Welcome to The New Chainik Hocker. I am your host, the eponymous Chainik Hocker, here to share news, reviews, pretty pictures, and silly opinions with you. Contact me at chainik DOT hocker AT gmail DOT com

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Iraq: It's Looking Better Than You Think

On November 30th, the President gave a major policy speech where he outlined his plan for victory in Iraq. The speech was an overview of an extensive 35 page report issued by the administration which articulates its vision on what will be needed to ensure the success of a new Iraqi state.

The report correctly identifies the three critical areas of Iraq which will need to be built up to create the foundations of a modern state: the political, security, and economic infrastructures. These points are mutually reinforcing, as success in one will lead to success in the others. Progress in the security track will stabilize the political situation by helping to create a safe environment where Iraqis are free to express dissenting opinions without fear of retribution or isolation. Success on the economic track will improve the quality of life for Iraqis, which will in turn make them friendlier to the Iraqi government, serving to make the country safer.

The insurgency right now consists of three groups, the first being the rejectionists, a largely Sunni group which comprises the bulk of the insurgency. Iraq is divided into three ethnic groups, with the Sunnis comprising only about 20% of the population. Despite their minority status, they ruled Iraq under Saddam, and they rule most nations in the Middle East. They view their Shiite cousins in the south as heretics, and the conflict between the two groups is a major source of tension not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. Since they rule the rest of the region, and once did as well in Iraq, they do not want to give up the power that they see as rightfully theirs to the Shiites, who comprise about 60% of Iraq’s population. The rejectionists, however, are softening, and when one year ago they were providing arms and manpower in Fallujah, this year they are organizing politically and two Sunni parties did very well in the elections on December 15th. In fact, Sunni clerics have recently issued a fatwa, or a religious order, which encourages Sunnis to serve in the Iraqi Army. When you think about the fact that only one year ago, the fatwas instead demanded jihad, you can appreciate the tremendous progress that both we and the Iraqis themselves have made in the past year.

The second group of the insurgency is the Baathists. These individuals were members of Saddam’s ruling cadre, and unlike the rejectionists, they will not be brought into the political arena. They want to restore a Baath dictatorship, and no amount of appeasement will win them over. They are collaborating extensively with the jihadists, and are based mostly in Syria, Iraq’s neighbor which is also run by the Baath Party. They represent skilled leaders in the insurgency and are very dangerous.

The third and most terrifying group is the jihadists. They come from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt, and their nihilistic goal is to kill anything and anyone who moves. They are led by bin Laden deputy Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and represent the smallest percentage of the insurrection. Small as their numbers are, they are the ones who are blowing themselves up at checkpoints, and their utter fanaticism makes them hard to stop. The only way to fully destroy them is to isolate them from their largest ally, the rejectionists, who provide the shelter, arms, and support needed to carry out their murderous acts.

The key to Iraq is to bring the rejectionists into the political arena. Under Saddam, the Sunni clerics were tolerated, but were not able to wield much political influence. When Saddam’s government fell, they were for the first time able to exercise their substantial power and called for Sunnis to resist the Americans. They wanted Iraq to be run by Sunnis once again and could not stand the thought of being dominated by the populous Shiites, hence their boycott of the January 2005 elections. But as time wore on, they have come to realize that ignoring the political transformation of Iraq will not restore their rule. Instead, they should seek as large a representation in parliament as possible, and fight their battles in the political arena and not in the middle of Baghdad.

The transformation of the clerics is the key part to bringing the rejectionists into the political fold. The few rejectionists who are holding out are fighting a losing battle against the tide of realism hitting the Sunni community. The thought that they will no longer rule Iraq is an enormous psychological blow to them. We took over one century to fully get over the consequences of slavery, and slavery existed on the North American continent for only 250 years. The rift between Shiites and Sunnis goes back to the 8th century, and their differences are far more substantial than ours ever were: each side views the other as heretical perverters of the faith. They are making enormous progress, but we have to give them time to continue down the path of liberalization.

Unfortunately, there is a danger with the Shiites as well. While most Shiites in Iraq, such as the top Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, are fiercely loyal to the Iraqi state, others are a little too close to their Shiite big-brothers in Iran, the world’s largest Shiite nation. The Shiites come under Iran’s influence when they are scared that they will be destroyed by the Sunnis. Despite the overwhelming Shiite majority, centuries of Sunni domination have led the Shiites to believe that if a civil war should ever break out in Iraq, the Sunnis would utterly demolish them. Unable to protect themselves and terrified of what the deranged Sunni/jihadist alliance will do, they retreat to the protection of the mullahs in Iran. This dilemma is only exasperated when they think that we will pull out and leave them to fend for themselves. If we were to pull out, they would have no choice but to throw themselves to the stalking vultures in Teheran. This is something, however, that they have repeatedly refused to do, and barring a dramatic reduction in American troops, is highly unlikely.

While we will not know anything for certain until the results from the December 15th elections are in, the political situation in Iraq is looking quite optimistic. The Sunnis are gradually putting down their guns and are becoming active political figures. The Shiites are exercising their own demons – and are rejecting Iranian influence – while embracing the democratic process. Still, the greatest fear remains an American pullout. Iraqis are uncertain if we will stick to our commitment or bow out of a fight when get our nails a bit dirty. Judging from our recent history, they have good reason to be afraid.

The President deserves praise for sticking to the war when even members of his own party are irresponsibly becoming hostile to the war for their own political gain. The President has repeatedly stated that Iraq will not be abandoned under his watch. For not just the 26 million people in Iraq, but for our own sakes as well, Republican or Democrat, we need to stand with the President.