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Baghdad Ten Years Ago – 16 DEC 07

WEEK 57:  I returned to the US around December 17, 2017. This is was one of two editorials I submitted to the NY Post and weren’t published – like most of my writings 😉 .  Many of the Iraqis who I met, including Sunni Iraqis, supported Ayad Allawi, a moderate Shia Iraqi. One Iraqi politician told me the next president needed to drink whiskey and not sport a mustache – see Mr. Allawi’s photo. Mr. Alawi’s Iraqiya ticket would go on to earn the most popular votes in the next election, but not enough to form and lead a government. The moderates would be unsuccessful in changing Iraqi politics.

Sunni Rising

As the US Presidential candidates prepare and maneuver for the upcoming
primaries and election, the second most important election for the forty-fourth president should occur in the first year of office.  The next Iraqi national election is scheduled for 2009.  Our President will have to deal with the outcome and should expect a stronger more moderate Sunni caucus to emerge.

The Awakening Council of Anbar Province has spread into a national movement.  Spurred by the Sunni tribal leaders, the Awakenings have made inroads at the tribal-ethnic friction points and into some of the Shia Tribal areas around Diyala, Baghdad and Babil.  Overall, the Sunni have become internally more organized at the grass roots level.  Their tribal leaders are initiating a moderate political movement of sorts to save their lifestyle and their country.

Currently, the Iraqi Sunni citizens are almost completely disconnected from their current representatives, but the tribal leaders are filling the void by working with the provincial and national government.  They have even made inroads with Sunni in Baghdad where tribal influence typically wanes in favor of more cosmopolitan attitudes. While the tribal leaders may not be the right people to lead the country, they are the social fabric that binds the country outside of the major cities.  They are capable of presenting candidates who can represent the Sunnis.

The Sunni political equation still has variables. The expatriated educated Sunni may not follow the Sunni tribal lead.  Many who did vote for the Iraqi Islamic Party and other political parties have fled the country and are only now starting to return.

Najaf Casey
General George Casey and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi arive at FOB Hotel in Najaf on Aug. 8, 2004 to confer with local commanders at the beginning of a month-long fight against the Mehdi Army during the Battle of Najaf.

With the exception of Vice President Hashemi, very few of the current Sunni political leaders have tried to reach out to their constituents inside the country.  Still, these educated Sunni may be more likely to vote for the current crop of politicians as a matter of principle.

Expect the Sunni to be out in force for the next national election due to the tribal leader influence.  The Sunni tribal leaders have more influence than the Sunni religious leaders due to the defeat of Al Qaeda.  Also, the Sunni led Iraq for many years in a secular manner that allowed all Iraqis to practice their religion.  The Sunni will not tolerate a religious based government especially a Shia biased religious government.

Sunni disdain for a religious government is evident in their ultimate rejection of Al Qaeda as an ally.

The Mother of all Battles Mosque in Ghazaliyah served as the headquarters for the Sunni Endowment and the Association of Muslim Scholars for most of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Shortly before we departed in December 2007, the head of the Sunni Endowment evicted the Association of Muslim Scholars from the mosque for backing Al Qaeda.  This was a sure sign the Sunni had rejected Dr. Harith al Dari’s organization and Al Qaeda.

This is evident in the Sunni Endowment evicting the Association of Muslim Scholars from their Baghdad mosque. While many tire of the violence, the Sunni will not quit even when they vanquish Al Qaeda.  Sheik Ali Hatem al Suleiman’s recent comments quoted in the New York Times underscore the Sunni position.

The national government and the affiliated parties are threatened by the more secular Awakening councils.  “In the south, it’s different because they are dominated by the turbans…Who will avenge the lives lost in bombings?” he asked.  “The Sunni tribes avenged those lives, but what about the Shiite tribes? Who will avenge their dead? Will they?”

Sheik Ali Hatem and his fellow Awakening members are upholding Iraq’s
sovereignty by protecting the borders and rejecting Al Qaeda.  While it may be politically incorrect in American terms to refer to a group by their turbans, this comment is pure Iraqi.  He is now calling upon his Shia tribal leader counter parts to do their part by rejecting the Iranian political influence and their religious based militias.

The typical Iraqi citizen’s perceived ineffectiveness of the current Iraqi Administration can also support the Sunni rise.  While the Prime Minister is enjoying a recent improvement in popular support, many Iraqis, Sunni, Shia and Kurd see their government as sectarian, self serving and corrupt.  Continued improvements in the security situation and economic opportunities, however, may influence future votes to not seek a change from the religious political movements espoused by the current power brokers.

Assuming the peace holds or improves, expect moderate Sunni to pick up more influence in the Provinces of Nineveh, Diyala, Babil and perhaps even Baghdad.  Even though much can happen in the next year, a moderate Sunni front could prove capable of cooperating with nationalist moderates from the other ethnic groups to serve as an effective political counterweight to the current religious based parties vying for power.

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