Iraq: It's Not One War, But Several


December26, 2006: There are several wars going on in Iraq. The most violent one is the war against Sunni Arabs. This community, which was about twenty percent of the population in 2003, is now fifteen percent, and dropping fast. Most of those Sunni Arabs that could afford to get out, already have. Those that remain are either too poor, or too stubborn, to leave. The stubborn ones are the Sunni nationalists who, for personal or altruistic reasons, do not want Iraq run by its majority population, the Shia Arabs. However, the Sunni Arabs are hated by the Kurds and Shia Arabs because, for centuries, the Sunni Arabs have dominated the country (even when the region was part of the Turkish Empire.) The last three decades, when Saddam Hussein led the Sunni Arabs, were particularly brutal. Thus atrocity was added to domination, and the result is a desire to expel all Sunni Arabs from the country. The Western media has played down this hatred, which is a big mistake. Talk to Iraqis (and there are plenty of English language blogs and message boards where Iraqis discuss this), and you will see it in action. While a large segment of the Sunni Arabs opposed Saddam, this faction was not able to restrain the militants. Many of the several hundred thousand secret police and intelligence operatives who kept the population terrorized for Saddam, have remained in Iraq and produced most of the terrorist violence. These guys know they can be prosecuted for war crimes, or simply hunted down by friends and family of those Kurds and Shia they killed. This payback began as soon as American and British troops invaded in 2003, and continues. Saddam's enforcers are fighting for their very lives, since the Shia dominated government refuses to offer the majority of them amnesty. There have been several amnesty deals discussed, but the numbers (of those getting amnesty) were never enough to stop the violence. So Saddam's stalwarts will fight on, despite being defeated at every turn. Increasingly, these Sunni Arab diehards are fighting Shia police, soldiers and militias. One unspoken reason for a "surge" (reinforcement) of American troops in is to prevent outright massacre of Sunni Arabs by armed Shia Arabs. While the Shia are content to terrorize Sunni Arabs into fleeing, the Sunni Arab nationalists and former Saddam employees resist this sort of thing, and eventually this will lead to some nasty incidents. Think Bosnia in the 1990s.

Another war is Irans attempts to dominate the country. Iran is doing this through Shia Arab factions it has influenced, or bought. While the majority of Shia Arabs oppose Iran pulling strings in Iran, there is a realization that Iran is a natural ally against Sunni Arab efforts to put Iraqi Sunni Arabs back in charge of Iraq. This, oddly enough, is where the United States come in. Iraqi Shia Arabs look to the U.S. as a guarantor of Shia Arab dominance in the country. The U.S. is expected to keep both Iran, and foreign Sunni Arab, influence from interfering in Iraq. That, in effect, is U.S. policy. But that does not stop Iran from trying to stir up pro-Iranian trouble inside Iraq. Saudi Arabia has recently come out and said, publicly, that it would come to the aid of Iraqi Sunni Arabs if the situation got much worse. Well, it is going to get much worse. But since the U.S. also protects Saudi Arabia from Iran, the Saudis are not going to send much more than guns and money to their fellow Sunnis in Iraq. And those Iraqi Sunnis already have lots of guns and money, so the Saudi pledge is more for morale purposes, than for material effect. Fighting the Iranian influence is tricky, because the pro-Iranian political parties control about a third of the seats in parliament, and are more united than any of the other factions. The Iranians are religious fanatics who believe they are on a roll. Recently, Iran has told the West to back off when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program. Iran has also asserted that Shia, not Sunni, should control the Moslem holy places at Mecca and Medina. This goes to the heart of the Saudi family rationale for controlling most of the Arabian peninsula. This brings us right back to the reason why the Saudis need the United States so much. The U.S. is also supporting the Iraqi factions that resist Iranian influence. These factions are the majority in parliament, but are not as well armed, organized or determined as the pro-Iran groups. Iran is willing to back a coup in Iraq, which is a nightmare scenario for the Sunni Arab nations of the region.

Islamic radicals, both Sunni and Shia, are also at war with infidels (non-Moslems) and less devout Moslems. About half Iraq's Christians have been driven from the country by Islamic radicals since 2003. That's fewer than 40,000 refugees, because Islamic radicals have been persecuting Christians in the region for over a thousand years. That's why, until recently, most Arab-Americans were Christians, whose ancestors fled religious persecution and went to America. But most of the victims of the Islamic radicalism has been other Moslems, which has led to a flood of Arab Moslem migrants to the U.S. over the last few decades. Anyone who does not support these religious zealots is considered a heretic and worse than an infidel. The Islamic radical groups, which include al Qaeda, want to establish an Sunni Islamic republic in Iraq. Iran, which is run by a Shia religious dictatorship, wants to turn Iran into a Shia Islamic republic. Most Iraqis want neither flavor of Islamic "republic", but the religious radicals are well armed and ruthless. These zealots carry out most of the suicide bomb attacks, and assaults on religious targets. The Sunni Arab Islamic radicals formed an alliance with the Sunni Arab nationalists two years ago. But in the last year that relationship has become frayed because of the number of Sunni Arabs killed by the attacks, and the growing number of revenge attacks by Shia Arab death squads.

Warlordism is alive and well in Iraq, as it is throughout the Arab world. But in most countries, the tribal and religious factions have been disarmed, and kept in check via favors or fear (or both.) That's what Saddam did, and with Saddam gone, all the factions got their guns and went into business for themselves. Some of these private armies are there mainly to protect a criminal enterprise. Most of the criminal gangs have political wings, since the gangsters want to make money, not war, and are willing to pay off the government. But the criminals will fight to keep their loot. Some of the gangs provide support services for terrorists (making bombs, transporting weapons and people, whatever). The most notable warlords are those that lead political militias, but even these groups have "business" units that engage in extortion (or "taxes") and theft (often of oil). Fighting the gangs is a war that can wait, but it will eventually have to be fought.

If the U.S. began pulling out its troops now (it would take about a year, because of logistical and operational considerations, to get everyone out), the Iraqi factions would decide, by force and negotiation, who would rule the country. A democracy is possible, because the Sunni Arabs are too weak to make a come back, and there are too many Shia factions (and the U.S. would continue to back the anti-Iran ones) for one to form a new police state dictatorship. With the U.S. remaining for a while, the expulsion of the Sunni Arabs would proceed in a kinder and gentler way. The pro-Iranian factions would have a harder time with American troops around (which is why these guys demand that the U.S. get out ASAP.) There might even be a working democracy in Iraq.

Happy New Year.


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