Iraq: Fatal Distraction


February 20, 2006: Despite Sunni Arab leaders trying to work out an accommodation with the government, most Sunni Arabs still feel put-upon and persecuted. Opinion surveys held after the January elections showed that five percent of the Sunni Arabs felt the elections were fair, while 89 percent of Shia Arabs and 77 percent of Kurds did. Overall, 66 percent of Iraqis were satisfied with the elections. As for the new government formed by those elected to parliament in January, 68 percent of all Iraqis felt the new government would succeed. Again, 90 percent of Shia Arabs and 81 percent of Kurds were optimistic, but only six percent of Sunni Arabs were. It's all about Saddam, and having a Sunni Arab dictator running the country for the benefit of the Sunni Arab minority, and at the expense of the Shia Arab and Kurd majority. The Sunni Arabs are determined to bring back the good old days. The survey showed that, while 77 percent thought the overthrow of Saddam, and the subsequent violence, was worth it, only six percent of Sunni Arabs did. This is compared to 98 percent of Shia Arabs and 91 percent of Kurds approving to what has happened in the past three years.

The Sunni Arabs have a tremendous sense of entitlement. Although they comprise only about 20 percent of the population, many believe that they are actually a majority, and that Iraq should be run mainly for their benefit. This is a difficult concept for Westerners to get their heads around, but it is a reality on the ground in Iraq. Naturally, the Sunni Arabs are the most eager proponent for U.S. forces leaving Iraq. The Sunni Arabs believe that, without American around, the Shia Arabs and Kurds will begin to accept the Sunni Arabs as their overlords. Yes, this sounds like some kind of fairy tale attitude. But it's very real, and thousands of Sunni Arabs have died to try and make it happen.

Many Sunni Arab leaders know better, and are pretty energetic in trying to work out political deals with the majority Shia Arab/Kurd coalition. There is some urgency in these efforts, because the long term hatred of Sunni Arabs among the Shia Arab and Kurd population, is leading to a bad conclusion. No one wants to say it openly, but on the street, many Shia Arabs and Kurds would prefer to just drive all the Sunni Arabs out of the country. This has already begun happening, as nearly five percent of the Sunni Arab population has fled the country since Saddam fell. More would have gone, but none of the neighboring countries are eager to host a lot of Sunni Arab Iraqis. As more Iraqi troops and police lock down Sunni Arab areas, the predominantly Shia and Kurd security forces are forcing more Sunni Arabs to flee. Bringing law and order to these areas is often accompanied by what is, for all practical purposes, civil war. The local Sunni Arabs grab their guns and try to keep out the Shia and Kurd security troops. Increasingly, the Sunni Arabs are failing, and quickly at that. When the security troops come in and settle down, they are often looking to settle scores. That means death squads, some of which have already been exposed and disbanded. But it's difficult to outlaw such widespread desire for revenge among the Shia Arab and Kurdish population.

The question at hand is not whether the Sunni Arabs will accept the new government, but whether the Shia and Kurd majority will tolerate a rebellious Sunni Arab population. This year, Iraqi (meaning Shia and Kurd) security forces will be in control of most of the country. By 2007, the former "oppressed majority" will be able to exert their will, via force if necessary, all over the country. By then, the Sunni Arabs will have to either make their peace with the government, get out, or get killed.


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