Iraq: The Sunni Arab Nightmare Arrives

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October 7, 2005: Iraqi anti-government groups range from nationalistic secular Baathists, usually composed largely of people who used to work for Saddam Hussein, to transnational religious radicals linked to Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. These hold to mutually exclusive visions of what Iraq's future ought to be. This is by no means an unusual situation in what amounts to a civil war. Historically, few revolutionary or resistance movements have had a unified base. Success in such movements is usually directly linked to their ability to create a common set of principles for which they are fighting, in effect, to form a "front" uniting all resistance groups. After attaining victory, these fronts usually melt down, either into politics as usual (the American Revolution, the French Resistance during World War II, etc.) or civil war (e.g., most Latin American revolutions) or bloody purges (e.g., most Communist-led revolutions). So far, in Iraq, the various anti-government groups have not been able to forge a common front. However, recently there have been indications that Al-Qaeda has attracted the support of some former Baath officials and Saddamite military personnel. How serious this trend may be is difficult to assess. There have been clashes between various insurgent groups in the past, and just within the last week a prominent Al-Qaeda leader in al Anbar province was reportedly assassinated by Baathists.

As expected, the al Qaeda terrorists made a spectacular attacks against a Shia mosque to mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. A car bomb killed 25 people outside a Shia mosque in the largely Shia town of Hilla, 95 kilometers south of Baghdad. That attacks, on October 5th, was followed by another one yesterday in Baghdad, that killed ten. But those are the only two car bomb attacks in the past two days. Despite the al Qaeda call for an "all out war on Shias" last month, and the death of several hundred Shia civilians in suicide attacks, the Shia are not crying for revenge. That's because they are already getting it. Thousands of Shia Arab police and soldiers are operating with American troops in Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq. As a result, more car bombs are being found, and seized, than are being used by terrorists. The Shia Arab security forces are operating with a purpose, and getting valuable combat experience, in these operations. The Shia Arab troops know that each terrorist bomb they capture, is one less that will be used against their own people. The Shia Arab cops have an easier time picking out the Sunni Arab terrorists from the people rounded up in the vicinity of captured car bomb workshops or weapons caches. Lots more of those workshops and caches have been seized in the last few months, because of the rapidly expanding informer network inside the Sunni Arab community. The terrorists are losing control of the population, making it possible to use more local informants for information on where the terrorists, and their weapons, are. This has apparently led to a shortage of suicide bombs, for there have been no multiple suicide car bomb attacks like there was earlier in the year.

The expanding use of Iraqi police and soldiers has also led to passing control of areas to Iraqi commands. This month, the Iraqi 6th infantry division too over military control of Baghdad. Last month, Iraqi security forces assumed control of the southern city of Karbala (the home of many Shia shrines and holy places.) More such transfers of control will take place each month. This is scaring the Sunni Arab minority like nothing else. Control of the army and police was, for generations, the cornerstone of Sunni Arab control of Iraq. With Shia Arab and Kurdish police and soldiers taking effective control of more and more of the country, and working with American troops to root out Sunni Arab terrorist operations, the Sunni Arabs see their dream of regaining control of the country fading away, and turning into a nightmare of democracy and majority rule.

 

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