January 4, 2006: Traditions and customs are hard to change. This is a problem in Iraq, where the newly recruited and trained police force often finds itself operating the same way Iraqi security forces have always done. That means lots of terrorism and torture. For generations, it was Sunni Arab police coming in the middle of the night and taking people away. These victims were either never seen again, or their bodies were found, shortly thereafter, to serve as a warning to friends and relatives. Massacring and terrorizing your enemies is an old tradition, but not one that goes well with democracy.
While most Iraqis want democracy (or any form of government that will perform better than the last one), many Iraqis also want revenge. Saddam and his cronies killed, maimed, imprisoned or impoverished millions of Iraqis. Many victims and survivors want revenge. Tribal and religious leaders are having a hard time getting their followers to back off from attempts at payback. Islamic terrorists like Abu Musab al Zarqawi, are hoping these revenge attacks, encouraged by al Qaedas continued attacks on Shia Arabs, will trigger a civil war. What al Zarqawi refuses to believe is that the civil war has been going on since 2003, and that more and more Sunni Arabs have decided that their side has lost. Moreover, many of these Sunni Arab leaders have also decided that al Zarqawi and his al Qaeda butchers are the enemy.
Many Kurds and Shia Arab Iraqis would still prefer that all the Sunni Arabs simply be expelled from Iraq. Kill those who refuse. Good riddance to those evil people who have tortured and tormented us for so long. While this is an extreme attitude, it is by no means a fringe one. Al Qaeda's many spectacular bombing attacks against Shia Arab civilians has simply reinforced the belief that Sunni Arabs are determined to go on attacking Shia Moslems, or Kurds (who are Sunni, but not Arab). Sunni Arab conservatives make no secret of their belief that Shia Moslems must change (to the Sunni way of thinking and praying), or be killed. Saddam wanted to either kill the Kurds, or drive them out of Iraq.
Many, but not all, Iraqi leaders realize that the old ways will not work. But decisive action is not a popular approach in Iraq. You try and come at problems sideways, indirectly, so as not to make much of a fuss. Be discreet and deft, not like those bull headed Americans. Iraqis, like historians, take the long view, and respect the power of trends. They see the trends moving towards some fundamental change. But the road to that is full of bumpy, and sometimes fatal, traditions.