Those of you who don't use my blog as their sole source of news will know that provincial elections have just taken place in Iraq, with widespread participation (ie Sunnis didn't boycott this time).

However, as significant as that is, there's something even more significant. The Status of Forces Agreement entering the Iraqi conscience. To win this War on Terror in the long term (ie having a goal of it being unthinkable that anyone would even WANT to fly a plane into an American skyscraper - rather than just trying to physically prevent it) requires massive paradigm changes in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Fortunately, very fortunately, the Iraqis, despite literally decades of anti-American indoctrination, were willing to give the benefit of doubt to America that it came as a liberator and was not planning on stealing oil and raping women. However, getting them to embrace that concept was not an easy task, and hasn't even been fully accomplished - or even vast majority accomplished. It's tenuous. And it is the main reason why I want to see US forces vacate Iraq. Unless there are clear polls showing that 90% of Iraqis don't mind the US presence - and there aren't - the only way to transmit the concept to the Iraqis is to leave. You can stand by in Turkey ready to put down a coup, and you can send Iraqis to Europe etc for training, but the troops must leave. Every single one of them.

Hopefully then the "colonialist stealing oil" argument will disappear. Not from all of the remaining 50% of Iraqis, but hopefully another 20%, and that figure will increase as the decades roll by. Without direct education of basic scientific principles (such as requiring evidence of stolen oil before making such bold claims), it will take decades, or at least years, before freedom of speech and ordinary Iraqis talking to ordinary Americans, thanks to the universality of English, takes its toll on the Arab fantasy world. It'll probably require a generational change in fact. When Iraqis are living in a peaceful society, with 24 hour electricity - both things easily accomplished given reasonable time (like a decade) - children growing up will have zero interest in their parents "tall" tales about fighting insurgents with nothing but a butter knife.

But before we get to that stage, let's look at this next accomplishment. Here you will find a US soldier explaining a conceptual change that has occurred since the signing of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), and let me quote some bits:

"I would tell you that the security agreement implementation on January 1st in our area was -- has just been phenomenal. The Iraqi security forces have embraced that, and we have embraced it as well. And it is a very positive step forward in our area, because it's -- the Iraqis now realize that they are, in fact, in charge, and they're taking charge. So it's -- I think those two events are the ones that I look back on over 14 months and categorize

But I think the -- what the security agreement has done here, obviously, is the requirement for a warrant of arrest, a requirement for combined operations with the Iraqis. It has been a significant step forward. And the Iraqi forces in the area have embraced that completely. And it is a positive step, and, frankly, it's one that my soldiers have embraced as well, and we're very glad to see the Iraqis grab onto that so firmly and take charge. It is a positive step forward.

When we conduct an operation in coordination and partnership with the Iraqis, if detainees are taken under warrants, they go immediately into Iraqi custody. And that is a change. And frankly, that's one that on the street is embraced by the local population as well, because they recognize that there is a warrant issue involved here and it is an application of the rule of law. So that's been positive and one we've -- that frankly, as a brigade commander, I've been very pleased to see."

This is the sort of thing I was expecting, or at least, hoping for from the Iraqi side. Since I'm inside the Anglophone culture I know what the Anglophones are thinking. They dislike being seen as conquerors and want the Iraqis to take responsibility for all decisions so that they (Americans) don't get blamed in the future. So the question goes out "what do you want?" (a question that is normally never asked of people like this) and "would you like us to arrest this guy which we have intelligence on?". The US, despite being a superpower, far from throwing its weight around, humbly lines up with cap in hand, the required evidence, and asks an Iraqi judge for permission. It is actually a beautiful sight, and things like that make me have faith in humanity, even when other things make me despair.

People from the Middle East do not have a concept of the powerful being humble and asking permission from someone weaker than them and respecting their point of view. In their culture, it's humiliating having to go cap in hand to a weaker party.

So similar to the lion who thinks it is king of the jungle irrespective of that strangely-walking chimpanzee carrying a strange-looking stick that makes a strange sound sometimes - the Iraqis are proud that they are in charge. Which, similar to the chimpanzee running away from a lion to avoid unnecessary and illegal killing of a protected species, they really are in control. In both cases the truly powerful has the physical capability to do whatever it wants, but it truly doesn't want conflict. It wants friendship. Humans are social animals at the end of the day.

And if the US has the ability to impart the concept that it came as a liberator (you really need to watch that video!), not a conqueror, and leaves as a friend, not an enemy, then we're well on the way to winning the war. And let me make it clear. It's not just about winning a war. Even if there was no threat from any dictator ever, we want people to be free, and we want to be friends with them. Not at the expense of changing our own values though.

And hopefully we can look forward to similar success stories 4 years from now.

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