January 16, 2005

Are The Sunnis Hopeless?

In other Iraq news, Nadezhda goes to town with a long post on the upcoming elections. Quite crucially—and pace Noah Feldman's analysis—she thinks that most of the Sunnis have "have no interest in a rebuilt Iraq or in ever seeing the slightest glimmer of democracy emerge."

Eh, I'm not so sure. A while back I tried to figure out the Sunnis—who they were, how they divided up, what they all wanted. And it's worth remembering, for starters, that while many of the Sunni tribes are uncontrollable and fighting against us—especially the dangerous Albuaisa and Jumaila tribes which comprise (comprised?) over a quarter of Fallujah—not all of the tribes are so intent on mortal combat. In the early days of the war, many of the Sunni tribes actually cooperated with the United States, at least until we offended them or killed to many of them or couldn't provide order. Now that was a major fuck-up—worse, I think, then the Ba'th party purges, and it was due wholly to the fact that we had no clue how Iraq worked. But my hunch is that any federal system with, ahem, the "right" sort of distribution of oil resources could entice these various tribes to go along with a Shi'ite-dominated government. Saddam paid them off. We could too. Again, it's hard to get a sense of the numbers—the tribal system has weakened considerably over the last quarter-century—but we're talking about a lot of Sunnis.

Meanwhile, as I said back then, and as Marc Sageman and many others have said, not all Sunni fundamentalists are alike. Iraq has both the mainstream Sunni religious institutions—including the mosques, charities, and religious schools—that are sort of wacko but not really into politics, as well as the political fundamentalists who are actually advocating a Taliban-style Islamic state. (And each of these groups overlap with various tribal identities—it's all horribly labyrinthine.) The former—and here I would include groups like the influential Association of Muslim Scholars—by and large aren't waging jihad, although they're opposed to the occupation, tacitly condone the violence, and probably aren't too keen on seeing a Shi'ite state without religious protection for minorities. But under the right circumstances I think they too can be sold on democracy—if it leads to American withdrawal, if it doesn't threaten the state of Islamic law and scholarship, etc. etc.

So it's not hopeless. But that still leaves the $200 billion dollar question: What is to be done? And that includes all sub-questions, like: Should we postpone elections? and Should we withdraw from Iraq? The first one is easy: no. It's inconceivable that we could get all the violence under control even if we postponed elections for a month or two months, and so long as Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani wants elections, elections will take place. Postponing simply won't happen—we've handcuffed ourselves to the January 30th date, and lots of people are going to die, and it's a horrific fucking situation, but there's no other option. The other questions are more difficult...
-- Brad Plumer 5:08 AM || ||