Cynthia Oi
Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi

New Iraqi voters now
obliged not to waste
sacrifice of so many

All heads in the magazine section swiveled toward her when a little girl's shriek blazed through the bookstore.

She had not been pinned by a shelf of new hardcover fiction, wasn't in any danger of being kidnapped, hadn't even stubbed her toe. No, the scream was one of displeasure brought when her mother informed her that the book she wanted was "too expensive" and would not be hers to take home.

There were more screeches followed by weeping so sorrowful you'd think it was the end of the world and from the viewpoint of one so young, whose narrow experiences in life confine scope and understanding, being deprived of a book may have seemed calamitous.

Her mother, juggling rain gear, plastic sacks and an infant, was mortified even though other customers smiled sympathetically or politely ignored the ruckus.

One young man tried to lead his toddler son away from the scene, I guess afraid that the behavior might be infectious, but the boy pulled free and offered the keening girl a yellow-covered book he had in his hand.

The gesture immediately calmed the girl. Both children managed smiles, the boy's flush with the pleasure of giving and the girl's one of tentative delight as she grasped the thin volume.

It was not with such innocent generosity that the leaders of United States resolved to transfer our system of governance to Iraq. As reality overwhelmed mistaken intelligence, motives for the invasion shifted from purging weapons of mass destruction in an evil empire and smothering a hotbed of terrorism to the altruistic declarations of freedom and liberty.

In that framework, it was heartening to see Iraqi people slip folded ballots into cardboard boxes and display proudly index fingers colored with a purple badge of courage after voting. Few people, whether for or against the war, would not be inspired by the spectacle in a country so recently beaten down by a barbaric dictator.

So all's well that ends well? Though he depicted the election as a "resounding success," President Bush tamed his "Mission Accomplished" swagger because he knows different. He knows the voting, conducted under lockdown conditions while occupied by a foreign power, was the first small, wobbly step along a lengthy, unpredictable trail.

Then there are the grievous trade-offs.

They are the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, police recruits and security forces who have been killed in the war.

They are the nearly 1,500 Americans and hundreds of soldiers from other countries who paid for the invasion with their lives.

All of them offered their futures, their prospects of raising children, building homes, loving their husbands and wives and friends in the inadvertent quest.

I don't doubt that Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis who took to the streets to celebrate their initial taste of freedom did not appreciate the sacrifice of others. But it is their obligation now to hold on to that dash of sweetness and not allow their ethnic strains and narrow interests -- external and internal -- to turn it bitter. They must choose the men and women who will be their leaders and devise prescriptions for their own governance.

Whether it will be a mirror of what we have or another suited to their culture and values should not be of America's making.

While it is in our best interest that strife be exchanged for stability and while the power of compassion inspires a common desire for a good life, we must remove ourselves from Iraq as soon as possible. The genesis of liberty will salve an unwarranted wound of invasion for only a short time.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.

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