Sudarsan Raghavan has an excellent article in the Washington Post that looks into the Sunni/Shi’a divide in Iraq and how the Americans are perceived. It is written mostly from a Shi’a perspective, although not entirely. And it shows how deep the mistrust level goes.
Here’s a particularly revealing excerpt:
“We know the U.S. is under great pressure from Arabic and Islamic countries, who are Sunni,” said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a member of parliament with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party with strong ties to Tehran. “They fear the growing power of the Shia inside Iraq.”
“The Americans have a wrong reading of Iraq,” said Hasan Suneid, a member of the Shiite Dawa party and a close aide to Maliki. “And who is responsible for this reading? It is the diplomatic channel, that is, Khalilzad.”
Suneid, an owlish civil engineer and poet who favors dark, crumpled Western suits, is among the many Shiite former exiles who owe their current positions to the U.S. toppling of Hussein. He now sees Khalilzad trying to engage Sunni insurgents and former Baathists. “I don’t mind if the Americans are talking with our enemies,” Suneid said. “But they should not change their strategy.”
“Who are the secularists?” demanded Adeeb, the Shiite lawmaker, his eyes tightening. “The secularists are the Baath Party.”
“It means the base of their thinking is not stable,” he continued, referring to the Americans. “They are going to lose the Shiites. And they won’t win the Sunnis back, because they attacked them at the beginning. So now both sides will lose confidence in the United States.”
Iraq is a tremendously complex country that is located in a very complex region. In this brief excerpt we can see many of the problems that we are facing. When we went into Iraq we upset over five hundred years of history by wiping away the Sunni supremacy of Mesopotamia. We did this without the President even being aware of the significance. I cannot express how depressing I find that fact. I consider it an impeachable offense.
Saddam was many things, many terrible things, but he was also an Arab, a Sunni, a secularist, an Iraqi nationalist, a pan-Arabist, and a Ba’athist. When we toppled his regime we inadvertantly empowered Kurds and Persians, Shi’ites, religious extremists of both sects, and supporters of the partition of Iraq. Without the President even considering the possibility, we found ourselves relying on the Kurds and the Shi’a and we found ourselves at war with the Sunni. And this meant that we were working to empower the friends of Iran and the enemies of our allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. Again, we found ourselves in this situation without the President even having considered the possibility.
The Shi’a were ecstatic to be rescued from centuries of domination, but their enthusiasm for foreign occupation has been understandably limited. Now they are beginning to wonder whether we are preparing to double-cross them.
Ali Adeeb, a silver-haired, gray-suited Shiite lawmaker, has seen the shift in his community’s attitude toward the United States. He pointed to the February 2006 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra. “Before Samarra, when the Shiites used to be slaughtered they kept silent,” Adeeb said. “Afterward, they exploded.”
Shiite militias attacked Sunni mosques. Sunni leaders have accused Shiite death squads of hundreds of killings. “The Sunnis started to ask for rescue from the Americans, especially now that they have joined the political process and have become close to the Americans,” Adeeb said. “This is when the doubts about the Americans began.”
I have long suspected that the Samarra bombing might have been carried out with American complicity for the very specific reason that it would enrage the Shi’a community so much that it would force the Sunnis to stop targeting our forces and protect themselves from the Shi’a. [“The Sunnis started to ask for rescue from the Americans.”] I have no proof of that, and it ultimately did not work because our casualty rates are now back up to pre-Samarra levels.
Regardless, the country has been plunged into sectarian war. And now that it is plunged into sectarian war all the internal contradictions of our invasion are starting to bear fruit. The Sunnis are outnumbered 60%-20%, and they are going to lose this sectarian war. They will lose their homes, their property, and their lives. They will be forced to flee Iraq. Our allies in the region are livid because they are all co-religionists.
Our allies fear everything from Iraq. They fear the Shi’a, they fear Iran, they fear religious extremists, they fear refugee problems. And they expect us to prevent the worst of all these things from happening. Therefore, they expect us to make common cause with the Sunnis against the government that we have set up and supported for over three years.
I remind you that the President invaded Iraq without knowing the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites. I kid you not. I just want to make that clear. If you are a Republican, I want you to know that your President did this to our country without even knowing what was likely to happen, or who would benefit. That is because he is not a serious person. He is a very bad man.
He has destroyed our country’s alliances and he has empowered our enemies. And he spent a lot of money to do it. He needs to be impeached. His quail-hunting sidekick needs to be impeached. And we need to get our troops out of Iraq. They cannot fix what they broke. And because of the terrible leadership of the Bush administration, they don’t even deserve the chance to try.
We didn’t have to do this. Our President wanted to do this. He wanted to attack Iraq. He had no idea what that meant. He didn’t read a briefing paper. He didn’t read a travel book. He didn’t read a history book. He just ordered our troops into battle. He’s deserves extremely harsh punishment.