September 10, 2007

Joining The Winners

Fouad Ajami writes eloquently in today's Wall Stret Journal about the status of sectarian relationships and prospects for unity in post-surge Iraq. Ajami asks interesting questions about the Sunni-Shi'ite split in context of American action in Iraq, but one point comes through clearly -- the Iraqis will work with winners, and they know that means the Americans:

Abu Reisha and a small group of like-minded men, he said, came together to challenge al Qaeda. "We fought with our own weapons. I myself fought al Qaeda with my own funds. The Americans were slow to understand our sahwa, our awakening. But they have come around of late. The Americans are innocent; they don't know Iraq. But all this is in the past, and now the Americans have a wise and able military commander on the scene, and the people of the Anbar have found their way. In the Anbar, they now know that the menace comes from Iran, not from the Americans."

Abu Reisha spoke of the guile of the Iranians: They have schemes over the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, he said. He said the Anbar was in need of money, that its infrastructure was shattered. He welcomed a grant of $70 million given the Anbar by the government, and was sure that more was on the way.

An Iraqi in the know, unsentimental about his country's ways, sought to play down the cult of Abu Reisha. American soldiers, he said, won the war for the Anbar, but it was better to put an Iraq kafiyyah than an American helmet on the victory. He dismissed Abu Reisha. He was useful, he said, but should not be romanticized. "No doubt he was shooting at Americans not so long ago, but the tide has turned, and Abu Reisha knew how to reach an accommodation with the real order of power. The truth is that the Sunnis launched this war four years ago, and have been defeated. The tribes never win wars, they only join the winners."

The Sunnis have spent the years after the invasion looking for a way back to power. They aligned themselves with al-Qaeda's foreign fighters as a means to defeating the Shi'ites and wresting power back after the invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. One of the Shi'ites interviewed by Ajami, Vice President Abdel Abdul Mahdi, says that the Sunnis had grown addicted to power and have a tough adjustment to make in the new Iraq.

It appears that they have started to understand that. The experiment with AQI turned out to be a brutally bad mistake. Their insurgent groups wound up unable to protect them from the insanity of the radical Islamists, which required the Americans to expunge. The insurgents, pushed by the tribal leaders, had to turn on a dime and start supporting the Americans. And the Sunnis have even greater fear about the Iranians co-opting Iraq than the Americans remaining in the West.

As for the Shi'ites, they have not had to lead before in Iraq, or indeed in other Arab countries. The question for them is whether they can wield power effectively, or whether their nature makes them "oppositionists". Nouri al-Maliki has to change their view of their role in Arab society, and he has to be patient while his colleagues understand that role.

Ajami writes that peace has not come to Iraq because these calculations have not played all the way out. It may take a while longer than Americans want, but the pace of compromise cannot be easily predicted. No one's tried compromise in Iraq for decades, if not centuries or millenia. It has passed from living memory, and so far the factions have tried the strategies they knew -- which have failed them. Now all sides have few options left but to find ways to live together and compromise, and their leaders believe they can do it.

They want to join the winners, if they cannot win alone. As long as we remain firm, that means joining the Americans. If we surrender to the terrorists, it means something else entirely.


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Comments (7)

Posted by dougf | September 10, 2007 8:48 AM

They want to join the winners, if they cannot win alone. As long as we remain firm, that means joining the Americans. If we surrender to the terrorists, it means something else entirely.

One does not have to even be one of those dastardly 'neo-cons' in order to see the essential truth of this statement. In fantasy land it would be ever so nice to have 'allies' because they see the great goodness of the cause. In real world (not I emphasise here, the reality-based community, which is anything but), allies based upon mutual 'needs' and 'interests' are far more long lasting. The Sunnis having LOST, now need to find a Plan "B".
Works for me.

So let's encapsulate the current state of play in Iraq---

A. Kurds --- OK.
B. Sunnis --- trending to OK based upon having been beaten into submission.
C. Shias --- ????.

Once the Shias see that their long-term interests lie in a STABLE Iraq where by numbers alone they cannot but have the largest say, logic indicates that they will get their heads out of their collective a**, but as we all know mid-east 'logic' is anything but.

So while it's clearly still finger-crossing time at least the poor abused toes can be un-knotted. It's ABOUT TIME.

Talk about slow learners.

Posted by fdcol63 | September 10, 2007 9:21 AM

It's ludicrous to watch Kennedy, Reid, Pelosi, Schumer, et al excoriate the Iraqi political leadership for failing to show enough "courage" to stop the sectarian violence in Iraq when these same Congressional cowards don't have the testicular fortitude to stand up to their own relatively peaceful nutroots on the Left.

All the pampered, wealthy elites in the American Democratic leadership have to worry about is the loss of funding, political influence, and votes.

