The language people use to discuss political news stories reflects their understandings of the situations under discussion. In recent months, as the political institutions established in Iraq by the US have gradually taken shape, the language used in the world press has also changed. Where American authorities were once described as the effective rulers of Iraq, with Iraqi groups and their leaders described as political factions representing particular sectors of the community, since the elections in January this year they have been treated as national politicians, even though the flaws of the elections are widely recognised. Last month, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani was confirmed as the country’s president, with Ibrahim al-Ja’afari, leader of the Shia-based United Iraqi Alliance, appointed prime minister.
Gradually the language used to describe the political situation comes to reflect the understanding of the situation that the dominant forces in the country are trying to promote, despite the fact that those forces themselves often forget and let the true situation show. Many people remember the grilling that Afghan leader Hamid Karzai received from a Congressional committee in Washington during a visit in 2002; although he was officially visiting the US as the leader of an independent Afghan government, the Congressmen forgot to play their part, instead treating him – reasonably enough – in the same way as they treat American ambassadors and other officials. The White House was obliged to apologise to an embarrassed Karzai in order to cover the gaffe. There was a similar element, although less obvious, in Baghdad last month, when Donald Rumsfeld dropped for a surprise visit and used the opportunity of a press conference with Jalal Talabani to lecture him on the need to avoid political corruption and cronyism. The point prompted sniggers among the gathered western journalists, who are well aware of Rumsfeld’s own links with big American corporations, but also reflects the
US’s attitude towards the Iraqi government. While there were popular demonstrations in Iraqi cities on April 9, the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to US troops, demanding the pull-out of US troops now that elections have taken place, Talabani of course knew better than to raise the question withRumsfeld; he too knows who’s really in charge, although he and other Iraqi politicians who have chosen to work through the US-established political institutions share an interest with the US in maintaining the pretence of a transfer of power to the new institutions.
One result is that they too now talk not of Iraqi resistance to the US occupation, but of security and law-and-order problems. 150,000 US troops remain in Iraq, and they are fighting a dirty war to try to end the resistance. Although the numbers of American deaths have fallen (107 in January, 58 in February and 36 in March), this is largely because Iraqi forces have taken over the operations. On April 2, resistance forces were still able to launch as massive attack on the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in an unsuccessful attempt to free prisoners. US troops continue to claim successes in major clashes against resistance fighters throughout the country.
The question is: at what stage should Muslims stop regarding Iraq as “US occupied” and start treating it as any other Muslim country and government? After all, the current regime in Baghdad is hardly more subordinate to the US than, say, the Saudis, the Mubarak regime in Egypt, or the Musharrafgovernment in Pakistan, to offer just three examples. Yes, there is a process of normalization going on in Iraq; the creation of a pseudo-independent political system whose players all understand their position vis-a-vis the American state in Washington is indeed a normal process for a modern Muslim nation-state. Iraq is occupied, but then so are other Muslim countries.
Iraq, like all Muslims countries, desperately needs further political change; not “normalization” on American terms, but revolutionary change that replaces a pro-Western regime with one that is genuinely independent and, more than that, committed to establishing institutions and a social order on the basis of the Islamic values of its people. Muslims around the world hoped that the Islamic movement in Iraq would be able to move in this direction in the political vacuum created by the fall of the Ba’athist regime, but the circumstances of that time made it virtually impossible, even if some Iraqi Islamic leaders had shown more maturity and understanding than they actually did. What Iraq now needs is the emergence of a political Islamic movement that will challenge the basis of the new Iraqi state, as Islamic movements are doing in other countries. Such a movement would, of course, face massive difficulties; but that too is a normal political experience for a modern Muslim country.