Civilization is coming home

Civilization is returning to the world's oldest country

Dateline: 21 October 2005

Iraq is the oldest country in the world. It is where the first city was founded and where commerce and writing were invented. Egypt sells itself to tourists with the slogan “welcome to our seventh millennium”. Iraq is some three thousand years older.

All this means that there is something even more moving about the return of civilized values to the country that started it all.

One step at a time a country looted for generations by the Baath Party – a party consciously modeled on the Nazis – is building a new civic structure. Ballots are replacing bullets as the way to settle arguments.

Dick Cheney claimed that the insurgency in Iraq is on its last legs. He was ridiculed at the time, but in the past few weeks the Iraqi insurgency has almost disappeared. Foreign Jihadists are still fighting, but in the Sunni heartland of the insurgency, Iraqis have been campaigning in the referendum.

The turnout in Sunni areas was way up on the election in January, but most of those who turned out voted against the new constitution. Participation is better than boycott, but Sunnis will be displeased with the result, and in some measure the insurgency will probably restart.

But step by hesitant step the terrorists are being outmaneuvered. Handing power to the interim government last year was a landmark event. The baathists and Islamists became a little more marginalized, but they fought on. Coalition troops stayed, but not as occupiers, as allies of an Iraqi government.

The election in January was boycotted in some areas, but it was another defeat for the terrorists. Despite the intimidation and boycott the constitutional process stayed on track. Now the Coalition troops are allies of an elected government – the first for generations.

Last week we had the results of the constitutional referendum. Not everyone was happy with the result – who is in a democracy? – but this time the vote was stronger and the boycott weaker. The terrorists have been marginalized again.

The next vote will take place under the auspices of this newly agreed constitution. The next government will have a term of four years, unlike the interim administration elected in January.

As in any election, some people will be disappointed by the result of the next vote, too. The Sunnis have traditionally run Iraq as a single unitary state. Their best hope under this constitution is run one or two provinces in a federal Iraq. This is not such a bad deal, as they amount to just 20% of the population. The white 20% that ran South Africa until 1994 have come to terms with the fact that they don’t run the country any more. The Sunnis can do the same in Iraq.

When that happens, the country will have a great future. Oil will bring substantial flows of wealth to the country. The new government should give shares in the oil fields to every citizen. Let western companies buy their way in by buying shares from the people, not the government.

And when security returns, turn 50 of Saddam’s palaces into museums and the other 150 into luxury hotels. Why should upstart Egypt get all the tourists? The trouble with oil is that a lot of the best jobs go to western engineers, but tourism brings jobs for cleaners, cabbies, and café owners.

Iraq will prosper. Civilization is coming home.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 21 October 2005

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