Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mithal al-Alusi: Can There Be a Liberal Iraq?

In OPJ today.
Spend an afternoon in his company and you might yet be persuaded that many Iraqis do, or at least might. Mr. Alusi is in Washington, D.C., to impress his views on administration officials and observe the debate in Congress over additional troop commitments in Iraq. What does he make of that debate? "To be honest, we enjoy how beautiful this democratic system of yours can be, and we might learn from it," he says. Beyond additional U.S. soldiers, economic aid and the equipping and training of Iraq's military, what he most wants from America is intangible: "We need to transfer the values from your society to ours."

More easily said than done, you might think, given the general drift of Iraq's politics over the past four years. Yet the polling data bear him out. Between 2004 and 2006 the number of Iraqis who supported the idea of an Islamic state fell to 22% from 30%, while those agreeing that religion and politics ought to be separated rose to 41% from 27%, according to surveys conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Even in Baghdad, site of so much of the sectarian killing, the number of respondents who put their Iraqi identity ahead of their Muslim one doubled to 60%. (By contrast, only 11% of Cairenes saw themselves as Egyptian first, Muslim second.) And 65% of Iraqis agreed that it was "very important" for Iraq to be a democracy, up from 59% two years before.
What a shame if we let this man and others like him down.

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