February 05, 2005

More Good News on the Sunni Front

Anthony Shahid writing in the WaPo:

Influential Sunni Arab leaders of a boycott of last Sunday's elections expressed a new willingness Friday to engage the coming Iraqi government and play a role in writing the constitution, in what may represent a strategic shift in thinking among mainstream anti-occupation groups.

The signs remain tentative, and even advocates of such change suggest that much will depend on the posture the new government takes toward the insurgency and the removal of former Baath Party officials from state institutions. But in statements and interviews, some Sunni leaders said the sectarian tension that surged ahead of the vote had forced them to rethink their stance...

...The Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most influential groups, sent mixed signals this week -- saying it would respect the election results, while arguing that the new government will lack the legitimacy to draft a constitution. But the sermon Friday at the association's headquarters, the Um al-Qura mosque, was decidedly conciliatory. Directing most of his words at the new government, the preacher called Iraq its "trusteeship" and said the people's welfare was "a great responsibility on your shoulders."

A meeting Thursday at the home of a Sunni elder statesman that brought together some largely Sunni groups, including those that boycotted the elections, produced an agreement to participate in drafting the constitution, "without condition," said Nadhmi, one of those in attendance. A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, which withdrew from Sunday's vote but still was listed on the ballot, said its members would not enter parliament but that the party would not object if independent candidates who were included on its list took seats.

"We're getting the same vibes," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

"It's my sense that there are a number of people in the Sunni community that are trying to build consensus in that community that . . . participation in the political process would be to the best advantage of the Sunni Arab community," the diplomat said. [emphasis added]

Can't say I'm surprised. B.D. always thought most mainstream Sunni factions, even those boycotting (or threatening to boycott), would end up playing (mostly constructive) ball. It's still to early to make any definitive conclusions, but such a peeling away of moderate to nationalist Sunnis from the ranks of the extremists will lend yet another defeat to the ranks of the Baathist restorationists, assorted jihadists, and Zarqawi and Co. terrorists.

Posted by Gregory at February 5, 2005 05:28 PM | TrackBack (21)
Comments

This is a hopeful story. There have to be some influential Sunnis who recognize that the forbearance of other Iraqis, led by the senior Shiite clerics, is a wasting asset. They have largely foresworn retaliation for massacres and assassinations carried out by Sunni Arabs against Shiites and Kurds, but there is no way this can last. Engagement on the structure of a future Iraqi government may be the only chance the Sunni Arabs have of avoiding being on the losing end of a civil war that would make the American invasion look like a scuffle at a shopping mall.

We spend a lot of time thinking and arguing about American policy choices and decisions, and don't always stop to think that other people have choices to make too. Sometimes the ones they make are almost unbelievably foolish. Muqtada Sadr made choices last year to stake his political movement on a frontal assault against American armor and holding hostage Shia Islam's holiest sites. Sunni Arabs cooperating with the insurgency have been fighting for an Iraq in which they would be alone in the midst of people they have abused for decades, without an American presence urging democracy and respect for minority rights. Sadr may have learned something; maybe some of the Sunni Arabs have too.

Posted by: Zathras at February 5, 2005 09:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hope you're right. It still seems possible that they want to try to spike the process, in which case I suppose the TAL would just become less transitional by default.

Posted by: praktike at February 5, 2005 10:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Gregory that this is not surprising. The basic situation of the Sunnis is that their insurgency can't possibly succeed -- even Juan Cole has been saying that -- so they have no real option but to join in the government. On the other hand, the Shiites know they can't get the cooperation of the Sunnis unless they give them a reasonably good deal, and ditto for the Kurds. No group is strong enough to dominate the other two, so they have to work out something cooperative.

Its so odd. The very problem that people were long saying would lead to civil war or a strong-man dictatorship, namely the presence of three different ethnic groups, seems to instead be leading to a multicultural democracy. We sure got lucky on this one.

