Iraq: The King Speaks

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March 29, 2007: At the recent meeting of the Arab League, the king of Saudi Arabia got up and said out loud, what most Arabs and outsiders have known for a long time, "we have met the enemy, and they are us." Well, not exactly in those words, but close. The king bemoaned the lack of unity and cooperation in the Arab world. He could have also gotten into the corruption and lack of honesty (in journalism, or simply reporting accurately what you or your organization are doing.) But because of the corruption and lack of honesty, there was little mention of these issues. There was a bemoaning of the "Arab brain drain," Educated Arabs have been voting with their feet and fleeing the region. This is most apparent in Iraq, where the Sunni Arab minority, long a favored (and well educated) class under Sunni Arab dictators and kings, are now terrorized by the non-Sunni Arab majority. But in most Arab countries, the educated flee from unemployment and unfairness. While Arabs like to take to the streets to denounce the United States, they are even more eager to make a home, and get a job, in America. Arab governments aren't much different. All of them consider the U.S. invasion of Iraq illegal, but they don't want the Americans to leave. That's because someone has to defend Saddam's forlorn followers. The Sunni Arabs were hated before 2003, but now the hate has grown to catastrophic levels because of the Sunni Arab terrorism of the last four years. This use of violence was Saddam's "Plan B", in case he was overthrown by a foreign invasion. It also coincided with al Qaedas attitudes towards non-Moslems, and non-Sunni Moslems. Kill them all. In a rare example of Arab unity, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs and al Qaeda joined together in an enterprise that is destroying the Iraqi Sunni Arabs, and the high regard al Qaeda had enjoyed in the Arab world because of the 911 attacks.

While this terror campaign has united Iraq against the rapidly shrinking Sunni Arab minority, it has done little to clean up the corruption. And the corruption is crippling the country, as it always has. Even Saddam had to deal with it, and his losing efforts in that area were one reason for his downfall. Now a new Iraqi government, a democratically elected one, tries to cope with domestic terrorism and foreign interference, while distracted by officials more intent on stealing than dealing with their responsibilities. Examples abound. You cannot trust the government with secrets, because secrets fetch high prices. Iraqis find the incorruptibility of the Americans amusing, but foolish. Someone offers you a lot of money for a few documents, or a whispered location of a police raid, or informers name, then you are a fool not to accept. Police and army commanders find it difficult to understand why the ancient custom of "phantom soldiers" is now illegal. Stealing the pay for subordinates who don't exist had been a management perk in this part of the world for thousands of years. But the troops and cops that do exist are better trained and equipped than they were under Saddam, and more effective. When more security forces were brought to Baghdad last month, the result was immediate. The death rate from terrorist and criminal violence dropped more than fifty percent. The death rate stayed down. While hundreds of terrorists, and their supporters, were arrested, many simply fled the city.

Some of the terrorists moved to cities like Tal Afar, on the Syrian border. This place is mainly a Turkoman (Turkish) town. but there are large Sunni and Shia Arab minorities. Several times in the past four years, al Qaeda has come to town, to terrorize the Turkomen (who are Sunni) and murder the Shia. Iraqi security forces have kept the terrorists out of late. Recently, al Qaeda came back, and set off two bombs in Shia neighborhoods, causing over 200 casualties (including 80 dead). Families of the dead got organized and went to Sunni neighborhoods to get revenge. Most of the cops are Shia, and some of those had suffered losses in the recent bombings. Before army units could stop the carnage, over fifty Sunni Arabs were dead, nearly as many wounded, and several dozen kidnapped (to coerce the Sunni Arabs into rooting out the terrorists in their midst.) The usual Sunni Arab response is to flee, either to another, more Sunni, part of the country, or to foreign exile.

A major reason for the crackdown in Baghdad was to halt the retaliation attacks against the Sunni Arabs. This violence was driving far more Sunnis out of the country, than it was killing. Whole neighborhoods have been depopulated. Shia Arabs are slowly moving in, taking over abandoned homes, but fearful that the long-feared Sunni might return. Most Sunni Arabs know that they won't be returning any time soon. The hate is too recent and too strong. Saddam ran a very successful police state, which means he ran up a pretty hefty body count. Those bodies had kinfolk who now burn for revenge.

The corruption also extends to foreign affairs. Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a bidding contest for the loyalty of Iraq. While run by a Shia majority, Iraqi Shia are all Arab, and share the Arab distrust of Iran. The Sunni Arab nations have shown more willingness to keep terrorists out of Iraq. The Shia majority government in Iraq feels threatened by the Iranian backed terrorist groups. While these terrorists maintain some popularity by killing Sunni Arabs, the government has them vastly outnumbered by soldiers and police. While Iranian money can buy some cops and soldiers, it can't buy enough of them to overthrow the government, or save the pro-Iran Shia militias. Iraq appears ready to become more of an Arab, than Shia, country.

 

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