Iraq: December 19, 2004


The brutal Sunni Arab opposition to the new government in Iraq is sometimes blamed on the presence of foreign troops in the country. Yet no Arab country is currently ruled without the application, or threat, or great brutality. There are no Arab democracies. All are police states of one type or another, living in fear of a violent uprising. All depend on terror to keep their populations under control. Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party maintained control by murdering thousands of Iraqis a year, and threatening that, and worse, to anyone thinking of resisting. The  government countermeasures included kidnapping, torture, mutilation and group punishment. That last measure was one of the most effective. If someone was known, or thought,  to be against the government, their family could be arrested, tortured or murdered. 

The populations provided themselves some measure of protection from this kind of tyranny by organizing into tribe or religious based organizations. Thus if the government used its power too arbitrarily, the tribe or religious group would resist (usually in passive ways) to escalate the dispute, and make the government consider if this atrocity was worth it. But this sort of arrangement also recognized the government's right to rule. Anyone who actively opposed Saddam could be summarily killed, or worse, and the tribe or mosque would not stir itself to help. When the tribe or mosque did rise up, the retribution was on a massive scale.

The Sunni Arabs of Iraq generally agree that it is a bad thing for the Sunni Arabs to no longer be ruling Iraq. Thus while community pressure among Kurds and Shia Arabs have brought peace in that 80 percent of the population, the Sunni Arab population backs the violence by some of their number. This is easier to do than it was in the time of Saddam. If the Baath Party were dealing with this kind of rebellion, thousands of community leaders would be arrested and held as hostages to the good behavior of their followers. If some of their followers continued to fight, those leaders would be killed, and the next in line would be given a chance to pacify his erstwhile followers. Fallujah would have been made an example of, with the entire city burned and bombed to the ground, and thousands of men, women and children killed in the process. Syria did this 1982, when Islamic radicals opposed the rule of the Baath Party. The city of Hama was reduced to rubble, and over 20,000 people were killed. Since then, the memory of Hama has been sufficient to suppress opposition to the dictatorial rule of the Assad family and the Baath Party. 

Because of this bloody history of brutal ruling techniques, many, inside and outside the Arab world, insist that Arabs cannot be ruled as a democracy. The Kurds and Shia Arabs of Iraq disagree with this. But Iraq will be the first real Arab democracy in the region, and the continued brutal Sunni Arab resistance to this puts the new democracy to a harsh test. Every democracy is different, and it is feared that the new Iraqi government, to be democratically elected at the end of January, 2005, will decide to apply some traditional solutions to the Sunni Arab problem.

More likely, there will be more force applied by the new government, at least more than American troops are applying, plus negotiating with the tribal and religious leaders for deals to work out how much oil money, and how many government jobs, the Sunni Arabs will get. Al Qaeda is not interested in this kind of deal, but al Qaeda is widely hated by all Iraqis. It is only tolerated by Sunni Arabs now because al Qaeda suicide bomb attacks are seen as effective weapons. Once the majority of Sunni Arab groups have made their deals, al Qaeda will have no place to hide. If the Sunni Arabs do not settle down, it will get ugly. Americans forget that, at the end of the American Revolution, a third of the population still supported the king. At the end of the revolution, over five percent of the American population, those loyalists who would not tolerate this new democracy,  was killed or driven into exile.

Another risk in Iraq is that, if democracy does not work, another dictator will arise. A similar situation arose after the American Revolution, when George Washington was proposed as king of the United States (which were not nearly as united as they are now.) Washington refused and backed giving democracy a try. Not all new democracies stay democracies. But if people don't try, they'll never know how far they can take it. To most Iraqis, anything's better than Saddam Hussein and his brutal thugs.


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