There is one big problem, however, and that is providing security for the moderate Sunni leaders and citizens so they can cooperate with the government without fear of being killed.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at February 6, 2005 03:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

Hope you got to see the SecDEF on MTP this morning. Hope you're man enough to tender your apology and shut the hell up about it.

Sincerely,
Thomas G Foster

Posted by: Tommy G at February 6, 2005 03:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Gregory that this is not surprising. The basic situation of the Sunnis is that their insurgency can't possibly succeed -- even Juan Cole has been saying that -- so they have no real option but to join in the government. On the other hand, the Shiites know they can't get the cooperation of the Sunnis unless they give them a reasonably good deal, and ditto for the Kurds. No group is strong enough to dominate the other two, so they have to work out something cooperative.

Lots of ethnic civil wars start even though no group can initially dominate the others. If, in their minds, the Sunni mainstream decide that their lot is better fighting the new Iraqi government than being a part of it, then they'll do the latter even if it's an irrational fantasy. Lots of things could go wrong and get us to that point.

The article Greg pointed out is reassuring, though. If the Iraqi gov't does things right then this kind of disaster might be avoided.

Posted by: Guy at February 6, 2005 05:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Lots of ethnic civil wars start even though no group can initially dominate the others. If, in their minds, the Sunni mainstream decide that their lot is better fighting the new Iraqi government than being a part of it, then they'll do the latter even if it's an irrational fantasy. Lots of things could go wrong and get us to that point."

I agree. It certainly has happened many times in that past that an ethnic group has irrationally started a civil war it couldn't hope to win (ie Yugoslavia).

The reason I was bringing this is up is that, ever since the idea of invading Iraq came up three years ago, a great many analysts have insisted that the fact that Iraq has three ethnic groups meant it would be absolutely impossible to have a democracy there, and the only possible outcomes were either civil war or a strong-man dictatorship in which one group oppressed the other two. I was arguing if the groups are rational, we could have a democracy.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at February 7, 2005 12:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's always easier for people to cooperate when they have an external enemy to ally over.

And the USA is providing that role in iraq.

It's very hard to tell what's going on, though, since the "insurgents" are so anonymous. How many of the attacks on political figures are done by genuine insurgents, and how many are done by supporters of competing politicians? How many insurgents support Zarqawi, and how many would shoot him on sight? How many insurgencies are there?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 8, 2005 05:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas grabs the brass ring today - the biggest practicle problem of the insurgency is that it provides cover for exactly the kind of criminal enterprises he suggests.

Well said.

Posted by: Art Wellesley at February 8, 2005 01:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's very hard to tell what's going on, though, since the "insurgents" are so anonymous. How many of the attacks on political figures are done by genuine insurgents, and how many are done by supporters of competing politicians? How many insurgents support Zarqawi, and how many would shoot him on sight? How many insurgencies are there?

Good question. I think to some degree Zarqawi provides a convenient cover for the less spectacular but ultimately more dangerous elements in the insurgency -- former Ba'athists and their supporters among the Sunni population. Zarqawi and the foreigner jihadis conveniently attracts almost all the attention (and criticism) for the attacks, protecting Iraqi insurgents from domestic criticism.

Posted by: Guy at February 8, 2005 06:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While the insurgent attacks, including almost daily bombings, some quite horriffic continue, I believe Iraq has turned an important corner with the election and its aftermath. The defiance of the majority of Iraqis in voting to the insurgents who tried to terrorize them into submission is inspiring. That the Sunni groups who had boycotted the elections are now comng voluntary to negotiate with the Iraqi majority is especially positive. There are many dangers ahead and there will many bad days in Iraq, but do believe that if Iraqis and Americans work together, the end result with be a new, more democratic Iraq for all Iraqis and a true "mission accomplished" for the US and its allies.
I did not think the elections and so far, its aftermath would go as well as it has. In fact I thought the election might well be a disaster with all the insurgent attacks. I am happy to admit that I was wrong and those who pressed for the elections on Jan. 30th were right.

Posted by: David All at February 12, 2005 01:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

David, we should give it 3 months to see whether it looks like iraq has turned a corner.

