Iraq: December 1, 2004


American combat deaths in November reached the same level, 135, as last April. The fighting in Fallujah caused 53 of these fatalities, but a surge of Sunni Arab and al Qaeda violence throughout central Iraq produced the rest. What is often forgotten, when these casualties are mentioned, is that the enemy losses are much higher, by a factor of twenty or more. What effect does the death of over 3,000 Sunni Arab and al Qaeda gunmen in November have? And then there's nearly a thousand dead Iraqi civilians, the vast majority killed by Sunni Arab and al Qaeda attacks. On the streets throughout Iraq, the killing of civilians has made al Qaeda and the Sunni Arab "insurgents" increasingly unpopular. The majority of Iraqis have disliked these guys from the beginning, because the gunmen are basically trying to bring back the Sunni Arab dictatorship that meant only death and poverty for the majority of Iraqis. The Sunni Arabs are suffering most of the deaths, and are not united in supporting this one sided battle. 

For most of this year, the Iraqi government thought they could convince enough Sunni Arab leaders to give democracy a try, and shut down the gunmen. After all, the Kurdish and Shia Arab militia leaders, who control far more armed men than the Sunni Arabs, have kept their armed men quiet. The Shia Arab militias of Muqtada al Sadr resisted, but were quickly put down with a combination of Iraqi negotiations and American firepower. But it turned out that the Sunni Arab leadership could not control their gunmen. A faction of the Sunni Arab community believes the fairy tales they see on al Jazeera about the "Iraqi uprising" and believe they are the vanguard of a larger rebellion. However, more and more of these men are realizing that they are hated even by the majority of Sunni Arabs, and are supported mostly by Sunni Arabs outside of Iraq. The foreigners that comprise most of the al Qaeda forces in Iraq have been particularly brutal against Iraqi civilians, police and soldiers. 

The Iraqis are fighting back. While the Iraqi police and soldiers will often desert, so do many of the Sunni Arab and al Qaeda gunmen. No one issues press releases about that, but it's common knowledge on the street. Iraqis keep joining the police and army, and more and more of them do fight back. Historically, when it's Iraqi versus Iraqi, it's a test of wills, as well as tactics and body count. Saddam's Sunni Arab Republican Guard and tribal gunmen defeated the Shia Arabs in the 1991 rebellion fought after the Kuwait war. That war, which has been largely ignored in the West, went on for over a year. The only outside support for the Shia Arabs came from Iran, and it wasn't a whole lot. The current Sunni Arab rebellion receives even less outside support. Syria and Iran allow individual volunteers to cross into Iraq, along with some weapons and cash. The Sunni Arabs have been at it for over a year, and November and April were months in which they cranked up the violence. In both cases the Sunni Arabs took a beating, killing far more Iraqi civilians than American soldiers. The Sunni Arabs tend to declare victory because they are still able to issue a press release and set off another car bomb. But more Sunni Arab neighborhoods are being patrolled by Iraqi police and American troops. Every Iraqi household is, by law, allowed at least one AK-47. With over half a million Sunni Arab households, there are plenty of potential gunmen to oppose the government. But not all the Sunni Arabs want to fight, or even believe in the fight. How long will the gunmen keep fighting? Some will never stop. Unlike the dictatorships or monarchies that govern most Arabs, an Iraqi democracy will allow Sunni Arabs to keep on arguing for their version of Iraq's future. The government is sticking with the late January national elections. This means it is forcing the armed Sunni Arabs to come out and fight to try and stop the vote in Sunni Arab areas. Otherwise, the gunmen will be seen as impotent and irrelevant. But if the gunmen come out and fight, they will die in large numbers. After the battle of Fallujah, not to mention the fighting in Najaf and other cities, every Iraqi understands that. The government is maneuvering for a crucial, if not absolutely final, battle with the Sunni Arabs during, and before, the January elections. 


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