Friday, July 14, 2006

A Legacy of Karate

Although good news from Iraq is rare, Paul von Zielbauer’s “In Joyful Ceremonies, First Iraqi Province Proudly Assumes Control” has it. Coalition authorities have returned Al-Muthanna province, in southern Iraq along the Saudi border, entirely to Iraqi control. It is the first province to make the transition to independence, and hopefully it begins a wave of peaceful re-enfranchisements, which are as necessary to U.S. soft power as they are desirable to Iraqi citizens.

Von Zielbauer describes the ceremony:

At 9 a.m., soldiers, residents and reporters were awaiting the ceremony when Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki strode onto the red rubber running track. Well-wishers quickly mobbed him, to the clear displeasure of 16 armed and tense-looking security agents, who brushed back the crowd.

A few minutes later, about two dozen tribesmen in ankle-length robes and kaffiyehs jogged into the far end of the stadium, each holding a 1940’s-era bolt-action rifle overhead. They passed Mr. Maliki, seated at the edge of the track, chanting in unison, “Congratulations, we came to visit you and give congratulations!”

Mr. Maliki eventually strode to a podium arrayed with plastic flowers and praised Muthanna’s people for being the first among the residents of the 18 provinces of Iraq to reclaim independence from coalition forces.

The sound system garbled the prime minister’s words for several minutes at a time, as it did with all the other dignitaries who spoke.

The organizers eventually determined that the sheer quantity of hardware in the arena— machine guns, bulletproof vests and ammunition clips that most Iraqi men were carrying— was causing the problem and moved everyone back.

“This is the type of country we want to live in,” Mr. Maliki said in one stretch the microphone captured clearly. “All tribes, security forces, government officials, working together toward the security of Iraq.”

Interestingly, there must have been a lot of Japanese troops in Al-Muthanna as well, and the Japanese stationed there must have had a great deal of peaceful interaction with the locals. The proof of this is in the number of Iraqis with Japanese martial-arts training:

After the [ceremony’s] speeches, members of an Iraqi karate team, trained by noncombat Japanese troops stationed here, demonstrated their skills, breaking wood poles over one another’s limbs and disarming some team members acting as bandits with karate moves.

The crowd, circled tightly around the demonstration, applauded enthusiastically.

I wonder what the handover ceremony will be like in provinces dominated by U.S. and British forces, and what the U.S. parallel to karate will be. It may be more subtle than breaking wooden poles over assailants; possible U.S. strengths include areas like organization (accounting and logistics) and construction (engineering and fabrication). There may also be a parade of Iraqis who have learned to reach the highest levels of Halo on the Xbox platform.

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