He is just 14, but already sounds like someone who has seen much, and feels much, and resents much. A soldier in the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the Shiite strongman Moq-tada al-Sadr, Ali Sadkhan lives in the Shia holy city of Karbala. Ali comes from a poor but proud family; he idolizes not only Sadr but Sadr's martyred father, a revered Shia cleric whom Saddam Hussein murdered in 1999. For Ali, the political and the personal have always been linked; in 2003, when America toppled Saddam's regime, he went to a Hawza seminary in Najaf, a center of Shia doctrine. Two years later, as the war dragged on, Ali joined the militia. "I should learn how to fight thieves and foreigners who would think to steal our rights," Ali recently told a NEWSWEEK stringer in Karbala. "I want to be like Sayeed Moqtada and his father, who never felt afraid of anything. His father stood against Saddam, and he stood against the evil of America." Americans, Ali said, "want to make a new Middle East, a region which take[s] care of Israeli interests."
As Christian Caryl reports in this week's cover, Ali is part of a generation of Iraqi children who, seared by war and terror, may well become the violent jihadists of tomorrow. These are young people shaped by daily bloodshed, rising sectarian passions and a largely failed U.S. occupation.
Our package, which includes pieces from Christopher Dickey, Fareed Zakaria, Evan Thomas and Howard Fineman, raises the depressing question of whether we have lost not one but two wars since 2003. The first, the war for the present, is the one President Bush was talking about when he told a skeptical country that he was sending roughly 20,000 more troops to Iraq. The second, the war for the future, is more amorphous but no less crucial. Well over a million Iraqi youths are being forged by the fires of the war with America and the resulting civil strife. "The consequences of failure are clear," the president said from the White House library. "Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits." But our reporting suggests that what President Bush put in speculative terms in his speech has already taken root, and may well dangerously flourish.
We have been here before. "Perhaps the closest analogy to what might happen in modern-day Iraq (even though they are very different countries) is the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan," Christian says. "The Taliban are often orphans of war, young people whose own families were stripped away from them by conflict and for whom the Taliban organization, offering the additional glue of a shared powerful belief in Islam, becomes a powerful new source of belonging. I see something very similar happening in Iraq."
Elsewhere, Mark Miller, who has covered the O. J. Simpson case since the 1994 murders, offers an exclusive piece of reporting: his impressions from reading "The Night in Question" chapter of Simpson's proposed book, "If I Did It." The project was abandoned by News Corp. and by the publisher Judith Regan after critics (including NEWSWEEK) were outraged by the prospect that Simpson was going to be paid at least $880,000 to talk about the crime--and that the money would be sheltered from the victims' families, who won a $33.5 million civil verdict against him.
Internally, we weighed arguments for and against revisiting the Simpson saga. A few voices argued that printing anything about it would only draw attention to a book that was a bad idea to begin with. But others believed--and I am among them--we have something newsworthy we should share with our readers. For the first time in the Simpson drama--arguably the most celebrated American criminal case of the last half century--we have what can be read as a confession in Simpson's own words. Truth will out, as Shakespeare told us, even in an unpublished book that Simpson's lawyer insists is "hypothetical." Read Mark's piece and see how hypothetical Simpson's story seems.