Iraq: The National Sport

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August 16, 2006: Sunni Arabs continue to flee the country, or to areas in Iraq that are almost entirely Sunni Arab. Many of those who remain believe they have no choice but to support the nationalists (Baath party and Saddam supporters who want Sunni Arabs to rule Iraq) and Islamic militants (al Qaeda, and other groups that want a religious dictatorship) who are willing to fight on to the end. These terrorists groups provide an illusion of protection, until the Iraqi army and police show up, which they are doing more and more. Even the most "pure" Sunni Arab areas are under attack by American and Iraqi army units, which are moving through western Iraq, subduing resistance in towns that have, until, never submitted to any post-Saddam government.
So what is going to happen? There's not going to be a partition of Iraq, for the simple reason that there are too many Shia (millions) living in central Iraq, the "Sunni Arab" third of Iraq. These Shia have shown no intention of moving. The sad fact of the matter is that the only area that is almost entirely Sunni Arab is western Iraq, which is mostly desert. But Sunni Arabs consider Baghdad to be "their" city. It isn't, as it now has millions of Shia residents, and the Shia control the government.
While the suicide bombs grab most of the headlines, the most important thing happening is the daily intimidation of Sunni Arabs, who are being encouraged to leave the country, or move to purely Sunni Arab areas. These include many Baghdad neighborhoods, and towns in western and northern Iraq (just below the frontier with Iraqi Kurdistan.)
Only American intelligence has a good idea of what shape the anti-government forces are in, and the intel people are not releasing any scorecards, as that would give the enemy an idea of how much the Americans know. However, more safe houses and arms caches are being discovered in Sunni Arab areas of Baghdad and western Iraq. These successes are the result of more tips phoned in by Sunni Arabs who are fed up with all the violence. There are fewer Sunni Arab terror attacks, and more Sunni Arab victims of terror attacks against them.
The big question is, when will the new government have a sufficient competent security forces to impose the kind of "law and order" that Saddam's thugs maintained for decades. Most of those Sunni Arab enforcers are no longer involved with security issues, and many are actively involved with the anti-government attacks. The largely Kurd and Shia Arab security forces get better, especially if you check progress on a month-to -month or year-to-year basis. For example, in the past year, the ratio of dead has turned sharply against the Sunni Arabs.
The government security forces have been turning against the Shia Arab militias with growing frequency. These militias tend to be very territorial, and when police or soldiers move into what the militia consider their turf, there is usually an armed confrontation, often followed by some gunfire. The militia lose these confrontations, but the government is concerned that many of these defeated militiamen will go into the terrorism business.
Terrorism is something of a national sport in Iraq. There are many practitioners. The usual suspects, the Sunni Arab terrorists and al Qaeda, have plenty of competition from government forces. Officially, police and army units will use their superior numbers and firepower to intimidate and terrorize. But they will also go off the books with unofficial death squads. That was the favorite method of Saddam, who, in this sad custom, has left his lasting mark on Iraq. Relative peace will return to the entire country when the vast majority of terrorists are only those working for the government.

 

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