U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the current violence in Iraq is the work of "enemies of democracy" who are trying to disrupt the transition to sovereignty and derail the Iraqis' progress toward self-government. The U.S., he says, must "in this time of stress show that our commitment to their freedom is rock solid."
Such a commitment will have consequences beyond Iraq. As Mr. Wolfowitz says, it will “set a powerful example for the Iranian people who are already demanding a better government from their leaders. If they see right next door -- here are Shia Muslim Arabs who are living free. . .they're going to demand it themselves.”
Mr. Wolfowitz says that on July 1st, 2004, "Iraq will be governed by an Iraqi government." But that date, he says, is only one step in the process of building representative, self-government in Iraq:
"It will be followed by the election to establish a transitional government in January 2005. And let me emphasize 'elected' -- not appointed by the Americans, not negotiated by [United Nations] Ambassador [Lakhdar] Brahimi, but fully elected early next year. That government in turn will be replaced by a permanent elected government under a constitution at the end of 2005."
Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz says that the eventual shape of the Iraqi government will be for the Iraqis themselves to decide: "Americans, of all people, should understand that democracy does not guarantee specific outcomes; it opens up ideas for debate."
But the steps Iraqis have already taken, says Mr. Wolfowitz, suggest they will not establish an Islamic theocracy, like that in neighboring Iran:
"Recently, in the overwhelmingly Shia province of Diyala in southern Iraq, seventeen towns held local elections, using ration cards in the absence of registration rolls. Their first genuine elections ever. And in almost every case, either secular independents or non-religious parties out-polled the Islamists."
One Iraqi Shiite who does support an Iranian-style theocracy is the extremist Moqtada al-Sadr. He has been charged in the April 2003 murder of the respected Shiite Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei. But most observers say that Sadr has little support in Iraq's Shia community.