Following new evictions and the burning of two Arab farm villages, Arab irregulars attacked the regional government building in Kirkuk at the weekend and battled Kurdish forces in the streets with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Officials say at least 10 people were killed.Several destroyed villages - Albu Saraj, Jamboor, Al Behar and others - were seen by reporters along the main highway through the Kirkuk area. Residents of larger towns said efforts to eject Arab residents occur daily. Major Robert Gowan, a spokesman for the US military in Kirkuk, said: "We are trying not to allow any forcible evictions. We are trying to stop people from being killed. We want to freeze the situation in place and have property disputes settled by some kind of court. But this is a very tough, emotional issue."
I am not persuaded by all the testimonials collected by the New York Times, from people who think that Noah Feldman is just the right man for the job. In an interview with the BBC, he was reported to have said that the United States "should back [an] Islamic Iraq." In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Feldman warned against excluding "Islam-inspired politicians" from government, and added this: "An established religion that does not coerce religious belief and that treats religious minorities as equals may be perfectly compatible with democracy. The U.K. is a democracy notwithstanding the Church of England." Well, the Shiite clerics in Najaf and Karbala are not the Church of England, and as a collective they can hardly be described as ecumenical. That sort of analogy, the stock-in-trade of Esposito, obscures much more than it enlightens.
And it leaves me wondering whether Feldman might be just the wrong man. Last night I attended a public lecture by Kanan Makiya, who stated that an Islamic republic in Iraq would be "a sure-fire formula for civil war." In the first chapter of After Jihad, Feldman argues that Algeria might have been spared its traumatic civil war had the Islamists been allowed to assume power. It's an open question. But Iraq is not Algeria, and an attempt to establish Islam in Iraq's far more diverse society could provoke a civil war. It could also undo U.S. strategic achievements: Islamists, even the cheery Islamists of Turkey, have not been great friends of U.S. security interests. It would be tragic if what now looks like a victory were to be turned into a defeat, by our own lawyers. Feldman might know the feeling: I see that during the recount of the Florida presidential ballot in 2000, he went down there as a volunteer, and ended up as chief legal researcher to the Gore campaign. Feldman must know that the rules are half the contest, even in the most perfect of democracies. So why stack them against your best friends—and yourself? The United States is not an umpire, it has an interest in the future of Iraq, and its appointees on the ground have a duty to protect that interest. The completely disinterested promotion of democracy should be left to NGOs and Jimmy Carter.