Iraq: July 31, 2005

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Not all the terrorists in Iraq are Sunni Arabs belonging to al Qaeda. In southern Iraq, Shia Islamic conservatives have been using death squads and street gangs to try and enforce their version of the Islamic life style. This means women dressing very modestly, and staying out of sight, no alcohol, even for non-Moslems, no music and movies, no mixing of men and women outside of family or marriage, and no complaining about all this. The police won't act against the religious gangs, out of fear, or because they are bribed. This allows the gangs to get away with murder. The religious gangs are largely composed of Iraqi religious conservatives who fled to Iran years ago, and returned from exile influenced by the ideas of religious extremists in Iran. No one will admit it, but the religious gangs are believed to be supported (with money and advisors) by Iran (which denies all.)

The government considers the crimes of the Shia religious gangs to be a minor problem, compared to the more deadly depredations of the Sunni Arab groups in central and western Iraq. Indeed, these Shia religious radicals are seen as an asset. While the Shia radicals in southern Iraq are protected by the 10,000 armed men of the Badr Brigade (a part of (SCIRI, or the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), a smaller, but similar organization exists in central Iraq. This is the Mahdi Army, led by  Muqtada al-Sadr. This group tried to fight the U.S. forces, and lost big time. The Mahdi Army only has about a thousand armed men, but they serve to counteract Sunni Arab gangs that try to attack the millions of Shia Arabs who live in close proximity to Sunni Arabs in central Iraq. There are several other small Shia paramilitary organizations in central Iraq, most of which could be described as local self-defense forces.  There is one exception, and these are police battalions recruited from Shia Arab areas and usually led by Islamic conservatives. The most notable of these is the Wolf Brigade, a force of  some 2,000 well trained and disciplined police. These have been used in operations in Sunni Arab areas, to find and arrest or kill terrorists. 

And then there are the radical Kurdish organizations in the north. The main one of these is the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party.) Some 3,000 armed PKK members hide out in camps along the Turkish border. The 100,000 strong Peshmerga Kurdish militia tolerates the PKK as long as there is no PKK violence in Iraq. The PKK was organized decades ago to establish a Kurdish state in the largely Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey. This Iraq sanctuary has upset the Turks, but so far has not triggered a Turkish invasion. The Turks insist that this could change at any time. The Peshmerga are actually several separate organizations, united only in keeping armed Sunni Arabs out of their area, and gaining control of oil facilities around Kirkuk and Mosul.

The struggle to write a new constitution  by the August 15 deadline is focused on issues like the power of conservative Islamic religious organizations (who want control of the courts, and lifestyle) and autonomy of the Kurds (and exactly how large "Kurdistan" will be). All the Islamic conservatives (Shia and Sunni) fear democracy, for they know that most Iraqis do not support the conservative Islamic lifestyle. The majority of Iraqis (the 80 percent who are Arabs) do not support a lot of autonomy for the Kurds either. And by next Summer, the Iraqi armed forces will be some 250,000 troops and police, with armored vehicles and warplanes. The Peshmerga will still be about 100,000 men, armed with light weapons. The U.S. will not allow the Peshmerga to get heavier arms. A war with the Kurdish and Shia militias will eventually be hopeless for the militias.  

Eventually, the Kurds and Shia religious conservatives will have to work out a compromise with the majority of Iraqis. But first the Sunni Arab terrorists have to be destroyed. That won't take much longer, because the Iraqi security forces grow stronger month by month, while more and more Sunni Arab leaders abandon support (active or passive) for the Sunni Arab rebels. But never forget that Sunni Arab terrorists are only the first act in the struggle to create a democratic Iraq. The second act involves dealing with Shia religious conservatives, and independent minded Kurds.

 

 

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