2006 July 10 Monday
Iraq: Peace Or Civil War Right Around Corner

Iraq is quite the country of extremes. Amir Taheri thinks the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has gotten Shia factions (with the exception of Moqtada al-Sadr) to go along with his efforts to bring the major Sunni insurgency groups into negotiations to stop the fighting.

Far more difficult was to persuade the Arab Sunni minority, some 15 per cent of the population, to come on board. This is because, contrary to common perceptions, the Arab Sunni community is divided into dozens of groups, often based on tribal loyalties, with no overall leadership. One result of that division is that each group, anxious to appear more hard-line than others, contributes to what amounts to an auction on radicalism. Weeks of negotiation, often conducted through tribal intermediaries inside Iraq and in neighboring Jordan were needed before a breakthrough was achieved.

BY LAST week, 22 Arab Sunni armed groups had agreed to join the process initiated by al-Maliki. According to Akram al-Hakim, the minister in charge of national dialogue, the groups that have come on board account for a majority of those who have been fighting in the four Sunni provinces since the autumn of 2003. At the same time a group of 18 senior officers of the former regime's army have met with President Jalal Talabani to seek ways of bringing hundreds of Arab Sunni cashiered officers and NCOs into the new Iraqi army and police.

Well, a thousand points of light as George H.W. Bush would say. Or 22 points anyway. Feel more optimistic about Iraq?

The sweet Sunni neighborhood that lines the exciting drive to the Baghdad airport was the scene of a big Shia militia kill-fest.

BAGHDAD, July 9 -- Shiite Muslim militiamen rampaged through a Sunni Arab neighborhood in Baghdad early Sunday morning, killing more than 50 people and discarding bodies in the streets, according to Iraqi officials and witnesses. Hours later, attackers struck back, detonating two car bombs near a Shiite mosque.

Sunni politicians described the violence against the Sunni residents of the al-Jihad neighborhood in western Baghdad as one of the deadliest waves of murder since the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Get the name: al-Jihad. Well, be careful what you wish for. The Shias are bringing Jihad to al-Jihad.

Iraq is on the edge of civil war?

"We've said it several times that there are people who want to create civil war," Wafiq al-Samarrae, an adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, said on al-Jazeera television. "Today, this country is on the edge of civil war, not sectarian strife."

I'm guessing most Shias and Sunnis are disinclined to sign up for a big civil war. So far the Iraqis have not shown themselves willing to fight on the scale of, for example, the US Civil War. Arabs do not do really large organizations well. They have too many commitments to extended family to join up for larger causes.

The Shia militia guys on the rampage were probably Mahdi Army.

Iraqi officials and residents of the neighborhood identified the gunmen as members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia controlled by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In the past three days, Iraqi troops, with the support of U.S.-led forces, have raided the homes of militiamen and detained some of their leaders.

Would someone so well connected to top Shias in the Iraqi government send people to kill dozens of Sunnis? Could the elected government of Iraq, product of a democratic process, have such people as cabinet officers? Where's the mythical magic of democracy?

Sadr also holds considerable sway over the political system, with ties to more than 30 members of parliament and several cabinet ministers.

Sadr's people deny they were involved and claim the Sunnis are doing wrong to accuse their meritorious selves. You might be thinking "oh those meanie dominant Shias. They are persecuting those poor suffering Sunnis". Well, the Shias were retaliating.

Residents said the violence stemmed from a car bomb attack on the Shiite al-Zahra mosque Saturday night, expanding into door-to-door pursuit of Sunnis by Shiites.

Can the Sunni insurgency be bribed into stopping their bombings and shootings? Just what would it take to buy them off? Cash alone? Local rule of Sunni areas? Or a large slice of power in the national government that far exceeds what the Shiites would give up?

Even if the major Sunni groups were willing to deal could Prime Minister al-Maliki manage to rein in the Shia militias? Also, will smaller groups and families looking for revenge break down any deal by doing attacks that incite retribution from major groups on either side?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 July 10 09:35 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict

John S Bolton said at July 10, 2006 10:47 PM:

It could be that the natural unit for sovereignties in Iraq is much smaller even than the three regions associated with Basra, Baghdad and Mosul. Perhaps if metro Baghdad had two independent states in addition to a Sunni capital attached to the triangle, the two smaller parts would empty out, having no oil revenues to parasitize.
Egalitarian elites, selling brotherhood and national unity when their power goals are thereby served, and diversity when a motley confederation suits them better; generally prefer larger units.
If diversity of microsovereignties, or the drift towards such, is to be called good for a civilized country, why would it be bad for Iraq?
They could grant sovereignty to the urban districts of size which are out of place, but attach to them no oilfields or sources of revenue beyond their immediate district, leave them short of largesse from the better endowed partitions, and these areas will depopulate to where they can be reincorporated.

(Vicente) Fox Hound said at July 11, 2006 2:10 PM:

Can the Sunnis be bought off? I don't know. I'm reading that a lot of them believe they are the actual majority of the population in Iraq. Others are wedded to the idea that Iraq must have a strong central government, and that the Sunnis by birthright must rule Iraq. Even partitioning Iraq has its own serious problems. The question is are the worse than the status quo? My guess is probably not.

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