American Iraq

Faoud Ajami:

So this government in Baghdad, fighting for its life, has not mastered even the grim science of the gallows, and has no knowledge of the "drop charts" used for hangings around the world. The Tikritis had been much better at this sort of thing. They had all the time in the world to perfect the skills and techniques of terror; they had done it against the background of relative indifference by outside powers. And they had the indulgence of the neighboring Arabs who gave their warrant to all that played out in Iraq under the Tikriti despotism.

Pity those men now hunkered down in Baghdad as they walk a fine, thin line between the yearning for justice and retribution in their land, and the scrutiny of the outside world. In the annals of Arab history, the Shia have been strangers to power, rebels and dissidents and men on the run hunted down by official power. Now the ground has shifted in Baghdad, and an Arab world steeped in tyranny reproaches a Shia-led government sitting atop a volcano. America's "regional diplomacy"--the name for our earnest but futile entreaties to the Arab rulers--will not reconcile the Arab regimes to the rise of the Shia outcasts.

In the fullness of time, the Arab order of power will have to come to a grudging acceptance of the order sure to take hold in Baghdad. This is a region that respects the prerogatives of power. It had once resisted the coming to power of the Alawites in Syria and then learned to accommodate that "heretical" minority sect and its conquest of Damascus; the Shia path in Iraq will follow that trajectory, and its justice is infinitely greater for it is the ascendancy of a demographic majority, through the weight of numbers and the ballot box. Of all Arab lands, Iraq is the most checkered, a frontier country at the crossroads of Arabia, Turkey and Persia. The Sunni Arabs in Iraq and beyond have never accepted the diversity of that land. The "Arabism" of the place was synonymous with their own primacy. Now a binational state in all but name (Arab and Kurdish) has come into being in Iraq, and the Shia underclass have stepped forth and staked a claim commensurate with the weight of their numbers. The Sunni Arabs have recoiled from this change in their fortunes. They have all but "Persianized" the Shia of Iraq, branded them as a fifth column of the state next door. Contemporary Islamism has sharpened this feud, for to the Sunni Islamists the Shia are heretics at odds with the forbidding strictures of the Islamists' fanatical variant of the faith.

Baghdad, a city founded by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansour in 762, was sacked by the Mongols in 1258: The invaders put it to the sword, and dumped its books and libraries in the Tigris. In the (Sunni) legend, a Shia minister by the name of Ibn Alqami had opened the gates of the city to the invaders. History never relents here. In a commentary that followed the execution of Saddam, a Palestinian commentator in the West Bank city of Jenin wrote in a pan-Arab daily in London that a descendant of Ibn Alqami (read Nouri al-Maliki) had put to death a descendant of al-Mansour.

...

There is a "balance of terror" today between the Sunni and Shia protagonists. More and more Sunni Arabs know that their old dominion is lost, and that they had better take the offer on the table--a share of the oil revenues, the promise that the constitution could be amended and reviewed, access to political power and spoils in return for reining in the violence and banishing the Arab jihadists. The Shia, too, may have to come to a time of reckoning. Their old tormentor was sent to the gallows, and a kinsman of theirs did the deed with the seal of the state. From the poor Shia slums of Baghdad, young avengers answered the Sunni campaign of terror with brutal terror of their own. The old notion--once dear to the Sunnis, and to the Shia a nagging source of fear and shame--that the Sunnis of Iraq were a martial race while the Shia were marked for lamentations and political quiescence has been broken for good.

...
There is much more. In looking at the Mongol sacking of Baghdad it become more comprehensible when you look at the emotional immaturity of much of the population of Iraq and how it struggles to comes to grip with the new reality of power in the country. The Sunnis must accept the offer that is much more generous than what they had offered the Shia or indeed what they would offer if they were in the majority. If they do, there will be a chance for all of Iraq to prosper. If they don't they risk destruction.

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