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   the Shiite Golden Mosque and the Dome of the Rock
Tuesday, February 6 2007
As bad as the situation in Iraq has been for so long, it seems at this point that the whole debacle was inevitable, that even if brilliant strategists had grabbed the steering wheel from the chuckleheads the situation in Iraq would have nevertheless deteriorated to its present state, which is being described as "worse than a civil war." (You know things are going badly when a simple civil war would be an improvement.) Actually, though, there have been many crossroads on the way to the present situation, places where history offered several choices and the one actually taken was the worst. There was the decision not to plan for an occupation. There was the decision to occupy Iraq with a fraction of what history has consistently shown to be the necessary number of troops. There was the decision to disband the Iraq Army and to stigmatize and root out former members of the Baath Party (the only people with experience governing the place). Many of these decisions were outgrowths of bad decisions made earlier, all the way back to the Supreme Court's decision to stop the recount and give George W. Bush the Presidency (and no, Sandra Day, serving in the Iraq Study Group has not absolved you of your sins). Then there's Bush's decision to staff the Iraq Provisional Authority with party hacks and farm team bible school graduates instead of people experienced with nation building and Arabic cultures.
The whole Iraq enterprise was probably doomed from the start, but good decisions might have had an impact on the depth of that doom. One of the biggest turning points in the occupation (and, unlike the ones trumpeted by the administration, this was one that turned things bad) was when, a year ago this month, someone managed to blow up the Al-Askari ("Golden") Mosque, one of the holiest sites in all of Shia Islam. Only after that event did the civil war in Iraq really take off. Had the Golden Mosque not been destroyed, it might have still been possible for the Shiites and Sunnis to somehow get along, despite their differences over the true inheritors of Mohammed's teachings 1400 years ago.
Though they obviously didn't do their homework, the members of the Bush Administration should have known that by invading Iraq, they were taking charge of the Jerusalem of Shia Islam. In preparation for that, had they done their homework, they could have learned a lot from the Isrælis, who have the unenviable job of occupying the actual Jerusalem. The Isrælis have made plenty of mistakes trying to live among the Arabs, but one thing they've gotten more or less right is the administration of the Dome of the Rock (which is simultaneously the holiest site for Judaism and the third holiest site for Islam). Realizing that it would be World War Whatever should anything bad happen to the Dome of the Rock, Isræl has maintained strict security for the site while allowing a Muslim Waqf (religious trust) authority over it. The security, like all security, hasn't been perfect. In 1969 a nutty Australian (aren't they all?) set fire to the one thing there made from something other than stone. But decades have passed and the place has managed to avoid the effects of high explosives.
If Bush and his henchmen had set out with anything more than faith in their own success, they would have protected the holy Shiite shrines with every bit as much security as Isræl provides to the Dome of the Rock. Sure it would have been expensive, but (as with every American cost-cutting measure in Iraq), that expense seems trivial in comparison to the expense resulting from not protecting them.

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