Iraq: And Then There Are the Problems No One Wants To Talk About


December11, 2006: There's an ancient military truism that very much applies to Iraq; "there are no bad troops, only bad officers." To put it rather more bluntly, the quality of a military force, or a government, is dependent on the quality of its leaders. For the military, that means the officers and NCOs. For a government, it means all those officials who have any authority. In Iraq, and the Middle East generally, there have been damn few "good officers" available since the region was freed from the Ottoman Turk empire in 1918, and, over the next three decades, Western transitional administration.

Westerners were not surprised at the extent of corruption and incompetence they found in the newly formed Arab states. Britain had been running Egypt for most of the 19th century, and was constantly bedeviled by self-destructive attitudes of Egyptian bureaucrats. In Egypt, the concept of efficiency was foreign, and corruption was king. Avoiding personal responsibility was seen as a positive trait, and force was considered a perfectly adequate method for controlling the population. The departing Turks had a saying, "don't involve yourself with the affairs of the Arabs," which reflected their frustration after ruling the region for centuries.

It's not considered polite to bring up this sort of thing, but it is real, and has to be dealt with daily by American troops, diplomats and officials in Iraq. Calls for American troops to put more emphasis on training Iraqis, ignores the dismal results of over three years effort in that department. In this case, it's not entirely the fault of the Iraqis. Saddam's government depended on the Sunni Arab minority to provide nearly all the officers and NCOs in the military, as well as officials in the government and secret police. Few of these Sunni Arabs are working for the government these days. Not because many Sunni Arabs don't want to give democracy a chance, but because the diehard Sunni Arab nationalists have used terror (including murder and kidnapping) to persuade Sunni Arabs to not work for the democratic government.

This leaves the Shia Arabs and Kurds to staff the new Iraqi army and police force. But as we have reported here over the past three years, that's a time consuming process. And it is made more difficult by the culture of corruption and tribalism (family and tribe come before loyalty to the nation). Year by year, there are an increasing number of competent officers and NCOs, but it's still not enough to enable U.S. troops to go home. But the trend is clear. If American troops suddenly disappeared by the end of 2006, the Iraqi security forces would be able to cope. The Sunni Arab terrorists never really had a chance of regaining control. What chance they did have, went down steadily over the past three years. Currently, the Sunni Arabs are outnumbered, in terms of population, by about eight-to-one. In terms of people with guns, they are outnumbered about five to one. The Sunni Arabs still have an edge in skills (and education), and attitude. Many Sunni Arabs still believe they will prevail because, well, because they believe Sunni Arabs are simply superior to those Kurd and Shia scum. But in a fight-to-the-death, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are a very long shot to win,.

The Shia and Kurds also have a secret weapon; hatred of the Sunni Arabs. The Shia and Kurds want revenge. What no one wants to admit out loud is that the Shia and Kurd population are very much in favor of doing a "Bosnia" or "Rwanda" to the Sunni Arabs of Iraq. The Iraqi government won't touch this one, because they know that it would cause their Sunni Arab neighbors to start talking openly of intervention. This is what the Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists want. This is what all Sunni Arabs in the region want. That's because the Sunni Arabs do not want an Arab state controlled by Shia. For a thousand years, there has been a struggle in the Islamic community between the Shia and Sunni. For the last few centuries, the Sunnis have had the edge. But a radicalized Iran, long the only Moslem nation run by a Shia majority, has been leading a Shia revival for over two decades now. The Arabs fear Iran, not so much for religious reasons, but because Iran has been the big bully in the region for thousands of years. People in the Middle East like to respect tradition, but the legacy of Iranian military prowess and aggression is simply feared.

So the problem in Iraq is not just getting a competent government that will not destroy it's Sunni Arab minority, but also a government that will be accepted by its Sunni Arab neighbors. Never forget that, when it comes to Iraq, there are more problems present, than are talked about openly.


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