Yesterday, Freedom House released the latest edition of Freedom in the World, its annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties. According to the survey’s findings, “2008 marked the third consecutive year in which global freedom suffered a decline.”
Issued on the same day that President Bush gave his final petulant and combative press conference, Freedom House’s findings serve as yet another grim verdict on Bush’s “freedom agenda,” which has been long on rhetoric, but short on policies that actually promote freedom.
Significantly, according to the report, though Iraq registered slight gains, it is still categorized as “not free.”(pdf) Despite the best efforts of the pro-war gang to present Iraq as a success, it still suffers from widespread and persistent political dysfunction.
In this morning’s Washington Post, Anthony Shadid — whose Night Draws Near is one of the very best books on the Iraq war — has an excellent article providing some needed perspective on Bush’s Iraq. It’s the story of a 30 year-old former Al Qaeda insurgent who switched sides, and now rules over his town of Thuluyah, thanks to his command of a paramilitary Sons of Iraq unit:
Thuluyah is a microcosm of Sunni Muslim regions of the country, residents like to say. If so, the town is a sober harbinger. Khalil, often forthright, sometimes persuasive and occasionally thuggish, has become the strongman.
Just 30 years old, Khalil has inherited from his family the town’s biggest mosque, where brimming crowds gather on Fridays for his stentorian sermons. He heads the council that oversees the hundreds of armed men who deserted the insurgency for U.S.-funded units known as the Sons of Iraq, outnumbering the police and army unit stationed here. The mention of Khalil’s name — Mullah Nadhim, as he is known here — ensures passage through their checkpoints. He heads a council of tribal leaders that provides a channel to Maliki, who offered his hand in friendship in a meeting in Baghdad’s Green Zone. [...]
[Khalil] still calls himself an Islamist, and to his followers, his words remain harsh.
“Our country is occupied and our bodies are torn apart, but we shouldn’t forget our families in Palestine,” he proclaimed in a sermon recently to an overflow crowd in his austere mosque, its white walls gouged by shrapnel from his assassination attempt.
“Those sons of monkeys, enemies of God and killers of prophets,” he declared, his voice rising in denunciation of Jews, “are killing our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
Let freedom ring! But seriously, the key question is whether Khalil — and the hundreds of former insurgent paramilitary commanders like him all over Iraq — can translate the power of their guns and their authority as conduits for American cash into genuine political legitimacy, and then whether that legitimacy will complement or contest the legitimacy of the Iraqi state. We shouldn’t expect these questions to be answered by the coming January 31 provincial elections in Iraq, but they should be clarified to some extent.
It’s very important to understand that, while the security environment in Iraq has been transformed over the last year, the Bush administration is not, in any sense, bequeathing an Iraq “success” to President Obama. He’s merely handing over a slightly less severe set of problems.