Iraqi politics is still dominated
by intense hatred of the Sunni Arab minority. For centuries, the Sunni Arabs
dominated the region, especially the Shia Arab majority of southern Iraq. Between
1638 and 1918, central and southern Iraq were provinces of the Ottoman Turk
empire. Northern Iraq, and its largely Kurdish population, was part of the Turkish homeland. The Turks
let the Sunni Arabs run what is now central and southern Iraq.
The Shia and
Sunni Arabs were somewhat united after World War I, and Turk rule, ended in
1918. British rule lasted a decade before the three provinces were packaged
into the new nation of Iraq. The British left behind a constitutional monarchy,
but the better educated Sunni Arabs soon controlled the military and civil
service. By the 1950s, the Sunni Arab army staged a coup and established a
Sunni Arab dictatorship. The Kurds and Shia Arabs (80 percent of the
population), resisted. And so began decades of civil strife. What really
intensified the hatred was another coup in the 1960s, when the Baath Socialist
Party took over from the army. Baath was nastier towards the Kurds and Shia. It
got worse, when Saddam Hussein staged a coup and took over Baath in 1979. He promptly
invaded Iran (which had recently been taken over by its Shia clergy and was
stirring up the Iraqi Shia). This led to a decade of war that killed over half
a million soldiers and burned up hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil
bugged by Kuwait for repayment of war loans, Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. That
resulted in UN sanctions unless Saddam gave up his chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons programs. He refused to admit these programs had been dismantled
in the early 1990s. He wanted Iran to believe Iraq still had chemical weapons,
in order to dissuade Iran from resuming the war with a much weakened (by the
1991 defeat) Iraq. Saddam was particularly fearful of the Iranians because he
had been increasingly savage in dealing with rebellions Iraqi Shias. Hundreds
of thousands had been murdered, often tortured to death. Many more were beaten,
jailed or terrorized. Many Iraqi Shia were fleeing to Iran and pleading for
help to overthrow Saddam. But the Iranians believed Saddam still had his
chemical weapons, and did not want their army to face nerve and mustard gas
again. At least not as long as memories of the 1980s war were still fresh.
When the U.S.
invaded in 2003, the Shia were soon in power, and eager for revenge. The subsequent
Sunni terror campaign tried to scare the Shia off, but that didn't work. The U.S.
Surge Offensive of 2007 finally crushed the Sunni Arab terrorists (especially
al Qaeda, the major foreign participant) by getting most Sunni Arab leaders to
switch sides. But now the Shia led government believes they can punish the
Sunni Arab leaders, at least those with the most blood on their hands. Amnesty
for Sunni Arabs has long (or at least since 2003) been a major factor in Iraqi
politics. Not all Sunnis were guilty, but many were, and millions of Iraqi Shia
who had suffered from Sunni terror (especially Saddams savage actions of the
1990s) wanted revenge. They wanted Sunni blood, and they had lists of names. The Sunni killers were often known, and
the fact that many of them were leaders in the Sunni Arab community meant
nothing to the angry Shia. U.S. efforts to get the Shia to forgive and forget,
for the sake of everyone's future, have failed. In this part of the world,
revenge often trumps everything else, even common sense.
government is still willing to offer amnesty, but wants far more guilty Sunni
Arabs punished than the Sunni Arab community is willing to tolerate. The
question is, will the Sunni Arabs resume their war against the government. Over
the last five years, that war has caused about half the Sunni Arabs to flee
their homes, and often the country as well. The Sunni Arabs are also aware that
many, if not most, Shia and Kurds would like to see all Sunni Arabs expelled
from Iraq. This radical notion is political dynamite, and the government won't
go near it. Even the freewheeling Iraqi media
stays away from this. But on the streets, you hear it all the time. The Iraqi
Sunni Arabs know that, if they resume large scale violence, it could be the end
of Sunni Arabs in Iraq for a generation or more.
2008: For the first time since 2003, a
large crowd (100,000) assembled in Baghdad for a football (soccer) match.
2008: One of the 30 elite ERUs
(Emergency Response Units) raided the provincial headquarters of Diyala
province, got into a gun battle with guards and local police, and arrested the
head of the provincial security committee, and the head of a local university.
Both are accused of supporting Sunni Arab terrorism. This raid caused an
uproar, with Iraq's president denying he had ordered the action. Several members
of the ERU involved were arrested.
Emergency Response Units were formed in Sunni Arab areas and have, in the past two years (especially since
the surge offensive began) come under government control. The men for ERUs are
recruited locally, and are often commanded by tribal leaders. This does not go
down well with many members of the government. The ERUs are armed by the
government, and supplied with other equipment. Many Shia Arabs believe this
stuff will end up in the hands of Sunni Arab terrorists, who will use it to
kill Shia Arabs. So far, the ERUs have been going after al Qaeda and Sunni Arab
terrorists, but that might change. There are over 10,000 men in nearly 40 ERUs
(details of these units are classified). American commanders consider the ERUs
essential for keeping the peace, and keeping the Sunni Arab terrorists down, in
Sunni Arab areas (particularly the Baghdad suburbs, and western Iraq.) The ERU
cops get two to six weeks training, and the constant attention of American
military and police advisors. There were no American advisors with the ERU that
conducted the Diyala raid. The ERU in question was apparently a Shia one, and
engaged in a political struggle between the Shia minority in Diyala, and the
Sunni majority (which is now in charge via the "Awakening Council"
and "Sons of Iraq" militias that turned on al Qaeda and Sunni
2008: It's pilgrimage time, with
hundreds of thousands of Shia faithful coming to shrines in southern Iraq. This
year, 40,000 soldiers and police have been assigned to security. There are
still several Sunni terrorist cells operating, and they see the pilgrims as
major targets (because Sunni fanatics see Shia as heretics.) This year, there
is much less danger of Shia factions fighting each other during the religious
events, because the government has shut down many of the factions recently. The
remaining factions are on their best behavior to avoid another crackdown.
2008: The U.S. went public with an
intelligence report (collected from numerous sources, including prisoners,
captured documents and electronic eavesdropping) about Iran training Iraqi Shia
death squads. Apparently, these killers will be sent back to Iraq, with
specific targets (politicians who oppose Iranian influence on the Iraqi
government). The U.S. revealed these findings in an attempt to get the Iranians
to back off from this plan.