Sunni Side Down


USA Today reports on the difficulty of getting Iraq's Sunni Muslims to buy into the post-Saddam era:

President Bush acknowledged as much on Monday at a news conference. "It's going to be very important for Iraqi authorities to reach out . . . and talk about a system that guarantees minority rights."

Shiite Muslims make up 60% of Iraq's population and are poised to assume more power than they have ever had in Iraqi history. U.S. authorities fear that unless Sunnis gain legal and political protections, the Shiites could strip them of any power in post-Saddam Iraq.

A Sunni from central Iraq, Saddam lavished resources on fellow Arab Sunnis, who make up about 15%-20% of Iraq's 25 million people. They are a crucial component of a small, secular, educated Iraqi middle class whose support is essential to creating a successful, modern administration, experts say.

Potentially an important part of the solution, the Sunnis are also a problem. They are the source of most of the violent resistance to the U.S. occupation, but they include experienced former bureaucrats.

Whole thing here.

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  1. Iraq needs to be severed into three pieces; of course that will never happen as long as Turkey has something to say in these matters.

  2. Surprised to hear you sound so Wilsonian, JB.

    I think partition in this case would be a horrible idea. There is enough ethnic and religious diversity within regions in Iraq — in the northern cities, around Baghdad, and even around Basra — that sundering the state as it currently exists would lead to more sectional strife and violence, not less.

    There would be broader implications beyond Turkey’s fear of Kurdish separatism, too. Many other states would fear that a largely Shia southern entity would be swallowed by Iran. The fear may be misplaced, but it will be widely shared. There is also the prospect of creating two landlocked countries, perhaps both oil exporters reliant entirely on pipelines or transit through the South. I read a fascinating piece a few months ago that delved into the partition idea in some detail, I think in the Christian Science Monitor, and the conclusion I took away was that the idea was not only inadvisable but also deemed as such by most of the players involved, including Kurdish leaders (who’d take independence if the resulting national government isn’t sufficiently federal, however).

  3. I personally believe that rights are best insured by a fair and free system of government rather than the ethnic makeup of your neighbor, but if they want to split up, it’s ultimately (or should be anyway) their own business. Hopefully they would do it the way Czechoslavakia did rather than the way Yugoslavia did. I sure hope we wouldn’t be encouraging the latter by trying so hard to prevent either type.

  4. I favor the “Mesopotamia est omnis divisa in partes tres” solution myself. Let the IGC draw up a map (any disputes within the IGC to be resolved by an American-appointed arbitration panel) to be effective in six months after the final map is completed. The US then announces that it will guarantee the borders of those three states against any outside interference and let the locals pick whatever form of government they want. Of course the warsies will scream and cry over this, but if Iraq was the incredible existential threat to the US that most of them claim it was, this is the only solution that avoids the problem arising again.

  5. How serious could Turkey’s objection to a three-part division be?
    If Dubya shut out France and Germany, surely he can squelch Turkey.

  6. How ’bout 3 (or more) different states within a republic?

  7. But Turkey might not be such a gentleman about its disagreement. They might send troops into the new Kurdistan and annex it, causing more strife in the area and making us look bad for allowing it to happen, fair or not. Not that that justifies standing in the way if it’s what the parties directly involved really want, but maybe it’s not so simple as telling the Turks tuff dervish. Anyway, for this reason, Kurds maybe don’t even want an independent Kurdistan, though they’d surely love to have one of those “autonomous regions” and no one wants the Sunnis to have more power than their numbers would justify.

  8. Gadfly,

    I always thought that’s what would happen, but I haven’t heard anything about that recently.

  9. John Hood,

    Well, the entire creation of Iraq as between France and Britain was to create an area that was divided ethnically so as to better control it; it has been a running fiasco ever since. So in reality, my statements aren’t Wilsonian; indeed, it was Wilsonian ideas that created Iraq in the first place.

  10. JB, Wilson was all about self-determination for colonized nations. Obviously, his efforts didn’t work out, but how can you possibly characterize an effort to maintain European colonial dominance of the Middle East as “Wilsonian?”

  11. JB:

    Wasn’t Wilson against the creation of Iraq? I think he was, arguing on grounds of ethnic autonomy and the like. Hard to get a firm sense of where he was towards the end of the peace talks, for obvious reasons of mental capacity.

