Iraq: Watch the Trends, Not the Headlines


April 2, 2006: What you see in the Iraq news, is not what you get. The news business demands startling headlines, to attract eyeballs. It's business, as the eyeballs are rented to advertisers to pay for it all. But the reality of the news is less startling, and consists of trends. These are the current trends in Iraq.

After three years, the Sunni Arabs, who long dominated Iraq, most recently under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, are giving up. It took so long because of a quirk in Arab culture, one that encourages the support of lost causes. The term "cut your losses and move on" is not as popular in the Arab world as it is in the West. But even the slow learners in the Sunni Arab community had to finally confront some unfavorable trends. Chief among these was;

The Kurds and Shia Arabs have formed a national police force and army that is far more powerful than anything the Sunni Arab community can muster. Over the last year, Sunni Arabs realized that the police and army were in control of more and more Sunni Arab towns. This was a trend that could not be ignored. Added to that was the number of Kurds and Shia Arabs who had lost kin to Sunni Arab terror over the last three decades. Many of these people want revenge, and they all have guns. Many, especially those that belong to the police, or militias, are taking their revenge. The Sunni Arabs want protection, for they cannot muster enough guns to defend themselves. Now the Sunni Arabs want the Americans to stay, at least until there's some assurance that the Kurd and Shia Arab vengeance attacks have died down.

The alliance with al Qaeda was a disaster. These Islamic terrorists were obsessed with causing a civil war in Iraq, and they insisted on doing this by killing lots of Shia Arabs. The Sunni Arabs didn't want to kill lots of Shia Arabs, they wanted to rule them all once more. But that raised another contentious issue. While some Sunni Arabs were in favor of an Islam Republic, which al Qaeda insisted on, most Sunni Arabs wanted a more secular Sunni Arab dominated government. This dispute was never resolved, as the split between al Qaeda and the Sunni Arab community widened. At the moment, al Qaeda is not welcome in most Sunni Arab areas. That's "come near this place and we'll kill you" not welcome. This after al Qaeda tried to terrorize the Sunni Arab tribal leaders into compliance. Killing Sunni Arab tribal chiefs didn't work.

You can't kill enough Americans to scare them into leaving. Saddam, and most Iraqis, were convinced that, because of Vietnam (where 55,000 American died) and Somalia (where 18 died in 1993), the United States would withdraw if you killed enough of them. While that is sometimes true, it's good to remember that over a million Vietnamese died during the 1960s, and that 1993 battle in Mogadishu left over 500 Somalis dead as well. Moreover, this, "the Americans have no stomach for a fight" is nothing new. It's why Japan attacked in 1941, believing that if they beat up the Americans bad enough, the faint hearted Yankees would just go away. Hitler also believed the Americans would not fight. After three years, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs have discovered that the Americans can certainly fight, and the Yankees have also found ways to do it that involve extraordinarily low American casualties. This story has not really gotten the attention it deserves, but the Sunni Arabs have noticed. They have noticed that if you attack the Americans, chances are you will die, and the Americans will just keep on keeping on. It used to be that the Sunni Arabs could take heart from the occasional attack where they killed a few Americans. But no longer. Everyone knows the trend, and doesn't want to be another victim of it. Last month 32 Americans were killed in combat. The last time it was that low was in February 2004. Back then, the Sunni Arab tribes and al Qaeda had joined forces. Both of them had plenty of weapons, money and volunteers. Two years of bad trends have changed everything. The trend was that the Americans were much better at killing Sunni Arabs than Sunni Arabs were at killing Americans.

The economy continues to improve, except for those Sunni Arab areas where terrorists and gangsters are still out of control. Here's where it's all about money. Before Saddam fell, the Sunni Arabs had most of it. Since then, they have much, much less. The Sunni Arabs have been obsessed with getting their "fair share" of the oil money. When Saddam was in charge, the Sunni Arabs (who are 20 percent of the population), got over 80 percent of the oil money. Now they see themselves lucky to get 20 percent. Worse, all the oil is in areas dominated by Kurds and Shia Arabs. In response to this, the Sunni Arabs have continually attacked the pipelines that cross Sunni Arab territory. When paid to help guard the pipelines, some of the Sunni Arab chiefs just stole the money, and let the pipelines get attacked. The Sunni Arab attitude is one of, "if we can't have it, no one can." But now the Sunni Arabs have noted that much of the country is getting wealthier even without the oil. The Sunni Arabs have been living off oil for so long that they forgot there are other ways to make a living. The economic trends have been noted by the Sunni Arabs, and there is more willingness to do what needs to be done to bring some prosperity to the Sunni Arab areas.

Finally, there's the most important trend of all. How successful have Iraqis been in creating a civil society. This doesn't get much media play either, yet it is the ultimate goal in Iraq. A civil society is one that can run its own affairs without the constant threat of civil war or dictatorship. We take civil society for granted in the West, but in the rest of the world, it is more notable by its absence. American and British diplomats have been hammering away at the Iraqis for three years about how important honest government it. Many Iraqis agree. Yet the corruption continues, and three months after national elections, the various parties cannot agree on who will get what, and there is no government. That's because the lack of a civil society has the various ethnic, religious and tribal factions warily haggling over who gets what. There is not much trust, and the stealing goes on. Iraq's fate will ultimately be decided by how many honest politicians it has, not how many cops are on the street or what Iraq's neighbors think or do.


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