednesday with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, the Kerry proposal is roughly the same as a child throwing a temper tantrum in which he threatens to commit suicide if his mother fails to give him a piece of cake.

An American withdrawal from Iraq, he said, “would be the biggest victory for terrorism … No wise person can entertain such a vision.” The Kerry plan, Mr. al Din bluntly informed us, “is dangerous talk, bordering on a crime, betrayal, the running away of a soldier during war. Either we accomplish our objective or we are slitting our throat.” The United States and Iraq, he added, “are partners in the war on terrorism. There are no borders in this war.” Americans and Iraqis are “building a new Iraq,” and Iraq is “in a war with terrorism supported by neighboring countries.”

Mr. al Din said that although it will take more time to form a new government, he is optimistic. He said that Iran’s influence has grown to include the Sunni and Kurdish communities and that Tehran has become the most important player in his country. “No doubt, the Iranian influence is strong — not only with the Shia, but with the Sunnis and the Kurds,” he said. “It is important to put an end to the Iranian intervention in Iraq.”

Mr. al Din represents Nasiriya, a city located in the heart of Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated south; the Mahdi Army, headed by Moqtada al-Sadr — a thug with longstanding ties to Iran, who is best known for spearheading the bloody riots and street fights with American troops in the spring and summer of 2004 — is the dominant political movement in Nasiriya. Although Mr. al-Sadr, in sharp contrast to Mr. al Din, is viscerally anti-American, and unlike Mr. al-Sadr, Mr. al Din believes in the separation of mosque and state, the two have one very important thing in common: Both appear to be Iraqi nationalists first; advancing Shi’ite Islam comes second.

This is an important factor to keep in mind in assessing the likelihood of Iraqi Shi’ites joining en masse with the Iranian regime to betray their own country. Although Shi’ites suffered horribly under Saddam Hussein, they died by the thousands fighting for Iraq (and by extension, for Saddam) against the Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Mr. al Din believes that, in the end, Iraqis who deal with national problems by focusing on sectarian matters would be making a grave mistake: “He who deals with policy from the prospects of religion has problems. Somebody who is truly religious will observe the borders” between Iran and Iraq.

As Americans try to make sense of the byzantine sectarian situation and the future American military role in Iraq, we need to understand this: If we withdraw right now, we will betray Iraqi Shi’ites who right now view American power as a force for good in their country.

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