    As I recall the story, Iraq was the amalgam of three previous Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra (thus offering historical basis for your original proposal). The Arabs, and the Hashemites in particular, thought they had been promised a coherent realm within most of the previously Ottoman Middle East. What they got instead was French and British spheres, with the British getting the better of the spoils and the French the lesser (and the latter being far less favorably as a mandate power by the Arabs, I think).

    So the Arabs wanted a single state. The Brits wanted to assemble several relatively large states so they could control key assets (oil and the Gulf) and keep the French and other commercial rivals out. The Wilsonians wanted to maximize the number of states and respect ethnicity, self-determination, etc. The creation of Iraq does not seem to have been Wilsonian at all.

    Which is a separate matter from whether it was a good idea.

  12. John Hood,

    I was always under the impression that Wilson favored the creation of Iraq; but I may be wrong about this. I attempted a short Google search in French and English and found nothing; do you have a monograph that addresses the issue?

    What do you mean by:

    “…and the latter being far less favorably as a mandate power by the Arabs, I think…”

  13. JB:

    I just read something recently about the post-WWI period in the former Ottoman empire. One of the things that stuck out to me was that, while the Hashemites and other Arabs weren’t too crazy about the reassertion of European control in the Middle East, they were particularly disinclined to see the French established as a power with a mandate over additional Arabic territory (Syria and Lebanon). I do not recall why. Was it perhaps a reaction to French rule in North Africa? Why would they have viewed this so much more negatively than Britain’s longtime presence in the Gulf?

    On the Wilson-Iraq front, I’ll try to find something on-point. Again, working from memory, I think that one of Wilson’s problems was that when he arrived at the peace conference to advocate self-determination, he found that several colonial issues had already been worked out by the other allies in secret side-agreements (itself a violation of his 14 Points). One such agreement was the French-British treaty dividing the Turkish spoils. While upset, Wilson didn’t press the issue further. Later, the commission he recommended by sent to the Middle East to study and report back — the commission that was supposed to be international but turned out to be just an American one — endorsed the fait accompli of the new Iraq and simply argued that the League of Nations mandate be given (presumably to Britain) under conditions and for a clearly circumscribed period of time.

    Didn’t work out that way.

    No way would I defend Wilson on virtually anything he did (though I liked his 1912 campaign rhetoric, quickly abandoned) but he doesn’t seem to be guilty in the Iraq case of anything more than wimpishness.

  14. John Hood,

    As you might recall, Italy was also supposed to get some of the Ottoman corpse as well.

    Perhaps they viewed France negatively due to our presence in Algeria (not exactly the nicest portion of the history of the Republic), as opposed to British rule in Egypt, the latter being somewhat more laissez-faire; I can’t say that things turned out any better under the British than it would have under the France however.

    Regarding the Paris Peace Conference; well, most of those side-agreements had been sealed a year or more before the U.S. entry into the war (the spoils that Italy was to get from the war are an example). The Sykes-Picot treaty, which is one of the birthing points of modern Israel, is another example.

    London Agreement (See Article 9):


    BTW, as a side point, people tend to forget that the other “major” power at the peace conferences was Italy. I think Italy is forgotten due to her part in WWII; but she did sacrifice much bloody in WWI.

  15. John Hood,

    BTw, I have always been under the impression that Wilson was a crypto-Klansman? Is this a wrong impression?

  16. John Hood,

    Nice map of the region in the inter-war years:

    You might recall that one of France’s main designs was to take territory that bounded the Mediterranean. France has often been ridiculed for “taking desert” in North Africa and such; that is regions that seemed to be of little profit. But the basic design was always to deny France’s enemy – the Germans – from having a rear means of attack; from the Mediterranean that is.

  17. hey Jean Bart,

    “I have always been under the impression that Wilson was a crypto-Klansman? Is this a wrong impression?”

    that’s my impression, too. i’ve been trying to find the links that talk about wilson resegregating some public buildings in DC.

    whenever italy is mentioned in WWI, the quote by hemingway that “god never created an italian force that he didn’t intend to have defeated” or something like that makes me chuckle. and i think the italians gave austira her only naval victory on the high seas… 😉


  18. I think I remember reading once Wilson once tried to join the Klan when running for office (apparently they had a lot of pull back then), but when they told him he couldn’t appoint a Catholic to a public post, he passed.

