April 9 marks the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. The insurrection in Iraq persists unabated and the country is at the brink of civil war. The attacks on the Shi'ite majority of 60% continue each day. The civil turmoil conceals the ongoing political process, one that is noteworthy despite shortcomings. There were elections to a constituent assembly, the deliberations on drafting the constitution, the referendum on that constitution, subsequent general elections and the political maneuvers linked to cabinet formation. This is a political process at work. However, the prime shortcoming is that the post-election process is confined to the Green Zone. The vast majority of Iraqi citizens are not part and parcel of the process.
Law and order have deteriorated outside the Green Zone. The civil administration is under stress except for the Kurdish areas in the North. Armed gangs roam the streets and a person can be bumped off a fee to settle private scores. Suicide attacks on American military installations and Shi'ite civilians continue. Iraq is perched on a precipice.
There might be four reasons for this.
For one, the Sunni Arab minority of 20% has always governed Iraq since the days of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 8th century. The Shi'ites have never ruled. The thought of democracy, of one person-one vote and majority rule is anathema to the vast majority of the Sunni population. The prospects of a Shi'ite administration governing them is something that will never be accepted by the ordinary Sunni citizen.
The United States is partly to blame for this. Their strategy to date, right or wrong, is perceived as undermining Sunni interests. A nation is based on a confessional or ethnic compact of sorts, one that the United States may have unwitting weakened by its repeated attacks on the Ba'ath. While certain Sunni legislators might have been bought into the political process, the vast majority of the Sunni civilians have not.
The insurrection has significant support in Sunni triangle. Rebels are housed in private residences, suicide lorries packed with explosives are parked in Sunni homes the previous night near the intended target, wounded militants are rushed for treatment by doctors who provide their services for free and many wounded are nursed in mosques. An insurrection can not be crushed if it enjoys such massive civilian support.
Two, significant segments of the Islamic world perceive the West as leading an offensive against their traditions, their culture and their religion. The clashes between immigrants and locals in Europe, the cartoon controversy, the Sydney riots, the responses in the aftermath of any terrorist attack be it in Bali, Istanbul, London, Madrid and New York, not to mention the dual policy towards Iran and Israel have widened the gap between the West and Islam. Fundamentalist youth in several countries volunteer to take on the Americans in Iraq. Chechens blow themselves up in Baghdad for the greater cause of Islam. The Iraqi insurrection is fueled by activists from different countries motivated by a hatred of the West.
Three, my sense and I could be wrong here, is that elements in the Sa'udi establishment and those of neighboring Persian Gulf emirates support the Sunni insurrection just as they had financed Saddam Hussain against Iran in the 1980s. The Sa'udis belong to the Wahhabi school of Islam that views the Shi'ites as Kufr - i.e. infidels. There is no love for them. The thought of a Shi'ite led administration in Iraq next to an already significant Shi'ite regime in Iran disturbs them. I suspect a flow of funds from the Gulf to finance the uprising in Iraq.
Four, let us not forget that the kingdoms of the Persian Gulf rest on a fragile political base. Their have their own Islamist political activists keen to establish a more purist Islam in their kingdoms and overthrow a royalty perceived to be un-Islamic, corrupt and allied to the United States. I would not be surprised if some in the elite circles of Riyadh prefer that such activists be tied down in a never-ending conflagration in Iraq rather than move to the Hejaz.
The outlook for a return to peace in Iraq is remote. The United States appears caught in quick-sand that it can not extricate itself from. Many an Islamist militant would wait it out for a change in guard in Washington in November, 2008. And until then, the embers would continue to burn and flame-up intermittently to the detriment of the ordinary citizen of Mesopotamia.
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