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December 16, 2005

Not Worth It

Roy Meachum

Yesterday's voting in Iraq for a new and hopefully permanent parliament holds a hope, but other news on the war does little to lift my despair over the final results.

No Democratic dove but the staunch Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Florida's Bill Young, told reporters he has been warned the cost of the White House's Middle East military adventures could topple half a trillion dollars next year.

Mr. Young's panel does not keep track of human lives lost, but nobody has quibbled with President George W. Bush's best-guess: over 2,000 U. S. lives and some 30,000 Iraqis. At the current mortality rate, that number has the potential of reaching 50,000 next year too.

If you're an American who could care less about dead Arabs, you should. Whatever their religious or political persuasion, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis blame us. And in the county's culture, there's a strong tradition to avenge the death of any member of the family or tribe.

Every local fatality makes recruiting easier for Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias, which have proven no less inflexible than their customary enemies when it comes to the U.S. occupation. They want all foreigners out!

Abductions and assassinations among European, Asian and even other Arab nationalities offer proof xenophobia reigns and that includes Iranians. It's not an anti-American thing!

You may have read how Teheran flooded races for Thursday's voting with cash and support of other kinds, including tankers loaded with forged ballots. But Iranian mullahs' expectations of exporting Islamic theocracy next door will prove no more successful than attempts to install an American-style democracy. Iraq does not abide outsiders.

For centuries the people lived under Byzantine Christian rulers, who named the country Mesopotamia (between the rivers).

Freed by Islamic armies, as every Iraqi school child knows, Baghdad became the seat of a mighty Arab empire that reached out of the Middle East to encompass the Mediterranean's northern littoral and Spain!

If the Iraqi underclass isn't aware, the country's educated know that Baghdad's imperial rulers and their vassals preserved the works of Aristotle, for example, when all learning from pre-Christian times was being destroyed.

The decline of Islam, its transformation into reactionary hostility to progress and learning itself, maybe not by accident, coincided with the appearance of Tamerlane's Asiatic hordes that built a mountain of skulls after capturing Damascus. They finished off Baghdad's declining power, forcing the evacuation of Spain, the last Islamic toehold on Europe.

The centuries under Ottoman Turks that followed saw the elevation by the conquerors of their fellow Sunnis to the highest bureaucratic ranks where they remained when London betrayed Lawrence of Arabia's promises of freedom to his followers.

Forced to submit to British rule, the Iraqis staged a bloody 1920 rebellion. Their muzzle loaders, rifles and scimitars were no match for airplanes, artillery and machine guns, manned by Hindu Indians commanded by English officers sent to protect the oil reserves for British interests.

London put together the contemporary national patch-quilt arrangement of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, reaching an understanding with the French, who carved Lebanon out of Syria and kept them both. Paris also had to put down an equally bloody insurgency.

The European stranglehold on the Arab world, abetted by American corporations, lasted after World War II; the Brits finally moved out of Baghdad less than 50 years ago.

Even non-Sunnis admired Saddam Hussein for keeping foreigners at bay; they backed his war against Iran; they cheered his invasion of Kuwait as a major step in restoring the days of empire when Baghdad ruled much of the civilized world.

The deposed dictator murdered Kurds because of their campaign to carve an independent Kurdistan out of Iraq. His treatment of Shiites was in direct proportion to their fellow Shiites in Teheran's efforts to oust him, on occasion by assassination. They sought revenge for his U.S.-back invasion of Iran.

But contrary to the slogans accompanying the U.S. invasion, there was no factual basis for the claim that 29 million Iraqis were eager for foreigners to do what they could not do themselves, topple Saddam Hussein.

The overwhelming majority stayed out of politics: working, sleeping and enjoying life when they could. It was easier in the dictator's police state where security was assured, along with water, electricity and other necessities lost in the war and only now being slowly restored.

Heavy voting reported in Thursday's elections must not be construed as approval of the American invasion or any "blessings" it brought, including a notion of democracy. Many Iraqi leaders urged their followers to participate as the best and simplest means to end the occupation.

Interestingly, the two elements of that society that solidly want U.S. armed forces to stick around are at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

The gang that calls itself Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia will lose almost all its reason for hanging on, when the foreign soldiers depart; at the very least it will be deprived of its support among the local populace and that should prove the kiss of death for pretensions it champions the Iraqi people.

The day the last American soldier leaves Iraq will be the darkest day for the nation's Christians since the British left, darker even than the demise of Saddam Hussein. His rigidly secularist approach had protected churches and their right to practice their faith. This was a major reason Iraq's dictator made Osama bin Laden's enemies list.

As long as the world's eyes stay focused on Baghdad, Iraq's Christians will not be subjected to a major persecution; they can expect, however, the treatment accorded to the country's Jews after the founding of Israel. Their community had existed since before the time of Christ, in general peace and harmony with their neighbors.

After 1948, Iraq's Jews were visited with periodic pogroms until virtually all emigrated, many to Israel. Their fate will almost certainly be shared by Christians, who can also be expected to go into exile by droves.

On the other hand, a continuing American military presence could not alleviate the covert persecution that I witnessed in Egypt among the Christian Copts, who have left that country in large numbers since the English pull-out in mid-20th century.

In a recent AOL poll, members were asked how they felt on the costs in money and human life for the war in Iraq. It was an unscientific survey, but nearly 50,000 different subscribers registered their opinions.

While 19 percent thought Afghanistan and Iraq combined were worth the expenses, in cash and blood, only one percent felt Iraq alone deserved the money; and nobody considered the country worth the loss of a single American life.

Of course, as you know, that's how I feel.

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