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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Sunnis of Iraq..what does the future hold? (Part I)

Link: The Sunni of Iraq - caught in the middle again.

Although plenty of Iraqi Shi'a and Kurds would disagree with me, I'm beginning to develop a real sense of sympathy for the Sunni of Iraq.  For half of century, they had one of their own running the show in Baghdad, but Saddam Hussein showed just as much disdain for his fellow Sunni as he did for the Shi'a, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Assyrians in his country.  Sadly, though, the non-Sunni Iraqis will forever associate Saddam Hussein and his rule with the Sunni community.  Its the name of the game in Mesopotamia this century.  While Europeans and Americans many times are never even aware of the particular religious affiliation of their neighbors, in this part of the world, it means everything.  Although the Sunni suffered under Saddam Hussein, it is true that a semblance of a middle class developed in Iraq.....and it was mostly Sunni.  Those who were lucky enough to belong to this small middle class had the opportunity to attend university in Baghdad, and following graduation, join the ranks of physicians, architects, engineers, teachers, and businessmen who kept the country from following any further into chaos.  It was no surprise that by the arrival of the U.S. Army in 2003, the Sunni reputation as being the educated and "established" demographic in Iraq, was well established.  It was an easy assumption to make; the Shi'a seemed to prefer living in the south, and engaging in small-scale agriculture for sustenance (with the exception of the half-million or so living in the squalid slums of Sadr City, in northeast Baghdad).  As for the Kurds, well, they preferred to keep to themselves in the north of the country.  In fact, a large percentage of northern Iraq actually functioned for some time as a separate political entity, run by and representing the Kurdish people.  With a "de-facto" capital city at Sulimaniyah, a functioning economic system and large urban centers in Erbil and Mosul, the Kurds were able to demonstrate to the world, just how ready they were an independent state.  But Turkey absolutely refused to sign-off on the idea, as they always had and probably always will.

The Sunni are spread out in Iraq, as are all the different ethnicities.  There is a substantial Sunni community in Basra in the south and in Mosul in the far north.  But the Sunnis are the dominant ethnic group in central Iraq, west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, and just north of Baghdad in Salah al-Din Province, including the cities of Samarrah and Tikrit.  With the end of the Ba'ath Party, a great deal of influence was returned to the Sunni tribal leaders and the "Shaykh" system of authority.  The United States was well aware of this development following the ouster of Saddam and the emergence of the Sunni insurgency.  The United States military and CIA (and to a lesser extent, Dept. of State) were able to co-opt the Sunni tribal leaders and bring the Sunni community onto the side of the good guys.  It took a great deal of influence and suggestion (read: money), but in the end, the Sunni rose up against Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and helped bring peace and stability to their nation.  But for a few years following the U.S. entry into Baghdad, the Sunni were connected to the violence caused by Zarqawi just because of their shared religious affiliation.  And Zarqawi played this to the hilt by sending suicide bombers into Shi'a religious gatherings, and then repeating the heinous act at the funeral for the victims.  For a time, the U.S. had to be concerned that open hostilities were going to break put between the Sunni and the Shi'a.  And all the while, the U.S. is trying to help Iraq stand back up on its feet, by rebuilding the transportation network, repairing the electrical grid, refurbishing the international airport, building schools, repairing refineries, and most important, organizing national elections.  These efforts were confounded by Zarqawi because of his daily use of suicide vehicles.  But Zarqawi went to far.  He was killing just as many Sunni as he was anyone else, and the Sunni were tired of the destabilization and the bloodshed.  This fact was a large factor in convincing the Sunni tribes to support the U.S. effort and defeat the insurgency for good.


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