Iraq: Fear and Loathing

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May 21, 2006: The new Iraqi government, finally assembled six months after the elections for the new parliament, finally gets to work. The long negotiations were a reminder, to both Iraqis and foreigners, that democracy isn't easy, and Iraqis don't come naturally to the give and take required to make it work. Americans in Iraq, especially those who go outside the wire to fight or aid in reconstruction, get a bit of culture shock once they see how Iraq functions in its natural state. Unlike the United States, trust is in short supply. This makes cooperation difficult, and violence a convenient alternative. Much more than the U.S., this is a gun culture, and always has been. While there is also a tradition of palaver and negotiation, it is backed by the potential for violence. Many Iraqis, raised on regular exposure to American movies and TV shows, think that the United States is the same. There is some disappointment, and not just about the violence, when Iraqis learn the truth.

The truth is that Iraqi is a beat up society that has not yet decided where it will go, and who will lead the move. That's why it took so long to form the new government. The new Iraq requires a lot of Iraqis to get familiar with new realities, and try to adjust to them. The main new realities are this;

@ The Shia Arabs, who are about 80 percent of the population, are in charge for the first time in five hundred years. That takes some getting used to. But the Shia Arab community is split into many factions (mainly tribal), which generally line up as either pro-theocracy (religious dictatorship like in Iran) or pro-democracy. Nearly all Shia Arabs agree that it is most important that they remain sufficiently united to keep the Sunni Arabs from taking control once more.

@ Sunni Arabs, the main supporters of Saddam Hussein (and many more Sunni Arab tyrants before him) may be out of power, but thousands of them, mainly men who used to work for Saddam, want back in. Not a government job, but the government. Control. To these men, the Shia Arabs are a bad joke, and will sell out the country to the hated (by all Arabs) Iranians. Many Sunni Arabs are Islamic conservatives, and no fan of Saddam, but they agree with the concept of Sunni Arab supremacy, mainly because they consider the Shia form of Islam to be heretical. And heretics must recant, or die. Sunni Arabs are only 15-20 percent of the population. They used to be closer to 20 percent, but increasing numbers of Sunni Arabs have been fleeing the violence, and Iraq. Most missed are the middle and upper class Sunni Arabs who form the backbone of the Sunni Arab community, and the Iraqi economy and business community. Harassed by gangsters and terrorists, these Iraqis are giving up on the new Iraq, at least for now, and heading to nearby Arab nations or, for the most disenchanted, the West. To many Kurds and Sunni Arabs, all Sunni Arabs should be expelled from Iraq. For these bitter victims of Saddams decades of abuse, Sunni Arabs have been the cause of most of Iraqis problems, and don't seem to have changed their attitudes much since 2003. But many Sunni Arabs have changed their attitudes, and are trying to work out deals that will give them a place in a democratic Iraq. But first, the Sunni Arab community has to purge itself of its thugs and gangsters. This isn't easy.

@ The Kurds are not Arabs, and don't really want much to do with Arabs, be they Shia or Sunni. For the Kurds, the Arabs have been nothing but trouble. While the Turks (who ran things for some five centuries) were bad, the Arabs (who took control of Kurdish northern Iraq in the 1920s) have been worse. The Kurds won't say it unofficially (they will unofficially), but all they want is the northern oil fields (or just the right to control new wells), and as little to do with Iraqi Arabs as possible. The Kurds share one thing with the Turks, a loathing of the Arabs. The Turks, who tend to be very disciplined and businesslike, considered the Arabs more prone to factionalism and vendetta. An old Turkish adage warned about getting involved in the affairs of Arabs. This is one bit of Turkish culture that the Kurds agree with. Meanwhile, however, they have to pretend they believe in a united Iraq.

@ The Americans won't go as long as there are Islamic terrorists in residence. The Americans would like Iraqis to settle all their differences, and live in peace and prosperity, but mainly the Americans want Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East, to stop plotting violence against the United States. The Americans are, the Iraqis fear, prepared to stay as long as it takes. Moreover, the Americans know a lot more about what goes on in Iraq than they let on. American intelligence has collected, and continues to collect, a lot of information on what Iraqis are up to. American advisor teams are present in every Iraqi battalion, and these men report a lot about the Iraqi troops they are advising. All this information is analyzed to provide a remarkably accurate picture of the state of Iraqi politics, and society. It's largely kept secret, lest the process be corrupted by politics and media manipulation. What the U.S. intel picture shows is that the Iraqis are making progress, but it's slow going. There are so many traditionalists, or vested interests, that resist change, and resent the American presence.

May 20, 2006: The UAE has recalled their chief diplomat in Iraq, as demanded by kidnappers of another UAE diplomat, who was then released. Ransom may have been paid as well. While all this was something of a propaganda victory, it did not shut down the UAE relief and reconstruction efforts, which are doing the most damage to the Sunni Arab terrorist groups, who are trying to prevent government control and economic growth in Sunni Arab areas. Peace and prosperity will encourage Sunni Arabs to tell the police who the terrorists are and where they are hiding. But getting in the way are thousands of thugs who, in groups of a dozen or so, can terrorize a neighborhood or small town into supporting them, and not saying anything to the police. This is is especially effective if some, or all, of the terrorists are local lads, trying to make a living on the dark side.

May 18, 2006: A diplomat from the UAE was kidnapped, apparently by a Sunni Arab faction using this act to try and discourage Arab nations from establishing diplomatic relations with Iraq. The UAE is particularly unwelcome to Sunni Arab terrorists, who fear the large amount of relief and reconstruction work done by the UAE in Sunni Arab neighborhoods.

 

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