Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The (Sunnis=Saddam loyalists=terrorists) equation

Some of the remarks and emails from many misinformed readers on the Samarrai family's misfortune prompted me to write this. I'm not really surprised since many similar comments have been made over here by IRAQIS. Also some of you may recall my 'rant' a couple of months back about blowing up the Sunni triangle and bombing Tikrit and Al-Awjah which just goes to show that I was not immune myself from generalizations and misconceptions.

There were comments like "I'm sure Zaydun was running weapons to Al-Qaeda", "Samarra is a hotbed of insurgency so these two guys were most definitely Saddam loyalists", "Isn't Samarra a Sunni city??", "Oh, they're from the triangle". "They were most likely terrorists". It was obvious that a large proportion of my American readership believes that people from that area are largely Saddam loyalists or inherently evil. Such simplisicm has very dangerous consequences. The situation in the Sunni areas north and west of Baghdad is very complex and I have only now started to grasp some of it especially since Saddam's capture.

Some Iraqis and specifically GC members, ministers, and characters that have gained some authority and influence in post-Saddam Iraq allude, on many occasions, to the fact that Iraq was exclusively ruled by Sunnis during the last 80 years. They explain that the British occupation adminstration early in the last century punished the Shi'ite majority because of their leading role in the bloody 1920 revolt (thawrat al'ishrin) against the British presence in Iraq following WWI which was sparked by fatwas from the Shi'ite marji'iya and Hawza clerics (specifically by the Ayatollah Al-Shirazi who was the Sistani of that period). They supposedly punished the Shia back then by installing a Sunni government and a Sunni monarch (Faisal the Hashemite) instead of the Shi'ite candidate (Prince Khaz'al of Al-Muhammarah).

This explanation of history is inaccurate, as the Shi'ite majority had no leaders at that period other than their Hawza and religious leaders, most of whom were of Iranian origins (The same situation ironically applies to Shia today), while on the other hand Sunni Iraqis were better educated and privileged under the Sunni Ottoman empire. So the British adminstration had no other choice.

It is true though that Saddam Hussein favoured Sunni Iraqis over the Shi'ite and Kurdish populations when it came to government positions. That does not however neccessarily imply that Sunnis were immune of his tyranny, or that all Sunnis were better off under Saddam, or that they supported or still support Saddam and the Ba'ath.

Mohammed at Iraq the model describes at great length with both eye witnesses and documents how the small Sunni town of Al-Dijayl (50 km north of Baghdad) was literally wiped out during the early eighties when Saddam's convoy was attacked in that area. In 1992 about a 100 Sunni merchants were executed publicly in the Sunni Adhamiya neighbourhood of Baghdad (which is labelled today as an area loyal to Saddam). Several tribal sheikhs and military officers from Ramadi and Fallujah were executed in the late nineties after a failed assasination attempt against Saddam. High ranking officers in the army and Republican Guard, all of whom were Sunnis, were executed periodically during the last two decades when their loyalty to the regime was in doubt. Not to mention that during operation Iraqi Freedom the fiercest resistance against the invasion came from the south, while Sunni areas were handed over by their tribal leaders in peaceful agreements with coalition officers. Also you should know that if Republican Guard officers decided to defend Baghdad against the advancing American forces it wouldn't have fallen so easily on April 9.

Today Sunni Iraqis feel left out of the picture. Sunni tribal leaders say they are 'marginalized' in the new Iraq. By the way, this term 'marginalization' (tahmish in Arabic) has become a very common one in our political vocabulary lately, everyone says they are being marginalized, Sunnis are being marginalized, Christians are being marginalized, Turkomen are being marginalized, Yazidis are being marginalized, Mandeans are being marginalized, the Hawza is marginalized... And so it goes. Anyway, Sunni tribal leaders from the Anbar, Salah Al-Din, Diyalah, and Ninewah governorates argue that they have no representation in any governmental office. None in the GC, none in the GC appointed cabinet. One of these leaders said "Iraq is practically run today by Shi'ites and Kurds".
And when I come to think of it, that statement is partially true.

