Iraq: The Tipping Point


December 29, 2005: The Sunni Arab community is split over the results of the December 15th elections. Many Sunni Arabs could not accept the fact that they were a minority (about 20 percent) of the population, and that the elections demonstrated that. The UN has certified the election as fair. The Sunni Arab groups that do not accept the election are continuing to fight.

Many of the Sunni Arab gangs and tribal militias are refusing to accept the rule of the elected government. The four (of 18) provinces that are dominated by Sunni Arabs are thus still the scene of daily violence. The fighting gets pretty vicious as police and troops move into more Sunni Arab towns and neighborhoods. About half a dozen policemen or soldiers are being killed each day since the December 15 elections. That means about one percent of the Iraqi security force is getting killed each year. This is low for a war, but high for a police type operation. What is going on in Iraq is basically police work. The bad guys are heavily armed and murderous gangs, but they are getting taken down via detective work and large scale raids. Increasingly, the raiders are Iraqis, not Americans.

The Sunni Arabs have a major psychological advantage. Many of the Sunni Arab gunmen have years of experience as enforcers for Saddam. These guys know how to terrorize. The battle has now come down to Sunni Arab thugs trying to scare the police and troops out of Sunni Arab neighborhoods. The tools used are murder, kidnapping and threats of more if the security forces did not either depart, or do what the terrorists wanted.

U.S. troops are now very familiar with this drill, and tell the police and army commanders that they must either do their duty, or get out of the way. This sometimes creates friction with the Ministry of Defense (which runs the army) and the Interior Ministry (which runs the police.) Government officials are more willing to tolerate poor performance if the police or army commander is well connected. A Kurdish or Shia Arab commander from a powerful tribe must be protected from failure, a policy that drives American commanders nuts. There are also disputes when Americans back a competent Sunni Arab commander (often someone who worked for Saddam for many years), from a Sunni Arab tribe that has not yet made peace with the government.

The Iraqi acceptance of corruption, and low performance standards, continues to cause major culture shock for Americans. The corruption means that those Iraqis who are competent and efficient, can be shot down if someone else comes in with a big bribe. While not unknown in the United States, or anywhere else, the lack of fair dealing is much more common in Iraq, and a major impediment for the establishment of a functioning democracy in Iraq.

American commanders have learned to grit their teeth and work around the corruption and casual attitudes towards honesty and efficiency. These bad attitudes hurt the terrorists as well, causing high losses, and declining efficiency as more and more key leaders and technicians get eliminated (captured or killed). The Sunni Arab pronouncements of how well they are doing increasingly ring hollow even with their most fervent supporters. But in a pattern all too familiar in the Arab world, many of the Sunni Arabs are willing to fight to the death for their lost cause. The presence of American troops speeds up the process, much to the distress of neighboring Sunni Arab countries who would really like to see Sunni Arabs running Iraqi once more. But that is not likely to happen as long as the American troops remain. Actually, the tipping point may have already passed. Iran is willing and able to support the Shia Arab majority in Iraq, and the Kurds have become strong enough to keep Sunni Arabs out of the north. But the violence will continue as long as the Sunni Arabs have no oil income, and some of them entertain delusions of being the real majority in Iraq.




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