Here are my thoughts on it, would it be more polite to cut-and-paste rather than provide links?

Why did the elections happen?
What do they mean?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 12, 2005 02:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks J Thomas for your comments and your links to them. Mostly agree with what you said. Next six months or so will be crucial to see if an Iraqi government can be assembled that is legitmate in eyes of most Iraqis. Am hopeful that this can be done.

Posted by: David All at February 12, 2005 02:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree -- JT's posts/links are very good and worth reading. I especially liked the first post, and the fact that he pointed out groups (3) and (4) -- something that's not frequently discussed in the context of "who's an insurgent." I think as far as group (2) goes it's useful to differentiate between different subgroups.

One thing I don't see discussed very frequently is the relative impact of different insurgency tactics. The large-scale bombings (as we see every day) are terrible, but how does they compare to the harm caused by the (lower-profile) collapse of law and order?

Posted by: Guy Berger at February 12, 2005 09:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thank you. The trouble with talking about the insurgents is that there just isn't much data so you have to guess. You can't back up your guesses so as soon as somebody wants to disagree they'll start talking about tinfoil helmets and you can't really defend your points.

So for example, the israelis say they have commando teams in kurdistan making raids into iran. Is there any reason to think they aren't raiding syria too? And arab iraq has been one of israel's biggest enemies for a long time. Why *wouldn't* the israelis assassinate doctors and engineers and university professors etc, the sort of people that iraq needs to recover? As far as israel is concerned the longer it takes for iraq to reconstruct, the better. But if anyone in the US media said anything hinting at that they'd get crucified. There's no proof.

Similarly, a little before Allawi became prime minister, he became the head of the Interim Governing Council. The guy before him died from a car bomb that caught him right outside the gates to the Green Zone. Allawi's insurgent group did car bombs back when he was trying an insurgency against Saddam. When the UN guy was trying to pick a prime minister for the Interim Government, he came up with a couple of alternatives to Allawi but they declined. Maybe they were afraid? When "insurgents" kill important politicians, is it really insurgents or is it Allawi? Or his competitors? The media can hint vaguely about that, but they can't come out and say it without solid proof.

I can guess about the real insurgency. There are surely Ba'athists, that we said could have no part in the new government. And there are Salafis, since we said the new government would be strictly secular. And there are people who are in vendetta against us because we killed their relatives. I don't know how they think at all -- would they go after the entire US military or only the marines or only 323rd company or what? There are nationalists who want foreign troops out because they're nationalists, it hardly takes more than that. Wouldn't it make sense for communists to oppose us? Or any local group that isn't connected to the exiles we support? But there's very little public data about which categories of insurgents are most numerous or most important. So it's all speculation.

For ordinary iraqis I'd expect the worst thing would be the kidnappings. They tend to start with people they know have money. But after those are picked clean then why not go on to the ones who don't have as much money? So the family goes begging from extended family and friends, and tries to get by, and next month it happens to someone else in the extended family or to a friend, and where will the money come from? It got reported, but there isn't much to say about it so it doesn't get stressed. This is a proper police matter, but the police aren't armed as well as the kidnappers and the US military wants the police to go after insurgents.

What data there is, is *suggestive*. But I couldn't win an argument with a Freeper using it.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2005 02:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas wrote:
So for example, the israelis say they have commando teams in kurdistan making raids into iran. Is there any reason to think they aren't raiding syria too?

Source?

Posted by: Guy at February 14, 2005 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guy, no, I don't have a source about israeli commando tems in syria. It's common knowledge that they're going into iran from kurdistan, but no one is saying they're going into syria yet. No, no source.

But is it in any way implausible?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 15, 2005 06:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What's your source for Israeli commando teams in Kurdistan?

Posted by: Guy at February 16, 2005 06:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, that. In 2 minutes I didn't find the early undenied reports in the israeli press, but here's a report of the later denial in the kurdish press.

http://home.cogeco.ca/~kurdistan3/17-7-04-israel-tky.htm
link

Posted by: J Thomas at February 16, 2005 03:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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