A country that liberates itself, rather than watches as outsiders do it, usually can better sustain national unity through tales of honor, heroism, and shared resistance. The US has its Valley Forge, China its Long March, France its Bastille. What is Iraq's?
The Iraqi people failed to overthrow Saddam Hussein for over three decades and then watched as the Americans and British did it in three weeks. No wonder the US has had difficulty creating a popular Iraqi leadership, despite having selected a well-balanced Iraqi Governing Council that can, at least on paper, write a national constitution by consensus.
But after last week's violent US crackdown on insurgent groups of Sunnis and Shiites, many Iraqis stood up to their liberators even though the US was trying to mop up dangerous militias before handing over sovereignty on June 30.
By collectively resisting the tactics of the US, many Iraqis show a spirit of unity that rises above tribe or religion. They'll need that unity for the day when US forces leave and they're left confronting their lingering internal divisions without a shared adversary.
The Iraqis who show real leadership are not the ones demanding the US leave Iraq immediately, but those who call on the US to show military restraint and better diplomatic skills in dealing with power-hungry radicals. Indeed, the US must be careful to listen to moderate Iraqis while at the same time not appearing to back down to the militants.
After all, with 80 days until Iraqi sovereignty, the US military had better get used to obeying a different leadership in Baghdad.
One example of new-found unity was a delegation of Governing Council Sunnis who negotiated Sunday's shaky, informal truce in the town of Fallujah. And the whole council called for cease-fires in every besieged city to allow for political solutions.
Shiite leaders, too, protested a US move against the militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as well as Sadr himself. An associate of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned Sadr's "acts of sabotage, chaos, and takeover of public property."
The US also had to face a battalion of the Iraqi Army refusing orders last week to fight in Fallujah. Many balked at killing fellow Iraqis. The US didn't see the incident as a mutiny but as "a command failure." Indeed, if US command continues to fail, Iraqis will unify in opposition, and the US must find a way to ensure it's the right unity.