f_0018904_16165 - REP RTAGE Missy Ryan is a journalist who...

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BAGHDAD, Iraq—In a neglected grave- yard, headstones of British soldiers lie dis- carded in the sand, sheared off by nearby bomb blasts, toppled by vandals, and crum- bled by the passage of 90 years since these young men died in an unfamiliar desert land while their generals and statesmen conjured up a country called Iraq. The British war cemetery, which sits on the edge of a Bagh- dad thruway, is one of the visible reminders of the first Western occupation of modern Iraq, when European powers divvied up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and British administrators endowed Iraq with the foundations of a modern state. Today, the legacy of the American ad- venture in Iraq is slowly coming into focus. As U.S. soldiers prepare to withdraw after a seven-year occupation, the new Iraqi state takes unsteady steps toward an uncertain fu- ture. At the heart of that assessment, which will shape America’s standing across the Middle East for years to come, is the nature and performance of the nation the United States leaves behind—its ability to contain a still-tenacious insurgency, the success of its elections, the brand of government it chooses, the role it allots to women and minorities. Even after parliamentary polls in March, when voters defied insurent attacks to cast ballots, the dangers are many. Iraq has not yet settled major questions about the balance of power between central and re- gional authorities, how a newly empowered majority will treat minorities, and how to achieve national reconciliation. Still, in some respects, Iraq may pres- ent a more favorable portrait than anyone could have expected in 2006 and 2007, when the bodies of Iraqis slain in sectarian violence piled up on the streets and inno- cent people were shot at checkpoints for having the wrong name. Indeed, it may be surprising to think that Iraq in 2010, though far from a liberal, Jeffersonian (or even certain) democracy, could put Ameri- can allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan to shame in terms of democratic governance. In a region known for rigged elections and authoritarian regimes, Iraq stands apart for its elected, if only somewhat representa- tive government, competing political par- ties, and the existence of institutional checks and balances. A decade ago, Iraqis didn’t dare vote against Saddam Hussein in periodic sham elections. Toothless local media crowed endlessly about Baath Party triumphs. Decision-making was utterly opaque and concentrated at the top where paranoia reigned supreme. Missy Ryan is a journalist who has been reporting from Iraq since August 2008. Earlier, she had been based in Peru, Ar- gentina, and Washington, D.C. Imagining Iraq, Defining Its Future Missy Ryan REP RTAGE © 2010 World Policy Institute 65
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A Rose in the Desert “You have to remember that our govern- ment was one of the worst in the world.
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