Iraq: Revenge Versus Amnesty

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August 25,2008:  Iraqi politics is still dominated by intense hatred of the Sunni Arab minority. For centuries, the Sunni Arabs dominated the region, especially the Shia Arab majority of southern Iraq. Between 1638 and 1918, central and southern Iraq were provinces of the Ottoman Turk empire. Northern Iraq, and its largely Kurdish population,  was part of the Turkish homeland. The Turks let the Sunni Arabs run what is now central and southern Iraq.

The Shia and Sunni Arabs were somewhat united after World War I, and Turk rule, ended in 1918. British rule lasted a decade before the three provinces were packaged into the new nation of Iraq. The British left behind a constitutional monarchy, but the better educated Sunni Arabs soon controlled the military and civil service. By the 1950s, the Sunni Arab army staged a coup and established a Sunni Arab dictatorship. The Kurds and Shia Arabs (80 percent of the population), resisted. And so began decades of civil strife. What really intensified the hatred was another coup in the 1960s, when the Baath Socialist Party took over from the army. Baath was nastier towards the Kurds and Shia. It got worse, when Saddam Hussein staged a coup and took over Baath in 1979. He promptly invaded Iran (which had recently been taken over by its Shia clergy and was stirring up the Iraqi Shia). This led to a decade of war that killed over half a million soldiers and burned up hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil revenue.

Broke and bugged by Kuwait for repayment of war loans, Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. That resulted in UN sanctions unless Saddam gave up his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. He refused to admit these programs had been dismantled in the early 1990s. He wanted Iran to believe Iraq still had chemical weapons, in order to dissuade Iran from resuming the war with a much weakened (by the 1991 defeat) Iraq. Saddam was particularly fearful of the Iranians because he had been increasingly savage in dealing with rebellions Iraqi Shias. Hundreds of thousands had been murdered, often tortured to death. Many more were beaten, jailed or terrorized. Many Iraqi Shia were fleeing to Iran and pleading for help to overthrow Saddam. But the Iranians believed Saddam still had his chemical weapons, and did not want their army to face nerve and mustard gas again. At least not as long as memories of the 1980s war were still fresh.

When the U.S. invaded in 2003, the Shia were soon in power, and eager for revenge. The subsequent Sunni terror campaign tried to scare the Shia off, but that didn't work. The U.S. Surge Offensive of 2007 finally crushed the Sunni Arab terrorists (especially al Qaeda, the major foreign participant) by getting most Sunni Arab leaders to switch sides. But now the Shia led government believes they can punish the Sunni Arab leaders, at least those with the most blood on their hands. Amnesty for Sunni Arabs has long (or at least since 2003) been a major factor in Iraqi politics. Not all Sunnis were guilty, but many were, and millions of Iraqi Shia who had suffered from Sunni terror (especially Saddams savage actions of the 1990s) wanted revenge. They wanted Sunni blood, and they had lists of  names. The Sunni killers were often known, and the fact that many of them were leaders in the Sunni Arab community meant nothing to the angry Shia. U.S. efforts to get the Shia to forgive and forget, for the sake of everyone's future, have failed. In this part of the world, revenge often trumps everything else, even common sense.

The government is still willing to offer amnesty, but wants far more guilty Sunni Arabs punished than the Sunni Arab community is willing to tolerate. The question is, will the Sunni Arabs resume their war against the government. Over the last five years, that war has caused about half the Sunni Arabs to flee their homes, and often the country as well. The Sunni Arabs are also aware that many, if not most, Shia and Kurds would like to see all Sunni Arabs expelled from Iraq. This radical notion is political dynamite, and the government won't go near it. Even the freewheeling Iraqi  media stays away from this. But on the streets, you hear it all the time. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs know that, if they resume large scale violence, it could be the end of Sunni Arabs in Iraq for a generation or more.

August 24, 2008: For the first time since 2003, a large crowd (100,000) assembled in Baghdad for a football (soccer) match.

August 19, 2008: One of the 30 elite ERUs (Emergency Response Units) raided the provincial headquarters of Diyala province, got into a gun battle with guards and local police, and arrested the head of the provincial security committee, and the head of a local university. Both are accused of supporting Sunni Arab terrorism. This raid caused an uproar, with Iraq's president denying he had ordered the action. Several members of the ERU involved were arrested.

The Emergency Response Units were formed in Sunni Arab areas and  have, in the past two years (especially since the surge offensive began) come under government control. The men for ERUs are recruited locally, and are often commanded by tribal leaders. This does not go down well with many members of the government. The ERUs are armed by the government, and supplied with other equipment. Many Shia Arabs believe this stuff will end up in the hands of Sunni Arab terrorists, who will use it to kill Shia Arabs. So far, the ERUs have been going after al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorists, but that might change. There are over 10,000 men in nearly 40 ERUs (details of these units are classified). American commanders consider the ERUs essential for keeping the peace, and keeping the Sunni Arab terrorists down, in Sunni Arab areas (particularly the Baghdad suburbs, and western Iraq.) The ERU cops get two to six weeks training, and the constant attention of American military and police advisors. There were no American advisors with the ERU that conducted the Diyala raid. The ERU in question was apparently a Shia one, and engaged in a political struggle between the Shia minority in Diyala, and the Sunni majority (which is now in charge via the "Awakening Council" and "Sons of Iraq" militias that turned on al Qaeda and Sunni terrorists.)

August 16, 2008: It's pilgrimage time, with hundreds of thousands of Shia faithful coming to shrines in southern Iraq. This year, 40,000 soldiers and police have been assigned to security. There are still several Sunni terrorist cells operating, and they see the pilgrims as major targets (because Sunni fanatics see Shia as heretics.) This year, there is much less danger of Shia factions fighting each other during the religious events, because the government has shut down many of the factions recently. The remaining factions are on their best behavior to avoid another crackdown.

August 15, 2008: The U.S. went public with an intelligence report (collected from numerous sources, including prisoners, captured documents and electronic eavesdropping) about Iran training Iraqi Shia death squads. Apparently, these killers will be sent back to Iraq, with specific targets (politicians who oppose Iranian influence on the Iraqi government). The U.S. revealed these findings in an attempt to get the Iranians to back off from this plan.

 

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