2003 November 09 Sunday
Jim Hoagland: Sunnis In Iraq See Democracy As A Threat

Jim Hoagland argues that fear of eventual Shiite majority rule drives Sunni Arabs to oppose US forces in Iraq.

But for the Sunni areas that seem to have willingly become the sea in which the insurgent fish swim, democracy is a code word for domination by the country's Shiite majority. The Sunnis fear that democratic elections would enable the Shiites to do unto them as they did unto the Shiites under their co-religionist, the dictator Saddam Hussein.

The United States has failed thus far to develop a strategy that convinces them otherwise and splits the Sunni population from the killers based among them

Hoagland says that the Sunnis look at the prospects for democracy under majority Shiite (approximately 60% of the population of Iraq is Shia Arab by some estimates) rule and ask a very simple basic question: What is in it for us? Well, to be fair to the Sunnis: Not much! Does anyone really expect the twenty percent of Iraq's population who are Sunnis to have much say in a democratically elected government? It is hard to see how that can be accomplished without creating some contorted decision-making process that gives veto power to the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Modest proposal: Split Iraq. Admit that Humpty Dumpty can't be put back on the wall unless a brutal strongman rules Iraq and that a brutal strongman is not in US interests or in Iraqi interests.

A split would leave the oil in the hands of the two new nations ruled by the Kurds and the Shias. Sunni Islamic fundamentalists would lack the money needed to create the kinds of problems the Wahhabi Sunnis cause with their control of Saudi Arabian oil fields (which mostly lie in a province which is, btw, probably majority Shia). The long-suffering Kurds would get a country of their own and there'd be considerable justice in righting the wrongs of their historical experience.

One big complication would come from any proposal to split Iraq: What to do with Baghdad? Whether it gets placed on the Sunni or the Shia side of the border a large fraction of its population would be placed under rule of a majority of the other sect of Islam.

Update: One other point about Iraq: If Donald Sensing is correct then the US occupation authorities are doing a terrible job in using radio and TV broadcasts to reach the Iraqi people with their version of why they are there and what they are doing. Given the number of ways that the Bush Administration has been lame in its handling of the Iraq situation the information that Sensing relays seems at least plausible.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 November 09 05:54 PM  Mideast Iraq Democracy Failure

wretchard said at November 9, 2003 6:41 PM:

Neither the Sunni triangle nor Baghdad will be viable except in the context of a greater Iraq. If the Sunni goal is to reimpose their will over the Kurds and Shi'ites, it is unattainable. If it is to secede, then they are simply fighting for the right to starve. If America lets them depart as a nation, they will forever hanker after old glory. Hoagland doesn't carry his reasoning far enough. What's in it for them in continuing to support Saddam? If they don't get on the train now, they will be condemned to mendicancy forever.

Ray said at November 10, 2003 8:09 AM:

Splitting Iraq up would probably ensure internecine warfare -- and the existence of an unfriendly state in the area, which would undermine our purpose for being there in the first place. Some sort of federal solution might be a better idea, though -- democracies don't work when there are permanent minorities, and if the Sunnis keep emphasizing how much they love Saddam, they're going to make themselves into a permanent minority.

Randall Parker said at November 10, 2003 9:21 AM:

Ray, Why would a split ensure internecine warfare? Each group would get to govern themselves.

The Sunnis already are a permanent minority.

The important point to keep in mind is that the three major groupings in Iraq do not trust each other. There is less distrust between the Kurds and Shias since both were on the receiving end of what the Sunnis were dealing out. But each group probably has too much distrust to be united in a democratic government.

Bob Badour said at November 10, 2003 3:03 PM:

I suggest the problem with dividing Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish nations is less a matter of what to do with Baghdad than a matter of what to do with Ankara.

Corsair said at November 11, 2003 7:49 AM:

As a historical note, what we now call Iraq was actually three seperate provinces under the Ottomans, centered on the cities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Since all the trade routes ran east-west rather than north-south, the three had little to do with each other under the Ottomans. In fact, Mosul had much closer ties to what is now Syria than it did to Baghdad. However, since the French colonized Syria and Britain Mosul, that precluded putting the Mosul in a country with the cities to which it was most economically linked--Damascus and Aleppo.

However, just splitting Iraq now is not an option. The seperate states would not be strong enough by themselves to fend off potential threats from Iran, Syria, and Turkey and run the risk of becoming clients or puppets like Lebanon is to Syria. For all the fuss we make over ethnic identity in in Iraq, the past 80 years have done a good deal to tie these provinces together. Sure, a lot of the Sunnis are going to lose out, but it's not like they had all that great a standard of living under Hussein--it just seems good compared to what he did to the rest of Iraq. For each Sunni that loses under the new regime, there will be two to three others that sees their situation improve as Iraq's economy recovers. Being able to afford a satellite dish, new TV, and a decent used car do a lot to win a man over.

The NY Times has an article in today's edition on current efforts in Falluja that paints a slightly more optimistic picture.
The resistors are a minority of the Sunnis, but it doesn't take many to sow chaos and intimidate the majority, especially when there aren't enough U.S. infantrymen to provide the constant foot patrols needed for effective pacification.

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