Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy
Center and a commentator on religion for National Public Radio.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking at last week’s international conference in Baghdad, reminded many who needed reminding exactly what is at stake in the war in Iraq. Too bad hardly anyone here or in the democratic West heard the message.
The great enemy, Mr. Maliki warned, is the ideology of terrorism that threatens not only Iraq but every decent and peace-loving nation on the planet:
“The terrorism that today is trying to kill Iraqis in Baghdad, Hilla, Mosul and Anbar,” he said, “is the same as the terror that intimidated the population of Saudi Arabia, targeted the people of Egypt, attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and hit underground trains in Madrid and London.”
In other words, whatever one thinks of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraq has become another front in the war on radical Islam. This faith-based ideology assumes various shapes—Sunni suicide bombers, al Qaeda operatives—yet all pursue the same overriding objective: to turn Iraq into a haven for international terrorism, guided by a militant and murderous vision of Islam.
This is, of course, exactly the argument made by US President George
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair—which probably explains why
media outlets such as the BBC played down Mr. Maliki’s blunt assessment.
“This is an international epidemic,” he said, “the price of which is
being paid by the people of Iraq, and our country is on the front line
of confrontation.” Now there’s a troubling phrase—“international
epidemic”—troubling, that is, to progressive ears that find it too
crude, too Manichean, too reminiscent of the “axis of evil” talk of
America’s cowboy president.
Mr. Maliki was hardly coy about the insidious machinations of Iran and
Syria, both conference participants, to foment mayhem in his country.
“Confronting terrorism means halting any form of financial support and
media or religious incitement,” he said, “as well as logistical support
and the provision of arms and men that will become explosive tools
killing our children, women and elders, and bombing our mosques and
In other words, some of Iraq’s “neighbors” have innocent blood on their
hands. Mr. Maliki, like President Bush and Prime Minister Blair,
insists on connecting the dots: The flow of military support and
suicide bombers across the borders of Iran and Syria results directly
in the deaths of ordinary Iraqis—children playing in football fields,
women shopping in markets, students attending university, pilgrims
journeying to mosques. “Iraq does not accept that its territories and
cities become a field where regional and international disputes are
It was all but impossible to find more than a few lines from Mr.
Maliki’s speech anywhere on the BBC media expanse. It was relatively
easy, however, to hear commentary about America’s much-needed
“reversal” in meeting with Iranian and Syrian officials, or the Bush
Administration’s “missing link” of diplomacy in the Middle East, or
this latest effort “to break the ice” between Washington, Tehran, and
Damascus—the risible language of moral equivalency.
Mr. Maliki rejects the moral cynicism that drives this kind of talk.
“What has obstructed the economic and political building process in
Iraq and has threatened civil peace,” he insisted, “is the terrorism.”
It was time, he said, to stop giving "religious cover" to the terrorist
atrocities that are tearing his society apart. That’s a bold charge for
a Muslim leader in a region drenched in pious rationalizations for
terror. It’s also a repudiation of the feckless impulse to blame the
United States or Israel for all the region’s woes (as Jordan’s King
Abdullah did last week).
The Iraqi prime minister can be faulted for his handling of security
issues and failure to politically unite the country’s religious
factions. Yet he seems to understand the nature and difficulty of his
task, a difficulty that is hard to overstate and greatly complicated by
the daily acts of barbarism. For a few moments last week—moments that
surely offended the sensibilities of political and media
sophisticates—Mr. Maliki reminded the world that America is not the
problem in Iraq or in the Middle East. Terrorism is the problem.
Radical Islam is the problem.
This is the reason that Iraq is fighting for its life. This is what Mr.
Maliki indelicately, yet accurately calls an international epidemic—a
disease of the soul that brings misery and death to everything it
is adapted from an article in the Weekly Standard, March 15, 2007.