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The Sunni Side of Factions

Are Fortresses, and many other things to which Princes often resort, Advantageous or Hurtful?,” by Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, http://www.online-literature.com/machiavelli/prince/20/, AD 1513.

Analysis: Iraq edges towards civil war,” by Richard Sale, World Peace Herald, http://www.wpherald.com/storyview.php?StoryID=20041227-041929-7953r, 27 December 2004 (from Democratic Underground).

At first glance, glum assessments from UPI

“We are starting to play the ethnic card in Iraq, just as the Soviets played it in Afghanistan,” said former CIA chief of Afghanistan operation Milt Bearden.

“You only play it when you’re losing and by playing it, you simply speed up the process of losing,” he said.

Phoebe Marr, an analyst who closely follows events in Iraq, told United Press International that “having the U.S. military unleash different historical enemies on each other has become an unspoken U.S. policy.”

Bearden, Marr and others also referred to the Pentagon’s tactic of pitting one group of enemies against another in Iraq as being fraught with danger.

For example, during the assault on Fallujah, wary of the reliability of Iraqi forces, the Marines used 2,000 Kurdish Peshmerga militia troops against the Arab Sunnis. The two groups share a long history of mistrust and animosity, according to Marr.

Both ethnic groups are Sunni, but Kurds speak a different language, have distinct customs, and are not Arabs.

“I think the U.S. military is trying to get ethnic groups to take on the insurgents, and I don’t think it will work,” Marr said.

According to a former senior CIA official, the agency is dealing with reports of ethnic cleansing being undertaken by the Kurds in areas near Kirkuk.

“It’s all taking place off everyone’s radar, and it’s very quiet, but it’s happening,” this source said.

Original reports disclosing that up to 150,000 Arab Sunnis had been uprooted and placed in camps have proved to be unreliable, several U.S. officials said.

“There’s so much white noise, so much unreliable rumor in the air,” said Middle East expert Tony Cordesman. “You are going to have to get data from people on site, not from those in the rear areas.”

According to Marr, Iraq has always been a complicated mosaic of religious and ethnic groups and tribes. The tilt of the Bush administration towards Iraq’s Shiites, who compromise 60 percent of the population, upset the balance of power, she said.

Former Defense Intelligence Agency chief of Middle East operations, Pat Lang, said the key blunder was the disbanding of Iraq’s 400,000-man army. “At a stroke, we went from a liberator to an occupier.”

A Pentagon official said that the Iraqi army had been “a respected institution,” in Marr’s words, “a focal point of national identity,” utterly abolished.

From the beginning, sectarian and ethnic groups have been quietly at war. A U.S. intelligence official told United Press International that soon after the U.S. victory, there were Shiite assassination squads “that were going around settling scores that dated back from the time (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein was in power.

There were also suicide bombings of Shiites by Islamist jihadis allegedly led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an Islamist militant now associated with al-Qaida. According to the intelligence official, Zarqawi in the late 1990s was responsible for bombing Shiites in Iran from his base in Pakistan where he was associated with the militant SSP party.

The Sunni Arabs, once the leading political group under Saddam Hussein, feel threatened and made politically impotent by the Shiite majority, according to U.S. officials.

Compounded by gloomy words from the father of realism

… I do not believe that factions can ever be of use; rather it is certain that when the enemy comes upon you in divided cities you are quickly lost, because the weakest party will always assist the outside forces and the other will not be able to resist.

But the situation is much better.

Iraq is in a civil war. We are seeing in Mesopotamia what we might have seen in South Africa if not for the leadership of Mandela and de Klerk. Sunnis represent around 20% of the population, and have been progressively realizing what 20% in a democracy means. It’s has about the electoral power of a Black-Italian voting block would in the United States. Nothing to sneeze at, regionally predominate in areas, but never a natural ruling coallition.

Kurds are also about 20% of the Iraqi population, but they don’t have the same disease of declining Empires. Like 1920s Germans Iraqi Sunni Arabs can, easily, remember when “they” were important. Like 1950s Jews Iraqi Kurds are thrilled not to be dead. Hence the violent attempt to reimpose ethno-racist rule by the Sunnis, and the muscular attempt to create a homeland by the Kurds.

Machavelli’s advice is not operable in the current situation. George H. W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War established that the Carter doctrine still has force — any aggressor in the Gulf will be dealth with. While there are regional hegemons, the United States is easily able to enforce the boundaries. The Sunni Arabs know this. No matter how divided Iraq is ont he Sunni Arab v. Everyone Else lines, the sunnis still lose. The more they resist democracy, the more they are trapped in a prison of their own making.