Iraq: June 9, 2005


More towns in Iraqi's "wild west" are making peace with the government. The usual drill is not another Fallujah, but a government official meeting with local tribal and religious leaders, where an offer is made. It is pointed out that Iraqi and American troops are coming. Neighborhoods that support the government will see little or no fighting, as a search is made for weapons, bombs and the like. Neighborhoods that wish to resist will be hit hard. By now, everyone knows how smart bombs work. Increasingly, Sunni Arab leaders are being told, by their followers, that all this violence is not worth it. After Saddam fell, Sunni Arabs continued to believe in fantasies. For the last two years, the collective delusion was that the Americans had no stomach for guerilla war, and the Kurds and Shia Arabs could never get a government together. Today, Sunni Arabs who can get away on a little vacation, go north to the Kurdish north, or south to Shia Basra. In both places you can sit in an outdoor cafe without fear of a suicide bomb going off down the street. The Kurds and Shia have more jobs, more reconstruction and less crime. The Sunni Arabs don't want to live in their own mess any more. They don't want to live in a combat zone, especially while the Kurds and Shia are not.

For Sunni Arabs to support the government, it often means fighting with the terrorist groups, and sometimes the criminal gangs they are allied with. The government offer includes help in building up local security. It has not gone unnoticed that Iraqi police are a lot more effective than they were a year ago. The government also has police commandoes who can go into any area, no matter how well defended, and take out terrorists or other heavily armed enemies. No longer does the government have to depend on the Americans for this sort of thing.

The bad news is that over a million Sunni Arabs are still hostile to the government, and any foreign troops in Iraq. Many are propelled by religious beliefs, as well as the "we are superior and should be running the place" attitude that Sunni Arabs have been cultivating for centuries. These guys are willing to keep fighting.  The government doesn't want a blood bath, and they know that millions of Shia Arabs and Kurds would be willing to carry out a general massacre of Sunni Arabs, as payback for past sins. So the government goes to each town and neighborhood, gets the local leaders together, and makes the offer. Those who refuse are free to go home and get their guns and followers together for their last stand. Some of the leaders who refuse the government offer, do so because they know most of their followers want to fight on. But more and more, Sunni Arabs are deciding that there's no future in all this violence. You fight the Americans, you die. And, increasingly, the odds aren't much better against government troops or police. 

However, there are other dangers in Iraq, and the most common are  the tribal, ethnic and religious militias. The government has not cracked down on these private armies, or the warlords that control them. Being a tribal chief still means something in Iraq, a country with over a hundred tribes. Americans, who saw similar private militias disappear in the United States several generations ago, cannot understand why Iraq clings to this ancient concept. But to Iraqis, a warlord and his tough guys, is the last refuge in an uncertain world. While the concept of democracy is appealing to many Iraqis, the concept of getting together and forming an armed gang to impose your ideas, is an ancient one in the region.

Meanwhile, as in Afghanistan, al Qaeda is relying more and more on foreign fighters. Creating its own "foreign legion" militia. The local al Qaeda supporters are melting away. Using foreigners as  enforcers has not made al Qaeda any more popular. Terror doesn't engender trust and enthusiasm, only fear. The al Qaeda approach didn't work in Afghanistan, and it's not working in Iraq. And the hundreds of Iraqi warlords and their gangs will still be sorting it all out for years to come. 


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