THE LARGER BATTLE IN IRAQ
Editorial de “The New York Times” del 15/11/2004
Por su interés y relevancia, he seleccionado el editorial que sigue para incluirlo en este sitio web. (L. B.-B.)
Smashing through the narrow residential streets of Falluja is not the textbook way to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign, where winning hearts and minds is even more important than reasserting control over contested territory. American commanders understood that, and for months hoped to avoid the attack that began a week ago. Since then, the military advance has been relentless, while the political reaction in the Sunni Arab community has been highly negative. If Sunni hostility continues to deepen, Falluja could turn into a very costly victory.
Many of Falluja's armed insurgents simply dispersed to other predominantly Sunni cities as soon as the fighting started, and the first challenge is to keep them from coming back when the shooting is over. That's what happened in Samarra, after American and Iraqi forces drove out rebel fighters there in early October. Insurgents have now stepped up their attacks in the larger city of Ramadi, 30 miles west of Falluja, and have established a new base in the northern Iraq metropolis of Mosul. It is critical to keep these armed fighters from disrupting the Iraqi elections planned for January.
A bigger task is to head off a large-scale boycott of those elections by Sunni voters. To do that, Baghdad and Washington will have to show that they are at last prepared to begin addressing the grievances of Iraq's Sunni minority. Some mainstream Sunni groups are still resisting the idea of an election boycott, instead calling on Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government to respond seriously to Sunni concerns. Their overtures deserve a more welcoming response than they have received so far.
Falluja is normally home to more than a quarter of a million people. At least four-fifths of them are reported to have fled before the assault began. But once the fighting stops they will be returning to a city where airstrikes and mortar fire have damaged or destroyed many buildings, where the water supply is contaminated with sewage and the electricity grid is fractured. Washington has earmarked millions of dollars for repairs, but as we've seen in other parts of Iraq, appropriations alone will not assure timely rebuilding. In order to convince Fallujans that a new Iraq will offer them more than continued humiliation, their city must be quickly restored.
There is also no time to lose in delivering on the ostensible purpose of the attack, permitting meaningful elections to be held in January in Falluja and other cities of the restive Sunni triangle north and west of Baghdad. The Sunnis, about 20 percent of the overall population, cannot expect to be the dominant group in a new, democratic Iraq, as they were during Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. But they have every right to expect that representative Sunni nationalists are fairly included in the constitution-writing assembly to be elected in January.
Prospective Sunni voters are understandably skeptical of a political system that so far has favored Shiite and Kurdish exile-rooted parties at every turn and still seems more interested in preserving the power and privileges of these insiders than in reaching out to include disaffected Sunnis and independents. That impression has been powerfully reinforced by the recent decision, against the strong advice of the United States and the United Nations, to expand the voting rolls to include as many as four million expatriates living in Iran and other foreign countries. Most of these expatriates are believed to be Shiites. Besides the enormous difficulty of assuring the integrity of expatriate voting, this ruling threatens to heavily skew the results in favor of the Shiite exile parties.
Iraqi electoral officials should reverse this damaging decision and disallow expatriate voting. In tandem with this, Prime Minister Allawi's government should reach out to Sunni groups willing to talk about steps that would make it possible for them to urge their followers to participate in the elections.
For the past 18 months, mainstream Sunni nationalists have been systematically marginalized. Early in the occupation, the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army was dissolved and even midlevel officials of the predominantly Sunni Baathist party were fired from their jobs and for months after were barred from public positions. The Sunnis named to the old American-appointed Governing Council and the current interim government are widely viewed in the main Sunni population centers as unrepresentative. Perhaps the Sunni triangle would have emerged as the center of the armed insurgency anyway, but these needless blunders have helped provide it with an endless supply of ready recruits.
Pursuing more inclusive policies toward Iraqi Sunnis is not just a matter of fairness. A new constitution written without credible Sunni participation could become an open invitation to civil war, which could turn into a regional war if Iraq started to splinter into ethnic and religious fragments. A boycott is not inevitable. But avoiding it will require leaders in Washington and Baghdad to fight just as relentlessly for full Sunni political involvement as their soldiers have fought in the streets of Falluja.