Iraq: Humiliation


May 8, 2006: Over the weekend, another half dozen bombs went off in central Iraq. For a country larger than Texas, with a population of some 24 million, that's not enough mayhem to change anything. It keeps the foreign journalists happy, but the local reporters are more concerned with the street crime and corrupt government officials. American soldiers are seen less frequently on the street, many having moved from camps in the cities, to ones outside. Most of the patrols and raids are now conducted by Iraqi troops, who are well aware of the fact that they are still fighting Saddam. Most of the violence over the last three years has been perpetuated by Sunni Arabs who refused to surrender. These men, who had used terror to keep Saddam in power for decades, were now using those same skills to prevent their victims from taking control of all of Iraq. But early on, it was clear that the north (where the Kurds were the the majority and in control) and the south (where the Shia Arabs ran things) were lost. But central Iraq, despite a large Shia Arab minority, had always been Sunni country. Around Baghdad, this formed what came to be known as the Sunni Triangle of suburbs and towns full of hard core Sunni Arab nationalists.

These Sunni Arabs trace their place and their power back over a thousand years, to when Baghdad was the center of the Moslem world. That was a power that was controlled by Sunni Moslems, but was then, as now, threatened by dissident and heretical Shia Moslems. Iranian had become all Shia, and south of Baghdad, most of the Arab tribes were Shia. Then the Mongols arrived in the 13th century, and the city was destroyed, with most of the population slaughtered. Then the Iranians took over, followed by the Turks. But through it all, the Sunni Arabs of Baghdad hung on. They served the Turks well, with most of the Arab officers in the Turkish army being Baghdad Sunni Arabs. When Iraq was founded in the 1920s, the British appointed king was a Sunni Arab (from Saudi Arabia), backed by the Iraqi Sunni Arabs. Although a minority, the Sunni Arabs dominated the more numerous Shia Arabs and Kurds. Until now. The unthinkable, to Sunni Arabs, has happened. Democracy, which many Sunni Arabs are glad to believe is un-Islamic, has led to a government dominated by these lesser creatures. How can Sunni Arabs possibly do business with Kurds and Shia? It's humiliating. While many Sunni Arabs are willing to go along with this democracy thing, a well armed and ruthless minority is not. There aren't many of them. Using data from interrogations, electronic eavesdropping, and statistical modeling, there are perhaps 20,000 Iraqis willing to use, or actively support, violence against the government. Offer some cash, which the ringleaders of the violence do, and you can generate several dozen incidents a day. That includes bombings, political kidnappings (as opposed to the more numerous criminal ones), threats (trying, with not much success, to discourage other Sunni Arabs from working for the government) and beatings and murders of those who will not cooperate. Assassinations of Shia Arab or Kurd officials are rare, because they ware well guarded, and spend most of their time among their own. You can usually spot a Sunni Arab by his accent, or even his body language. There are many Kurdish and Shia Arab death squads, or just individuals seeking revenge, out there. So Sunni Arab killers have to be careful where they work. There are fewer and fewer places to work. But for many of these men, it's a fight to the death. The alternative is a humiliation that is too much to bear.


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