I was reading an article this morning about a cleric in Iraq who is preparing a force to control the city of Najaf (a holy site in the country) and was struck by a particular phrase that should give warning to those who think that it is a waste of time/money/effort to help bring order to Iraq in as non-threatening a manner as possible. The phrase was a seemingly innocuous paraphrase that stated he wanted to "stop what he called the social decay and immorality brought to Iraq by the coalition troops."
It wasn't the reference to the coalition troops that concerned me, because I expected to see that and any occupying force, of which we are definitely one in Iraq, will generate resentment. What does concern me is the use of the phrase "immorality." How many times over the years have we seen societal anarchy give way to religious fervor and intolerance?
One of the things that organized religion does as well, if not better than any other force on earth is create an environment where strict rules are given with ultimate authority to a band of people who are willing to impose their will in order to make the world "right" again.
It doesn't matter what religion is used as the basis, this is the fertile ground in which the seeds of extremism are sowed, every bit as much as they are when a state creates an environment where people's elementary rights are trampled upon. In either case, people see their lives spiraling out of control and reach for order.
If order is not forthcoming from the civil authorities (whether that be a despot or an occupying force), it is sought elsewhere, and organized religion provides a strong basis for order. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. However, the more desperate the situation, the more likely that the religious extremists will take over, as seen in the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan after the Soviet Union pulled out and the United States and other countries failed to provide significant aid in the 1980's and 1990's. As we all now know, this became the training ground for those who seek to destroy the western civilization that we all enjoy today.
Unfortunately, the government of the people of the United States, run by our elected leaders (argue what you will, but it was a draw and the Supreme's just flipped the official coin) have so far failed to create order in a timely fashion in Iraq. There is still some time before the country degrades beyond the ability of the international community to help it pull out and become a force for stability, as envisioned by the Bush plan, but it will require quick and decisive movement on behalf of the administration, the allies, and the international community.
Whether you were behind the war in Iraq or not, we as a country are now obligated morally, ethically, and by our own self interest to help provide what is necessary to restart Iraq as a stable state.