A barking dog does not stop the caravan

Fred Barnes:

THE DOG BARKS, but the caravan moves on. This Arab saying has been used privately by Bush administration officials to characterize the progress that continues, despite all difficulties, in Iraq. There's some truth to it. The turnover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government--a measure of sovereignty at least--will take place on June 30. Iraqi police and civil defense forces will continue to grow. Creation of machinery for a nationwide election next January will proceed. So will construction of a network of modern infrastructure in Iraq, perhaps at a quickened pace.

It's true a dog sometimes bites as well as barks, and serious threats to the birth of a new Iraq remain, especially the climate of terror that prevails over much of the country today. But it's considerably harder to imagine defeat in Iraq and the collapse of progress toward democracy than it is to envision victory and the emergence of an Iraq that holds together. Despite lingering violence, Iraq is more likely than not to muddle through. This won't happen, however, unless America stands firm and doesn't retreat, even slowly, from its promise of a stable democratic Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors.

President Bush renewed this promise last week in his speech at the Army War College. But elites in America--especially much of the media and the political class--have lost faith in the prospect of success in Iraq....

To share the Iraq-is-lost sentiment, one must ignore a spate of good news. The uprising of Muslim cleric Moktada al-Sadr has fizzled. He negotiated a face-saving compromise that will keep him out of jail for the time being. But his movement failed in two important regards. It didn't ignite a widespread Shia revolt against the American military occupation, and it revealed his Mahdi Army as a paper tiger. American troops will not officially control Najaf, Karbala, and Kufa, the cities Sadr had seized, but they will patrol them and occupy the government buildings. The fate of Sadr, who's been charged with the murder of pro-American Ayatollah Khoei last year, will be left up to Iraqis. This is an imperfect solution, since the Iraqis have been unwilling to arrest Sadr, much less jail or execute him.

The Sadr insurrection also prompted mainstream Shia clerics led by Ayatollah Sistani to speak out. Not only did they ostracize Sadr and tell him to vacate the holy mosque in Najaf, but they also disputed his claim that American soldiers had fired on the mosque. Quite the contrary, they said Sadr himself was responsible for damaging the mosque....


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