Iraq showing signs of freedom and maturity

Tom Friedman:

Here’s a story you don’t see very often. Iraq’s highest court told the Iraqi Parliament last Monday that it had no right to strip one of its members of immunity so he could be prosecuted for an alleged crime: visiting Israel for a seminar on counterterrorism. The Iraqi justices said the Sunni lawmaker, Mithal al-Alusi, had committed no crime and told the Parliament to back off.

That’s not all. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Umma al-Iraqiyya carried an open letter signed by 400 Iraqi intellectuals, both Kurdish and Arab, defending Alusi. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of press freedom. I can’t imagine any other Arab country today where independent judges would tell the government it could not prosecute a parliamentarian for visiting Israel — and intellectuals would openly defend him in the press.

In the case of Iraq, though, the federal high court, in a unanimous decision, vacated the Parliament’s rescinding of Alusi’s immunity, with the decision delivered personally by Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud. The decision explained that although a 1950s-era law made traveling to Israel a crime punishable by death, Iraq’s new Constitution establishes freedom to travel. Therefore the Parliament’s move was “illegal and unconstitutional because the current Constitution does not prevent citizens from traveling to any country in the world,” Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for the court, told The Associated Press. The judgment even made the Parliament speaker responsible for the expenses of the court and the defense counsel!

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Iraq to have relations with Israel anytime soon, but the fact that it may be developing an independent judiciary is good news. It’s a reminder of the most important reason for the Iraq war: to try to collaborate with Iraqis to build progressive politics and rule of law in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, a region that stands out for its lack of consensual politics and independent judiciaries. And it’s a reminder that a decent outcome may still be possible in Iraq, especially now that the Parliament has endorsed the U.S.-Iraqi plan for a 2011 withdrawal of American troops.

Al Qaeda has not been fully defeated in Iraq; suicide bombings are still an almost daily reality. But it has been dealt a severe blow, which I believe is one reason the Muslim jihadists — those brave warriors who specialize in killing women and children and defenseless tourists — have turned their attention to softer targets like India. Just as they tried to stoke a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq, and failed, they are now trying to stoke a Hindu-Muslim civil war in India.

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Iraq would not have reached this point had Obama been in office since 2004. It would have been the disaster that the Democrats so desperately wanted. Obama will get the benefit of the hard work of the US troops and the determination of President Bush. We have to hope he does not blow it.

Friedman seems to recognize the al Qaeda strategy, which is more than can be said for Obama over the last two years. Hopefully his national security team can give him the guidance he needs in his decision making.

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