Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Sunni gambit 

Zeyad at Healing Iraq:
"I had an interesting conversation with a middle-aged taxi driver who used to live in Fallujah and is now at relatives in Amiriya, Baghdad. After asking me which tribe I belong to (thus assessing my sectarian background) he started hurling abuses at the Shia, calling them Persians, Majoos (fire worshippers), rabid dogs and a handful of other descriptions that I can't mention here. He described Allawi's face as that of a f*ed horse and he dismissed the whole government as a band of thieves and traitors.

"I didn't argue with him but I asked him what he believed would be a viable solution to this mess. He said that resistance was the only commonsense solution. First driving out the Americans, then fighting the Shia back into submission (as in 1991).

"Sunni Iraqis contend that elections are impossible to hold under occupation. Leaving aside the fact that this views conflicts with other historical examples in the region, Sunnis have never offered an alternative choice, which eventually leads one to guess that the opinion held by the Fallujan taxi driver above is precisely what they are planning to implement."
Most arguments coming out of Iraq for delaying election are in effect arguments for not having election at all because it will not produce the desired result, that is the perpetuation of the Sunni dominance over Shia and Kurds. Because such an outcome is now both unrealistic and unacceptable, delaying election is not an option. Security considerations as a reason for postponing the poll are in this context a smokescreen - the Sunni hardliners know it and are quite happy flare up violence in the run up to the election held six months, a year or two years from now. Granted that, as we all hope, the infrastructure of the insurgency will be becoming progressively degraded under the continuing Coalition and Iraqi security pressure, still, the insurgents don't have to be particularly strong - merely alive - when the time comes. Since no level of violence is acceptable to the Western critics, a few car bombs will magnify severalfold the insurgents' perceived strength and influence and delegitimize the poll. The insurgents know that too, which is why they're happy to play along with this charade.

The election will change the political landscape of Iraq. Now the killing and maiming of one's fellow Iraqis can be rationalized in national liberation terms, which strike such a deep cord with many Western leftists: the insurgents are merely attacking the American "puppets" and "collaborators". Post January 30, this terminology will become increasingly difficult to justify and sustain - after all, the puppets have now been elected by the democratic majority of one's own countrymen and women, and collaborators are not collaborating with the Coalition so much as with the legitimate government of the country. Hence the noticeable recent shift by the insurgents and terrorists from the use of political to ethnic language. It's not by accident that we are hearing less and less about protecting the Iraqi nation from foreign invaders, and more and more about protecting Sunnis from the barbarian Shia.

Does this mean civil war? Only if you let it. As Zeyad concludes, "I believe national reconciliation to be the only path forward to a new Iraq. The Shia cannot live without the Sunnis, and vice versa. Both have shared this country for the last 14 centuries and there is no possible way that one can live without the other. Even partition is not a possibility, there are no clear borders between the two."

A great responsibility rests on the Shia establishment to show maturity and moderation when, as expected, their parties come to control the national parliament after the election. Equally great responsibility rests on the moderate elements within the Sunni community who need to convince the majority of their people that civil war is a non-win solution.

Contrary to the fantasy world of Zeyad's taxi driver this is not 1991 anymore; the Sunnis do not have the might of the state with its overwhelming apparatus of deadly force behind them anymore. After the first Gulf War Saddam succeeded in crushing the uprisings only because the Coalition allowed him to use the airspace. Now it's Sunnis who are the insurgents, and that's not a very strong position from which to dream of regaining past glories.

It's Sunday today; as good time as any to pray to God, that Christians and Muslims share, for cooler heads to prevail.


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