Iraq: September 16, 2004


Acts of terrorism against Iraqis, especially Sunni Arabs, is on the increase. Yesterday, the headless bodies of three Iraqi men were found outside Baghdad. Beheading enemies is an old Iraqi terror tactic. Over a dozen suicide bombings in the last week have been directed against Sunni Arabs in central Iraq. The anti-government forces, which are nearly all Sunni Arab, can most easily travel in Sunni Arab areas. Trying to move through Kurdish or Shia territory is very difficult. The Kurds, in particular, have a heavily armed and alert militia. The most successful Iraqi police and security forces have been organized among the Shia Arabs. While the religious militias, particularly the al Sadr group, have presented some problems, none are into terrorism and murder on the scale of the Sunni Arab groups. The Iraqi Sunnis are trying to scare the majority of Sunni Arabs into supporting an effort to regain control of Iraq. Disrupting Iraq's economy will make it clear that without Sunni Arabs in charge, there will be no prosperity.

The current government is living in the shadow of centuries of Sunni Arab domination. Although the Sunni Arabs are less than twenty percent of the population, their reputation for ruthlessness and brutality are burned into the memories of all Iraqis. Saddam Hussein was simply the last in the long line of Sunni Arab tyrants. Even centuries of Turkish domination of the region did not keep the Sunni Arabs from power. The Turks respected the adroit use of  terror, brutality and brains by the Sunni Arabs. The Turks never could figure out exactly what was going on in the Arab mind, and preferred to let the locals rule themselves. Keep things quiet and pay your taxes, and the Turkish army won't pay you a destructive visit.

Although the great medieval Moslem military leader Saladin was a Kurd, the Kurds have been uneasy neighbors with the Sunni Arabs for over  a thousand years. The Kurds have never been dominant, although for the last decade, they have been independent of the Sunni Arabs. And they want to keep it that way. But that will require cooperation with Shia Arabs, a group that has been terrorized and dominated by Sunni Arabs, even though the Shia are the majority of the population in Iraq. But few Shia Iraqis are interested in Islamic radicalism or al Qaeda. That's a Sunni Arab disease and firebrands like Muqtada al Sadr have been rejected. Al Sadr is publicly compared to Saddam Hussein, because of al Sadr's use of terror and brute force to control people.

On paper, the government should be able to easily crush the Sunni Arab resistance. After all, a majority of the Sunni Arabs want no more tyranny, but Sunnis or anyone else. But old habits, and fears, die hard. Each car bomb, each kidnapping, each bombastic press release, reminds all Iraqis that their ancient oppressors are still around, and still inflicting pain. The Sunni Arabs are accustomed to ruling Iraq, and inflicting pain is their oldest, and most effective tool for getting their way. The government knows that Iraqis have to fight, and defeat, the Sunni Arab terrorists, because only Iraqis can easily identify them. The Iraqi majority has to confront their past, and defeat it. Only then will the past be dead, and not a nightmare that returns again and again. 


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