  19. David F,

    My grandfather spent four years in Italian uniform during the Great War, and was decorated for bravery after Vittorio Veneto. In that battle, his battalion went in 600 strong, and 200 were alive when it was over. In the composite photo I have of men from his village who served (about 270 men), 79 were killed or wounded. One fellow was wounded nine times.

    LIke the Russian soldier, the Italian grunt of 1915-18 was stoic and enduring (for days at a time my grandfather dined on the carcasses of ammunition mules dug out of snow drifts, and some of his comrades resorted to eating body lice when food could not reach them in the mountains), but poorly led and poorly motivated for this fight. After all, Germany and Austria had been Italy’s allies until just a few years earlier.

    Hemingway had his own issues.

  20. Tom From Texas,

    The Italian-Austrian front was a very nasty affair.

  21. “Hemingway had his own issues”

    (missing the point was one of his issues to be sure. Erich Z?llner in his work “Geschichte Oesterreichs” talks up how the habsburgs were doomed in italy and he notes the double cross with their one time allies.)
    “The Italian-Austrian front was a very nasty affair”

    how true how true.


  22. David F,

    As a very, very amateur military historian, I tend to bristle whenever I hear any comments about the alleged cowardice of any army or even an individual unit. In “Goodbye Darkness”, William Manchester regularly lambasts the U.S. Army’s 27th Division as a bunch of cowards. Well, my uncle served in the 27th. Originally he was stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941. Later that day he and others were dispatched down to Pearl Harbor to help in body recovery. The scenes in the recent “Pearl Harbor” of rescuers trying to grab hands reaching up through the oily water and bodies being scooped up in nets were exactly the experiences that my uncle described to my aunt during malaria deliriums in the late 40s. The 27th may not have been up to the standards of Manchester’s marines, but it included at least one soldier who’d seen the elephant.

    At the tale end of the Yom Kippur War, Israelis were scooping up Egyptian prisoners by the brigade, but the Egyptian combat engineers who blasted through IDF defenses with water cannon during the Great Crossing had balls as big as any Israeli paratrooper.

    My uncle, much like my grandfather, never talked much about his war experiences. Getting anything out of either of them was like pulling teeth. I have noticed in meeting many veterans over the years that the ones who went through the most shit rarely speak much of it. The blowhards who drone on and on tend to have spent their war as a clerk typist at Fort Dix.

  23. Re Woodrow Wilson, he praised D.W. Griffith’s KKK natal epic “Birth of a Nation” as “history written with lightning”.

    Still, I hesitate to apply today’s racial standards to the past. My grandfather immigrated here in 1926, and basically learned his English from other guys on the job. Well into the 1960s he referred to the “niggar man across the street” or the “niggar lady at the grocery store” without any rancor or animosity, because that’s all he had ever heard them called by his white peers.

  24. JB,

    The Klan has always been associated with the working class, with maybe some professionals (small town doctors and lawyers) in leadership positions. Wilson was a much more genteel racist, and would have had nothing to do with those ruffians.

    fyodor, I think that story was about Truman. Wilson’s political career was in New Jersey, where joining the Klan wouldn’t do you a whole lot of good.

    Rommel praised the bravery and skill of the Italians soldiers he fought against in WWI, and led in WW2. Their top leadership, on the other hand, he despised for greed, ass-covering, and incompetence.

  25. Hi Tom,

    no allegations of cowardice here at all – the grunt soldiers living from moment to moment in poland, in the mountains of yugoslavia, those souls you reference in italy, the russians, the finns, the norwegians – the aussies and canadians at galipoli… as the clash sings, “to all of the men who have stood before fear/ in the service of the king”.

    they’re mostly all brave. it’s the leadership, tactics, command&control, etc. Torpedo Squadron 8 wasn’t at all cowardly – but they got wiped out for nothing. those pickle planes were sitting ducks. bad planning. dunkirk was hailed as a major victory. stuff like that.

    did you see the history channel (or was it discovery) expose on the alamo? dontcha love this time of year when they endlessly deconstruct and computer animate what happened? they did the same thing with Baron v. Richthoven… interesting.


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