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Iraq: story doesn't add up « Previous | |Next »
March 2, 2006

I dunno about Iraq. I'm uneasy about the way it is being reported. It doesn't quite add up.

It's reported in the media as sectarian violence in which Shi'ites and Sunni's tearing one another apart. I know that is going on, but why would they destroy themselves? I know that al Qaeda is playing a violent hand, but all the violence cannot be the work of al Qaeda.

Mike Thompson

The 'Iraq's tearing themselves' story doesn't quite dd up. Nor does the argument that American, British or Australian troops are there to keep the peace, and that the occupation forces are the only bulwark against civil war. The invade-and-stabilize paradigm (in Iraq and Afghanistan) replaces brutal dictatorships with failed states.

So what's going on in Iraq?

To keep my bearings I stay with an 'insurgency/resistancescenario that aims to end the US occupation' narrative in which the Americans will leave. This helps me make sense of the chaos, even though I know that it doesn't make sense of the sectarian violence. I don't know where to go to my find my unease addressed. Some over at Larvatus Prodeo appear to accept the chaos as historically inevitable. Juan Cole runs a civil war scenario in an account that highlights President Bush's declining popularity. He says:

Tactically, strategically and politically Bush now finds himself in the worst of all possible worlds. With Americans increasingly fed up with the Iraq debacle, he needs to start drawing down troops soon, but he can't do it while the country teeters on the brink of civil war. If civil war does break out, a U.S. withdrawal will look even more like cutting and running -- under these circumstances, not even Karl Rove will be able to figure out a way to get away with simply declaring victory and going home. Yet if American troops stay, they have no good options either. . ."

That's all true. Bush's recent rhetoric about things going well towards the formation of a unified Iraq is pie in the sky. Its all about President Bush protecting Americans from Osama bin Laden tailored for the US audience.

Still, I have my doubts around Cole's civil war sceario. I suspect that some group is trying to lay down the conditions for civil war by blowing up the Golden Dome, which then sets Shi'ite and Sunni against one another in terms of a vicious cycle of violence. Who is creating the conditions so that the country tetters on civil war? Why would Sunnis blow up the Golden Dome---a Shi'ite mosque? They would know the consequences of that--horrible revenge reprisals for the Sunni's. Why would you chose to do that to your own people?

The Washington Post says that attacks on Shiite and Sunni holy sites had been rare in Iraq until last Wednesday, when bombers blew the gold-plated top off the shrine in Samarra, a Sunni city about 65 miles north of Baghdad. That attack unleashed sectarian warfare in Iraq. Who blew up the shrine in Samarra? Why would the Shi'ites do that? They are already in a powerful position. How would the chaos of sectarian violence benefit them? It cannot be them.

See why I have doubts and puzzlements? And I haven't even mentioned the death squads.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:28 AM | | Comments (4)


Although the Al Askari Mosque is in heavily Sunni Samarra, it is a Shiite mosque holding the remains of a couple of Shia imams. (Shiites believed that the imams were the rightful heirs of Muhammad, while Sunnis believed in the caliphs.) So to answer your questions, Shiites wouldn't do that, and it was probably done by Sunnis. (By the way, Osama bin Laden is a Sunni.)

As for why Sunnis would blow up a Shiite mosque with the threat of reprisals hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles, it's fairly obvious. Threat of reprisals hasn't stopped Palestinian terrorists from attacking Israeli targets. If you feel like you're an oppressed people where your options are acting out violently or taking your oppression and liking it, most groups tend to go for the violent option. The Sunnis have been going for that option in the past and blowing up a mosque was just taking it to a logical expansion.

What's going on is the surfacing of tensions that were formerly suppressed by a secular dictator who was only nominally a Muslim. Just imagine, if there were no Israel to serve as a pesudo-unifying cause, the Arab world might devolve into several Sunni-Shiite wars.

that explanation makes sense, yet.....more questions.

Why would the Sunni's take the route of a descent in factional war when they can unite, throw out the American occupying forces--a common objective and cause of Shiites and Sunni's surely--then turn to sorting out the differences once the US has cut and run?

Or have things go too bad for that?

Your account implies that blowing up the Golden Dome signals not Sunni weakness but the determination of elements in Sunni's Iraq's long-ruling community to reassert its dominance. Ithat your account? You seem to be arguing that the Sunni attacks, which were initially aimed at foreign troops, are now a targeting the dominant Shia community.

I thought that it was just Sunni extremist groups, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq, who were targeting and killing the Shia community? Or has it got much worse than this?

Another consideration. Isn't the client regime holed up in the Green Zone also engaged in stirring sectarian violence with its death squads. We know that hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad alone by death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior.

Isn't that killing being financed by the occupation forces--the US? Is this a Pentagon strategy of attack against the insurgency?

What's that death squad killing about? Payback for oppression under the Sunni's that goes back to the ascendancy of Iraq's Sunni community under the Sunni Ottoman Turks? Are not the activities of the death squads are pushing Iraq ever closer to a sectarian civil war?

Aren't ordinary Sunnis caught between the death squads and the desire of some of the insurgents on their own side to start a civil war?

The Shiites are not interested in uniting with the Sunnis, who they identify with years of oppression under Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. The Shiites are also in a position of power and dominate the government (which means they may be getting plenty of money from the U.S. which is being embezzled and stolen for private gain, a supply they would not wish to give up). Any partnership would involve giving up some power as a compromise. The Shiites also are not completely unified. Even now, different factions are trying to position themselves as the best defenders of the faith against Sunni violence.

I don't know to what extent Sunnis support the insurgency. There have been attacks on government official, police, and U.S. troops and there have been attacks on civilians such as suicide bombers on buses. As power has shifted from occupation forces to a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, the focus of insurgents has shifted from targeting foreign troops to including government officials, Iraqi law enforcement, and other natives.

Human nature suggests that, the worse it gets and the more that violence directly impacts one's friends and families, the more willing people become to take part in retaliatory violence. Resorting to violence is a signal of weakness because it is often a last resort when no other options are deemed plausible. It is similar to Vietnam where you have a public sympathetic but not actively allied with violent groups. The more violence that is reported, the more you see people shift from bystander to sympathizer and from passive sympathizer to active participant.

The death squad killings have probably been overstated on the streets. When passed by word of mouth, the rumors of how many have been killed are inflated among Sunnis who talk to each other about how many have died. There have also been Shiite casualties of death squads, so it's not pure sectarian violence. When numbers of killings are cited, they are probably not all Sunnis. But death squad killings are occurring. I'm not sure if it is a secret government policy or if it is a few officials wielding power to settle grudges. My instinct tells me that Iraqi death squads aren't directly controlled by the U.S. There may be some funding, but it may be money that was supposed to be used for another purpose.

There are generally two interpretations of Iraq. One is that the current violence is a natural outcome and that civil war is a near-inevitability. The other is that civil war is reasonably avoidable but is being caused and inflamed by people who want it to happen. Depending on who you ask, civil war is being engineered by Iran, the U.S., al-Qaeda or some other group. There is also the Bush administration line that there is no civil war and the idea is not even remotely likely.

The Shiites aren't that concerned about civil war because they believe they will easily win. The Sunnis are probably increasingly leaning toward civil war because it seems like they have no other hope for improving their lot in life. Al-Qaeda wants civil war because it makes the U.S. look bad. The U.S. cares about preventing the appearance of civil war only because it makes the Bush administration look bad and hampers future plans of invading Iran.

Gary, Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites might have trouble aligning as their financial backers are most likely Wahhabist extremists in Saudi Arabia and Shiite extremists in Iran.

State supported?