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SUNNIS ARE BATTLING AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ. BUT AT WHAT PRICE?

Recently, reports such as this one have been shedding light on an interesting development in Iraq: local Sunnis who take up arms against what the US and British occupation force calls ‘Al-Qaeda terrorists’. It is clear that the US Army has dug up Old Europe’s favourite old pastime in the Middle East: divide and conquer. And one would think it’s smart thinking – at first glance. Iraq is not a homogenic country in any cultural or religious way, it consists of not only adherers to different religions but even tribes. So what better than to line those different groups up against each other by maybe even throwing in one set of promises to one group and another set to another group, in hopes that both groups will turn against a third? This is what now seems to be happening in Iraq. Spurred on by elements of the US military, Sunni groups in certain areas have taken up (supplied) arms against foreign fighters, in the predominantly Sunni areas. But is it really that smart?

That remains to be seen. History has shown that a trade-off usually requires that a group of people that has been fighting at your behest or even request is at last rewarded. There can be almost no doubt that the Sunni groups now fighting ‘Al-Qaeda’ in Iraq will in the end be given something in return. And so the US had better hand them whatever has been promised – or else. But what then have they been promised? And where are the stories about the Kurds and the Shiites taking up arms against the foreign fighters in their surrounds? Is it a surprise that we suddenly get to hear so much about the Sunni groups?

Of course not, and there lies the danger. The Sunni minority feels repressed, unrepresented in the national government and – at best – spurned by the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south and the south-east of the country. No surprise there; the Sunnis have always been a minority in Iraq and the Ba’athists of Saddam Hussein used them as willing instruments in his repression of Kurds and Shiites. No wonder, then, that the latter mistreat the Sunnis nowadays; the latter have a lot to fear, and probably doubly so when (not if) the US forces leave. US GIs are all that stands between a full-blown civil war between the three main minorities making up Iraq. So what has the US promised the Sunnis in return for their taking up arms against the foreign fighters? More protection, a protected sovereignty, more influence in the national government perhaps? Whatever the promise, the US had better come through on its promise or there will be hell to pay.

  1. Unfortunately my government has a poor track record on coming through on promises…

  2. Right-o. My brother tells me his Sergeant says things have been “going better” in his division’s area of Iraq, as they have been able to figure out “who’s on their side” lately, i.e. who they can patronize.
    Of course, even if promises are kept, in the end divide and conquer tactics not only exacerbate existing divisions, they create classes, even ethnicities, or if you will, “tribes,” of their own. Such was the case with the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. As we saw there, the human price that comes, maybe decades down the line, can be catastrophic.

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