American Muslims Can Help With Our End-Game in Iraq

Oct 18

Written on March 28, 2006

In recent weeks, we have seen Iraq engulfed in sectarian strife, daily bombings and mass murders, allegations of civilian massacres by U.S. troops, revelations of Iraqi government “death squads” and torture chambers, the release of more Abu Ghraib prison abuse images, and accusations of betrayal by those American Muslims who once supported the invasion of Iraq.

Recent polls show a majority of Americans of all faiths believe things are going badly in Iraq and that Iraq is headed for civil war.

A similar majority believes President Bush lacks a clear plan for handling the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

In the past, Iraq‘s diverse population lived side-by-side and even intermarried. Today, suspicion and sectarian killings have replaced cooperation in mixed neighborhoods. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi believes a civil war is already under way. The repercussions of such a civil war will be further erosion of support for the grand experiment of democratizing the Middle East. A civil war will give dictators in the region to further crack down on the forces of democracy, pluralism, and freedom.

Instead of confronting this reality, all we see from the Bush administration is endless public relations spin, fear mongering and the same “stay the course” mantra that got us into this quagmire in the first place.

Pundits continue to speculate as to what went wrong in Iraq. The list is long, from too few troops to just old-fashioned incompetence. But perhaps more important than re-examining past mistakes, is to figure out where do we go from here.

Neither the Bush administration nor the major political parties seem to have any new ideas. Instead, we get name-calling and political posturing. Meanwhile, Iraq burns, American soldiers and innocent Iraqis die, and America‘s image continues to suffer. “Staying the course” is not a viable strategy, and having a different point of view is not “cut and run.”

The first step to recovery is admitting a mistake. President Bush should admit past mistakes ask the United Nations to help out with a multinational peacekeeping force. Stubbornness got us into Iraq; humility might get us out.

Blaming Iraqis for all their civic problems is not an option. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, you break it, you own it. Until the last American soldier leaves, Iraq will remain our problem and ours alone. To leave Iraq, we will have to listen and lead. Today America is perceived to be not listening. Not listening to the voices of the Iraqi people and not listening to the will of the international community, especially Iraq‘s neighbors.

Second, the Bush administration has not sought the support and advice of the American Muslim community to strategize about solutions. In a recent issue of Time magazine, author Aparisim Ghosh noted that one of the reasons current U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been more effective than Paul Bremer is that he is a Muslim who speaks Farsi and Arabic.

Humam Hamoodi, a leading politician of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq noted, “The way he sits, the way he eats, we feel he is no stranger to us.” It will take many more American Muslims reflecting the diversity of Iraq to better communicate with and mediate among Iraq‘s diverse population.

Using American Muslims to communicate and mediate also signals that the U.S. practices inclusion of its own minorities in formulating policies.

A poll by Georgetown University‘s Project MAPS and Zogby International showed that the American Muslim community is younger, better educated and better off financially than most Americans. A majority of American Muslims believe that individuals, businesses or religious organizations in their community experienced discrimination since the 9/11 terror attacks. Yet an overwhelming majority (93 percent) favored participation in the American political process.

Despite such positive attitudes, this vital political and religious asset remains underutilized as a resource to solve one of our nation’s most pressing problems – how to plan and execute America‘s end game in Iraq.

Contacts between the American Muslim community and the Bush Administration remain sporadic and episodic. For example, the Bush Administration could have helped resolve the recent apostasy controversy in Afghanistan by amplifying the voices of American Muslim groups that cited Islamic scriptures calling for the release of the Muslim-turned-Christian facing the death penalty.

The voices of American Muslims are authentic to Islam and caring of America‘s image and interests. This simple fact is unfortunately not resonating in the halls of power, whether in Congress or the White House. Until we change this attitude, any efforts to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide will be a much more difficult task.

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