Commentary: Divide and rule
The primary focus of Iraq's politicians should be national unity, writes Sawsan Al-Assaf*
Since 9 April 2003, the US has been trying to foment sectarian tendencies. This may explain the tensions we see today. Doctrinal differences within Islam were never a big deal. Islam is open to many interpretations after all. Shias and Sunnis are more united by religion than divided by interpretation. Islam has also been a uniting force for Kurds and Arabs. This is not something that occupiers wished to encourage. The occupiers adopted a policy of divide and rule. The US had only one post-war scenario, and it was based on pitting Sunni against Shia.
The moment the occupation was complete, the countdown to civil war began. The media spoke of parallels between Lebanon and Iraq. And every single incident in the country was portrayed as having sectarian origins. Meanwhile, the country became a stage for account settling. Anyone with an axe to grind -- Iran, Syria, Al-Qaeda, to mention just a few -- got involved. Israel, many claim, has been involved in the assassination of the country's top professionals.
As the violence spread, it became harder to draw the line between legitimate resistance and acts of wilful mayhem. Terrorists chose their targets in cold blood. Their aim was to divide the Iraqis, to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shia, and to bring the country to its knees. The turbulence in Al-Madaen and the bombings of the Shia mausoleums were not random acts; people who don't want the Iraqis to remain united carefully planned them.
Do we have a civil war in Iraq? To this moment, the answer is no. Rampant violence? Yes. Innocent victims? Certainly. Political vacuum? Without doubt. But no civil war. Iraqi politics is being mishandled, for our politicians have so far failed to step up to their responsibilities. Iraq needs leaders who can reassure the public and keep the nation together. Neighbours can help by encouraging unity rather than sedition. The US has taken us down a road of sectarian strife and now its troops are standing by, waiting to see what's next. This doesn't look good. The scene of political division is quite alarming. The scene of leaders jockeying for power is actually dismal. It's been two months since the elections, and yet we cannot get a government together.
What we have in this country is not civil war, but a lack of credible leadership. We all are aware of the plots against our country, and some of our best minds have already advised caution and restraint. What we need to do is defuse the situation. We know that regional and international powers are trying to divide us, and we need to prove them wrong. We need to rebuild this country. We can do it. We can present an Iraqi model, just as the Americans said. We can offer a model of democracy, freedom and human rights. It's all up to us.
* The writer is a member of the Iraq House for Future Studies.