Iraq: The Trends

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December 8, 2005: The main thing missing from about a third of Iraq is law and order. That's because law and order is a very personal thing in Iraq. Unlike in the West, where the concept of the state taking care of law and order is well entrenched, in Iraq, it's a family affair. Actually, an extended family affair, a family that extends to a final court of appeals in the form of a tribal council of elders, or a respected tribal chief, or religious leader. The only other law and order comes from a dictator, who uses terror to keep everyone orderly, at least towards the dictator and his gang. For the last three decades, Saddam Hussein was the dictator in charge. Before that, there were a few minor dictators, and before 1958, there was a monarchy that generally left the people and tribes alone. That turned out to be a big mistake, because the Sunni Arab tribes got their people into leading positions in the army and civil service. These Sunni Arabs then murdered the king and his family, and took over Iraq in the name of Arab nationalism. In practice, the Sunni Arabs took over Iraq so the Sunni Arabs could grab all the oil revenue. In order to pull this off, all they had to do was keep the majority Shia Arabs and Kurds down. It's no wonder that Saddam was a big fan of German dictator Adolph Hitler, and Russia's Joseph Stalin. Saddam believed that a strong hand was never broken, even if it was often covered in blood.

Most Kurds and Shia Arabs have their law and order. They got it by joining the police and army in large numbers, and doing their jobs competently and faithfully. But they are in danger of losing it because many of these soldiers and cops still retain tribal and family loyalties that are often stronger than any promises they made to get their jobs in the security forces. Divided loyalties are a big problem in Iraq. This not a hidden problem either. It is much discussed in the media, something that has not been heard since the 1950s. These discussions are interesting, as the proposals range from bring back Saddam (popular in Sunni Arab areas, and even among some Americans and Europeans), to a religious dictatorship (everyone by the Kurds gives this one some support.)

For the Sunni Arab minority, the divided loyalties are more of a problem. It's not just between nation and tribe. There are also international organizations, like al Qaeda, competing for loyalty. Moreover, many of the Sunni Arab tribes still back the restoration of Saddam Hussein, or at least his government (which was run by Sunni Arabs, for Sunni Arabs). Although Saddam's government fell in early 2003, his Sunni Arab supporters did not surrender. Since then, more of them have, but many (American military intelligence has a number, but it's a secret) are still determined to continue supporting terrorism against the new Iraqi government. Those Sunni Arab tribes still believe that the old days can be revived.

Just how much support these many viewpoints have will be known in about a week. On December 15th the parliamentary elections will be held. There's no doubt of that. Several months of campaigning in Sunni Arab areas, by American and Iraqi troops, has reduced the number of bombing attacks to their lowest point in seven months. This is a battle that is being won, and not getting much attention, but the terrorist organizations have taken a beating. This is making an impression on the Sunni Arabs. The terrorists are concentrating more of their remaining bombing attacks on Iraqi civilians. This is a desperate tactic, because the Iraqi people, as a whole, have not succumbed to terrorism, and more such attacks just make Iraqis more determined to defeat the Islamic terrorists. The Islamic terrorists have little choice, because they can either stage fewer attacks, or just go after available targets. These "soft targets" are whatever ones they can get to, and that means any populated area that is not heavily guarded. That means Iraqi civilians.

The terrorists will have a new opponent early next year. On December 15th, Iraqis will elect a parliament. The 275 members of this "National Assembly" will promptly align themselves into factions, and each faction will have demands. Those demands with the most votes behind them, will have the power of law. It's possible that the legislators will order American forces out of the country. The U.S. would have to comply. It's more likely that harsh legislation against anti-government (largely Sunni Arab) forces will be passed. This will simply recognize the fact that there has been a civil war going on since early 2003. The majority of Iraqis are tired of all the violence. They want law and order, and the economic revival that brings. Even most Sunni Arabs want this, but they will have to contribute votes, bullets and blood to make it happen. And the final act might be a far bloodier battle than anything that's been seen so far in Iraq. All in the name of law and order.

Finally, keep in mind that it's very difficult to follow events in Iraq by relying on the media. A commercial news organizations thrives by reporting on events. But individual events are often misleading. What shapes our lives are longer term processes and trends. Looking at the Iraq operation as a process, and brushing aside the sensationalism and rhetoric, the trends are pretty clear. But in the Arab world, there's also a trend towards irrational and self-destructive behavior. What the Iraqi National Assembly actually does could follow some of those unfortunate trends.

 

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