Iraq: August 31, 2005

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Economic problems are probably a greater threat to the long term success of the new Iraqi government than the terrorism and Sunni Arab violence. The economy continues to be weak, and unemployment high. Public services electricity, sewage, hospitals, water, school are still spotty, good in some areas, but very bad in others. 

The fuel situation is especially troublesome, since the country is a major oil producer. Fuel supplies, both for vehicles and domestic use, are erratic, with long lines at the gas pumps. This is partially the result of terrorist attacks against production facilities and transportation systems, but there is  also corruption in the Oil Ministry. Public demonstrations have called for the ouster of the current Oil Minister.

The new Iraqi constitution was finally delivered, and promptly rejected by many Sunni Arabs. The main complaints were all about money and power. The new constitution gives in to Kurdish demands for a federal (like the U.S.) system with the Kurdish state (three provinces in the north) having much local autonomy. The nine largely Shia Arab provinces in the south are to become a Shia Arab state, with the six largely Sunni Arab provinces in the center, including Baghdad, became a third state. The states will have a lot of control over the oil fields in their territory, meaning that the Sunni Arabs end up with the least amount of oil wealth. 

Another point that annoys the Sunni Arabs is the special status given to the Shia clergy in the south. This is important to the Shias throughout the region, because the primary Shia holy places are in southern Iraq (where Shia Islam emerged after a civil war among the successors of the Prophet Mohammed.) This is a real sore point for hard core Sunni Arabs, who consider Shia to be heretics. Al Qaeda believes this, which makes it difficult, but not impossible, for the Islamic radical Shia Iranians to support al Qaeda. And then there is the position of Islamic law, and womens and minority rights. For most of the last century, Iraqi women have had legal rights (especially those regarding marriage, inheritance, education and career) superior to those of women in neighboring Arab states. The Shia clergy want to take these rights away, and most of the women, and many of the men, are opposed to this. The Sunni Arabs also resent the restrictions on former members of the Baath Party from working for the government.

Iraqis vote on their constitution October 15th. If three of the 18 provinces reject the constitution with at least a two-thirds vote, the draft constitution is rejected. 

The reality is that many Sunni Arabs have never accepted the removal of Saddam Husseins Baath Party from power in early 2003. Most of the violence since then has been armed resistance from various Sunni Arab groups. Talk about the coming civil war in Iraq misses the point that theres been a civil war going on since 1991. The American and British air power could keep Iraqi infantry divisions out of the Kurdish areas, but not Sunni Arab influence since 1991. When the Kurds formed their own state in northern Iraq, under the protection of U.S. and British air power, the Iraqi government did not give up its efforts to regain control of the Kurds. Sunni Arab agents continued to operate in the Kurdish areas. The Iraqis played the two major Kurdish factions off each other, and prepared for the time when the foreign warplanes would leave, and the Iraqi Sunni Arab armies could reoccupy the north. 

The invasion of 2003 was welcomed by the Kurds and Shia Arabs, but not by many Sunni Arabs. While there have been attacks, by Sunni Arabs, on the foreign troops since 2003, there has been far more violence directed against Shia Arabs, and Sunni Arabs who reject the return of the Baath Party to power. The civil war is already here, and wont go away until it has been settled. The war is kept going by millions in cash held by former Baath Party officials, and contributions by wealth Sunni Arabs in neighboring countries. Young Sunni Arabs are urged to join the fight to protect Sunni dominance in the Islamic world. But money is a major force in the violence. The greater violence in Sunni Arab areas means higher unemployment, and easier recruitment for the terrorists. The objective of the war is control of the oil money. For decades, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs controlled the oil money, and they want to control it again. But the Iraqi Kurds and Shia Arabs are growing stronger militarily every month. The civil war is getting uglier as Shia and Kurdish death squads increasingly go into Sunni Arab neighborhoods and murder men from tribes known to be backing the terrorism, both before and after 2003. On top of that, Kurdish and Shia Arab police commandoes make more raids, arresting more terrorists, and suspects. The strategy here is to put more and more pressure on the Sunni Arab tribes, until the tribal leaders decide to limit the damage being done to them, and make peace with the central government. Many Sunni Arab tribes have already done this, but they expect a share of the oil wealth for their trouble. 

Its all about the money.

 

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