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March 27, 2006

Iraq: The "Second Betrayal?"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today two smart observers in Iraq or its environs, International Crisis Group's Joost Hilterman and NPR's Anne Garrels, say Iraqi Shiites perceive that the US has abandoned them and is now favoring Sunnis.  Hilterman has Shiites calling this the "second betrayal," a reference to the US failure to intervene in Iraqi Shias' post-Gulf War uprising 15 years ago.

Garrels has Shiites accusing* US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of trying to "undermine" them and reverse their electoral gains.  She cites a big turnaround under which Sunnis now see the US as their protector and Shiites feel betrayed, as above.

Is this a first sign that Khalilzad's strenuous efforts to forge a national unity government are working -- or that they can never work? 

I don't see anything but trouble here for armed forces in Iraq -- our and the official Iraqi ones we are standing up.  And I wonder whether the task of calibrating a middle position that truly "national" forces could occupy is just not possible in such extreme tension, when all sides look to communal identities as the only reliable source of security.

Why am I not mentioning Sunday's strange raid in this post?  Because I haven't a clue what was really going on.  (Garrels has* one possible explanation.  Juan Cole has a worse one.)

*nb this link is currently mislabeled by NPR, as a Cokie Roberts piece rather than Anne Garrels' report.


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If we've really chosen sides against the Shia, then this just compounds our road to total defeat in Iraq.

The one single accomplishment of the Bush Admin has to been to avoid a nationwide Shia uprising against the U.S., limiting the insurgency to the Sunni population. If we junk this in favor of backing the Sunnis, we pretty much forfeit any moral ascendancy we might have had once we turn the majority of the Iraqi population against us.

I'm inclined to believe that we may be seeing here an unfortunate product of having placed too much of the burden on our Iraq policy on one official, Ambassador Khalilzad.

Khalilzad has not really said anything about Shiite militias infiltrating the security services and carrying out reprisal murders that isn't true. He erred badly, however, before the Askariya bombing by criticizing the militias without noting the reason they have so much support among Iraq's Shiites, namely the Sunni Arab insurgency that has very deliberately and publicly been targeting Shiites for over two years now.

Trying to get Sunni Arabs to participate in the government and distance themselves from the insurgency is worthy, even necessary. Khalilzad's mistake was in appearing not to recognize all the water that has passed under the bridge since 2003; his denunciation of Shiite militias therefore not only irritated Shiites but fed the perennial Sunni Arab illusion that they are essentially the victims of others. In reality, the current situation in Iraq is the product of how the mostly Sunni Arab insurgents have chosen to wage their war for more than two years.

It was a serious mistake. In fairness to Khalilzad, though, he is being asked not only to conduct an extraordinarily demanding private diplomacy but also to be the public voice of America with respect to Iraqi politics. This is too great a burden to place on any one official. It not only risks missteps like this one -- a poorly considered public statement that badly compromises private diplomacy -- but leaves the United States with no way to walk it back.

This is nothing more than the logical consequence of the worst war planning and execution in the history of man. Iraq IS in a civil war and Bush, in all his ignorant and contemptible glory, has our military placed in the most vulnerable position possible: smack dab in between two sectarian groups bent on domination of the government and country.

Should this civil war REALLY explode, a likely situation, our troops will be trapped in virtually indefensible population centers that would reduce or eliminate any hope of using our considerable air power to come to their rescue.

We now face the potential of seeing our 130,000 troops slaughtered and suffering the single greatest military rout in American history, with more casualties than TWO Vietnams. (Not even Tony Blair stopped to review England's crushing defeat there in the past.)

Somebody intelligent and responsible in the Pentagon had better start thinking of the logistics of sending out thousands and thousands of condolence letters. Or how to get out first, and fast.

"In reality, the current situation in Iraq is the product of how the mostly Sunni Arab insurgents have chosen to wage their war for more than two years."

Zathras, I'm not sure you have the story straight here. You blame "the Sunni insurgents" for targeting Shiite civilians, but it seems that most of the attacks on *civilians* have been suicide bombings-- which have been by and large perpetrated by the foreign elements, especially al-Qaida. In fact, there have been quite a few reports that the native Sunni insurgents have become angered at the foreign groups and actually attacked them.

So I'm sorry Zathras, but I think both Sunni and Shiites here have a point-- both have been victims of the al-Qaida fighters, either directly or indirectly, and so no, the Shiite militias and death squads have no moral authority whatsoever in attacking Iraqi Sunni Arab civilians like that. That's just attacking the wrong enemy, and in this at least, Khalilzad is right-- the Shiite militias are functioning only to piss off and radicalize otherwise law-abiding Sunni Arabs who couldn't care less for the insurgency.

Now, it's true that the native Sunni Arab insurgency has been targeting *Iraqi security forces* which are predominantly Shiite Arab, but that's a different story altogether. It's one thing to target innocent civilians-- it's quite another to target members of a government that, fairly or not, is perceived as a tool of an occupying power. Spanish and German guerrillas targeted native Spaniards and Germans who worked for Napoleon's occupying governments. Native Norwegians targeted other Norwegians who worked for Quisling's government. Native Irish, Indians, and Afghans targeted and slaughtered their countrymen who worked for British imperial governments as well as targeting the British themselves. That's war. But it's a far different thing from what the al-Qaida types are doing.

I think both Sunni and Shiites here have a point-- both have been victims of the al-Qaida fighters, either directly or indirectly

Actually, they are all victims of the US aggression.
The correct word would be resistance, not insurgency. Under the cover of the resistance, all manner of crimes are committed.

The shia arab population have indeed been targetted by the foreign fighters, but from their perspective the sunni arab iraqis have given them shelter and so are to blame just as much, rightly or wrongly.

And i think people need to realise that Saddam is to blame for these tensions. 35 years of one sect dominating the other has produced deep scars in Iraq. had a report a while back where this Sunni arab man was complaining that the shia used to be their slaves and were now the rulers. And of course the Shia view the sunnis as 'baathists' even tho many sunni were oppressed too and suffered under the baath. This mentality will lead to a civil war and i fear that nothing will stop it.

I think talking about these two groups fighting one another is mental masturbation. They have been fighting at large for thousands of years and we know that. Nothing is going to stop all of that. Now inside iraq what we are talking about once you significantly reduce the foreign insurgent threat, or atleast their ability to get in as easily, is gang warfare. Small local bouts of violence followed by repraisals and revenge killings. Sounds like any gang filled ghetto to me. The way you get people to stop this type of local violence is to give them hope, a view of a better life that seems within reach. That means reconstruction in its purest form. That failure is directly linked to the failed policies of the people who planed and eventually executed this war.

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There is trouble here for armed forces in Iraq.

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