By contrast, the Iraqi political leadership faces very real violence now - from assassinations, suicide bombings, and civil war - and probable military incursions by Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia if the US withdraws before we accomplish our mission there.

Instead of compelling the Iraqi leadership to work together to stabilize Iraq, the Democrats' constant undermining of our efforts in Iraq and their threats to withdraw US forces are destroying any confidence that the Iraqis may have that the US has the political will and resolve to finish the job, especially if a Democrat takes the White House in 2008.

Faced with the very real prospect of extreme violence in Iraq following a US withdrawal, the Iraqi political leaders are aligning themselves with those sectarian groups that will offer them protection in the bloodbath that will ensue.

The Democrats are making a larger conflict inevitable after a US withdrawal - both inside Iraq, between the various Iraqi ethnic groups, and in the region as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey move to expand their influence and control in the vacuum that follows.

Posted by ajacksonian | September 10, 2007 9:54 AM

From Bill Roggio's site we are starting to hear of the first Shia tribes asking for help, just like the Sunni tribes did. Shia Islam is, itself, split into different factions in Iraq and one of the largest sources of fighters for Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war was the Shia. Iran wants to claim pre-eminence of their views, but the scholars in Najaf and Karbala represent a variety of views, and the majority do not like or accept the Iranian version of things. The more rural areas outside of the Basra to Umm Qasr corridor tend to be tribal in outlook, not sectarian. Those tribes that are predominantly Shia are just that: it is a predominance, not an absolute.

America is starting to learn and even remember this as its own cultural roots in highly rural areas had once been the domain of family and clan. To those living in cities and urban areas, we forget the power of families, clans and tribes to help give social order and structure to life and moderate disputes inside and between same. In places like Muthana the Iraqi government and forces have been in charge for long, long months and the tribes witnessing success of Sunnis in the West and North now are also awakening to the killers sent from Iran that threaten their way of life. They want an end to this like our own Hatfields and McCoys did, and now, generations later, we find joint family reunions and both families giving nod to fierce and proud ancestors who made peace for them.

Iraq Awakening is a technocratic movement out of the Sunni tribes that realize common government is to benefit everyone. Even they had been played against each other by Saddam and must reach out to each other. The tribal leaders in and around Baghdad city and province are coming to realize this and the 'Battle of the Belts' may be the the work to shift the tribes of the rural souther regions and use them to influence their urban brothers.

This is finding a way to live, not a reason to die. al Qaeda and Iran can only offer the latter, but tribes expect to be around and remember their past and seek to live. We can join them to fight these predators, these hostis humani generis, if we dare to call them for what they are and do. And see them as the Great Emancipator did.

Posted by Jay Vee | September 10, 2007 1:29 PM

The Capt. states: " No one's tried compromise in Iraq for decades, if not centuries or Millenia." Now that dovetails nicely with a factoid a Jesuit friend asserts. He says there is no word for 'compromise' in the Arabic language and perhaps even Farsi. I've attempted to research this 'factoid' and get conflicting answers. Now if it's true there is no word/concept for "compromise" then the next step is to commit "Sociology" and we wouldn't want that. Anybody really know ?

Posted by Jay Vee | September 10, 2007 1:43 PM

Re: the above I failed to mention that with out the word/concept for 'compromise' it would be difficult to sell a dozen eggs much less a rug in the marketplace. So a guy has his doubts.

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 10, 2007 2:12 PM

"their nature"? Culturally, why shouldn't some be capable of leading? They have tribal leaders -- now some of those just have to think of the larger tribe.

That seems to be the biggest problem in Iraq -- everyone is out to get what they can for their group without thinking of the larger picture. Oh, wait a minute! I forgot our own Congress...

Posted by suek | September 10, 2007 5:00 PM

Imagine for a moment that you have a leader, a congress and an army, but no governors, no mayors, no city councils, no police forces. How would you enforce the laws you made? Suppose you appoint as local representatives community leaders, but no sooner were they appointed than they got killed in most horrible ways. How many community leaders do you think would volunteer? If nobody volunteered, you could make all the laws you wanted, but guess what - nothing's going to happen. That's where we've been.
With the Surge, we're starting to get involvement at the local level...the "mayors" are starting to step up, because they can without getting killed or tortured. They know what needs to be done locally, and they're starting to hire/appoint the people to get it done, and getting rid of those who get in the way. Next step is to get those leaders to go to the national leaders and tell them what they need to do - this is where the compromise comes in. People start to recognize who gets things done and who doesn't, and next election, those who "do" are going to get elected. But it all takes time. As it is, when they had elections the first time, they sort of bought a pig in a poke. Next time, they'll know what they're getting.
Without the surge, it wouldn't couldn't happen.
They've figured out who the strong horse is. US - and them - together. Some day, just 'them'.

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