The CPA realizes this, and that explains their repeated meetings with influential tribal leaders in the Sunni triangle. If the CPA wins the loyalty and trust of those tribal leaders the insurgency would diminish and the reconstruction process would move huge steps forward since they would point out any insurgents, foreign terrorists, and regime officials that are hiding in their midst clinging to tribal customs of blood ties and protection. Some of that is already taking place. An Iraqi newspaper even purported some time ago that Sunni leaders made a subtle deal with the Americans to hand over Saddam in return for a greater role in the new Iraq and as a gesture of good will.

The current policy of 'divide and conquer' will never work in Iraq, and further alienation and isolation of Sunnis will backfire against the American presence and would eventually lead to civil war between Iraqis. A prominent blogger emailed me recently and said that the American adminstration intends to leave Iraq in the capable hands of the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani. 'Intends' is not the right word, I would say that in the absence of a strong Sunni alliance or leadership as a balance, the Americans would be coerced to do so. I'm confident that the US would not allow Iraq to turn into an Iranian-style theocracy. Sistani is doing his best to embarrass the CPA and place obstacles in its way. He insists that the constitution should be written by a committee directly elected by Iraqis. That man is a genius (he looks like a wizard anyway), he knows that elections at this time would be in his best interests. Mullahs would be elected to municipal and governorate councils and the coming interim government, and the trick would be done. 'After all that is democracy, isn't it?' I can almost hear him saying.

I'm not happy with the way Sistani is acting as Godfather to the Iraqi people. And from my visits to the south I'm pretty confident that if he issued a fatwa for Shi'ites to go drop themselves in the river, they would all line up to do so. The power he holds over them concerns me. They should understand that he isn't holy to 40% of Iraqis, and that they can't impose their marji'iya or beliefs on the rest of us. Sunni clerics have already formed their Hai'at Al-Ulemma in an attempt to balance against the influence of the Shi'ite Hawza and the marji'iya.

The SCIRI erected a large monument of the late Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim in our neighbourhood (which is largely Sunni), it was burnt the next day by enraged teenagers. The SCIRI repsonded by putting another one and assigning two militia men to guard it. The enraged teenagers reacted the following day by blowing it up from a distance with an RPG. Many people from my neighbourhood condoned the action, and said that the SCIRI was trying to provoke Sunnis.

When there were demonstrations in Adhamiyah by teenagers carrying Saddam's posters shouting "F*ck Sistani", and "Death to Al-Hakim and Al-Sadr", a group of armed Al-Sadr supporters tried to reach the area where the demos were held but were prevented by IP and Americans. The next day according to Adamiyah residents there were undercover SCIRI agents roaming the neighbourhood trying to identify the demonstrators. And of course the response was RPG attacks against SCIRI headquarters in Baghdad which are notably increasing, and Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim himself escaped several assasination attempts.

The Kurds are no exception, by demanding that Kirkuk, Mosul, and parts of Diyala to be added to the autonomous Kurdistan region. Peshmerga militia harassing Arabs and Turkomen in these areas, and calling for their forced deportation. The Sunnis fears are justified, especially with the issue of federalism that has been raised by some GC members.

I'm digressing. What I'm trying to say is that day by day, I'm realizing more and more that the insurgence in the Sunni triangle is an act of defiance against this new reality in Iraq and is only partly directed against the Americans. Saddam's capture shocked many Sunni Iraqis because some of them identified with him as being the only antidote against this rise of Shi'ite and Kurdish domination. And it's evident from the decrease in attacks against Americans and the increase in attacks against other Iraqis, that the insurgents are getting desperate. The key to avoid civil war in Iraq is to ensure that no sect, group, political party, or ethnicity is granted power over others.

I guess this entry turned out to be longer than I planned but the topic should still be discussed further, so I'll try to write another blog about it later.