Iraq: Just Between Us Bedouin


April 28, 2006: About a dozen Sunni tribal leaders from Iraq's Anbar province have asked to meet with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, to discuss border issues. This could be a cover for some hard-headed camel trading "just between us Bedouin" that may have long-term beneficial effects on the war in Anbar. The Iraqi Sunnis are worried about security, and reprisal attacks (for decades of abuse) from Kurds and Shia Arabs. The Bedouin tribes of Iraq feel an strong kinship with the Bedouin of Saudi Arabia. For thousands of years, Bedouin tribes have moved out of Arabia when there were a string of years with particularly bad weather. Not all the Bedouin went back to Arabia when the weather got better, leaving Bedouin tribes in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Egypt (the Sinai) and Israel. The king of Saudi Arabia is the most powerful Bedouin chief and, while not the "king of all Bedouin," he has, as the most powerful, some responsibility to all the lesser chiefs. Yes, it does sound primordial, but in this part of the world, it still works.

Current Coalition assessment of the possibility of civil war is apparently running at about 60-65 percent, down from a peak of about 75 percent shortly after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara, before which it stood at about 50 percent. Apparently violent incidents that are directly intended to inflame sectarian tensions (e.g., against mosques, funerals, religious figures, etc.) are running about a dozen a week. While there are more Iraqi police and troops on duty every month, there are still large areas of the country that are not covered. The local bad guys know where they are free to rampage without fear of retaliation. There is also the continuing corruption problem. In some areas, the police can be paid off to look the other way, or even join in on the mayhem. For Iraqis, the biggest complaint is security, but it's still fashionable to blame that problem on someone else, and not admit that it's the corruption and lack of personal responsibility that makes the streets of Baghdad much more dangerous than those in New York City. Few blame the United States any more, as after three major elections, it's clear that Iraqis are in charge. That has produced despair among many Iraqis, who ask the question, "what if we cannot rule ourselves?" This gives heart to Sunni Arab Iraqis, who believe that the only way to run Iraq is with a dictator, and Sunni Arab dictators have a track record throughout the Middle East, for running successful dictatorships. But many Iraqis have, since 2003, stepped up and taken charge. Many have died for their efforts, but that's what it comes down to. Democracy isn't granted, it has to be taken.

Prime Minister-designate Maliki has announced that he wants to integrate the various militias in the country into the armed forces. This may improve central control over the highly-politicized regional and sectarian militias. Although the move may result in some opposition, a senior leader of the Shia Badr movement, which has a strong militia in the southern part of the country, indicated that his organization would accede to amalgamation.


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