Iraq: January 21, 2004

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Some 5,000 Shia marched through Iraq calling for the execution of Saddam Hussein. When Iraqis get control of the government this July, the leadership will largely be Shia, and they will be under pressure to not just try and execute (not necessarily in that order) Saddam Hussein, but also to take revenge on the Sunni Arabs who have oppressed the Shia and Kurds for centuries. Saddam was only the most recent of many Sunni Arab leaders who terrorized and slaughtered Shias and Kurds. When the British threw the Turks out in 1918, the Shia and Kurd remember, and will never forgive, that the British let the Sunnis remain in charge. Now the Sunnis are out, and public opinion among the Shia (60 percent of Iraqis) and Kurds (20 percent) is that retribution against the Sunnis is in order. This is to begin with the execution of Saddam and his closest aids, followed by prosecution, or just persecution, of thousands of Sunni officials who are known by name to their Shia and Kurd victims. Then comes the issue of the hundreds of billions of dollars in oil wealth that was stolen and distributed to Sunni families. Attempts will be made to get this money back for Shias and Kurds. Jobs and economic opportunities for Sunnis are expected to be scarce. No one is terribly concerned about Sunni resistance, because there's no oil on Sunni territory and they are greatly outnumbered. But the Sunni have a history of the creative use of violence, as they are demonstrating now with their guerilla attacks against Iraqis and coalition troops.

Most Sunnis don't want to see Iraq turned into another Lebanon (which experienced a bitter civil war, between Islamic and Christian sects, from 1975-90). Neither do the Shia or Kurds. For that reason, most Iraqis complain about the "American occupation," but don't want the troops to leave just yet. But the United States has set a deadline; Iraqis take over on July 1st. This Summer, Iraqis will have to face their future and make choices. The Iraqi people have not done that in a long time and it's all rather scary. 

 

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