The shadowy face of Iraq

I have a copy of a 1985 photograph, culled from the archives of a Beirut newspaper, that shows a circle of Iranian-backed conspirators gathered behind the pilots of the hijacked TWA Flight 847. Some former U.S. officials say the balding man in the front row is Maliki; but even if that’s wrong, his own Dawa Party bombed the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983. A conspiratorial underground was his political education…

But you can’t help thinking Iraq deserves better than Maliki, who practically advertises his disdain for the softer and more reflective side of life. It wasn’t always so in Iraq. Even during the years when Saddam governed the country by torture, Iraq had some of the best scientists, artists and writers in the Arab world. It was a place where people read books and played music. Saddam’s Iraq banned the unauthorized importation of typewriters; that’s how much it respected the written word.

America’s greatest mistake in Iraq wasn’t toppling Saddam but detonating the infrastructure of the government, the army and the educational and social institutions that made civilized life possible. With no national army, there was nothing to check the Shiite looters or the Sunni insurgents…

If America and its friends aren’t careful, this same process will repeat itself across the Arab world as the dictators are toppled and replaced by the underground men.