The recent wave of violent attacks, which killed over a hundred Iraqi Shiites, has inspired fear in a segment of the Iraqi population. It isn’t the Shiites shaking in fear, however. Reality is beginning to dawn on the Iraqi Sunnis, and it is a reality they were not prepared to face:
As the Shiite majority prepared to take control of the country’s first freely elected government, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands – including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution – after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote’s legitimacy.
“We made a big mistake when we didn’t vote,” said Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative from northern Nineveh. “Our votes were very important.” He said threats from insurgents – not sectarian differences – kept most Sunnis from voting.
The proper term for the reaction of the Sunni chieftains is “scared shitless”. Like al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunnis grossly miscalculated the ability of the insurgents and terrorists to derail the January election, and now they fear being kept from exercising their share of power in a new Iraq (which they consciously relinquished). Recognizing that the Iraq people view the election as a legitimate referendum of the will of the Iraqi people, they now want to reenter the process of forming a government. Their defense of their actions, were it not so serious in the encouragement of the murder of Iraqis and Americans, would be considered comical. They want the fruits of the electoral process – power and decision making – without actually participating in said process:
“When we said that we are not going to take part, that didn’t mean that we are not going to take part in the political process. We have to take part in the political process and draft the new constitution,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Sunni Endowments in Baghdad.
The successful election has also created fractures between Sunni holdouts and the more “unsavory elements” of the insurgency – the terrorists (as stated in The Importance of the Election 101 last December):
Meanwhile, a powerful Sunni organization believed to have ties with the insurgents sought Sunday to condemn the weekend attacks that left nearly 100 Iraqis dead.
“We won’t remain silent over those crimes which target the Iraqi people Sunnis or Shiites, Islamic or non-Islamic,” Sheik Harith al-Dhari, of the Association of Muslim Scholars, told a news conference.
Iraqis, he said, should unite “against those who are trying to incite hatred between us.” They include Iraq’s leading terror mastermind, the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In a letter to Osama bin Laden found on a captured al-Qaida courier last year, al-Zarqawi proposed starting a civil war between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Couple this news with Time Magazine’s report of negotiations to end the fighting between the Coalition and important Baathist elements of the insurgency, and the election appears to have had an astonishing psychological impact on the morale and outlook of Sunni holdouts and the Iraqi insurgency.
The Coalition is not relying on diplomacy alone to resolve the violence. Responding to the Sunni tribal leader’s “list of demands”, Coalition forces launch Operation River Blitz in the Sunni dominated regions of Western Iraq. Ramadi appears to be the central focus of the attack, however several other cities in the al Anbar province are targeted; “In conjunction with implementing the security measures in Ramadi, increased security operations also began in several cities along the Euphrates River, including the cities of Hit, Baghdadi and Hadithah.” Belmont Club’s description of the operations against the insurgency – “The River War” – remains accurate to this day.
Ramadi is believed to have become a hub of terrorist activity since the fall of Fallujah last November. It is likely the Coalition has learned some lessons from the assault of Fallujah, and have taken care to secure the entrances and exits to Ramadi to prevent the seepage of terrorist and insurgent elements from the city. Unlike Fallujah, which was telegraphed for months, the operation in Ramadi was both unannounced and unexpected.
The Sunni tribal chieftains can still exercise power in their region and demonstrate their sincerity and loyalty to the newly elected government of Iraq by turning in the enemies of the state. The insurgency could not survive long in the Sunni regions without the tribal leaders’ support. But we should not expect this. The Sunnis’ recent history shows they have repeatedly misjudged the will of the Iraqi people and the Coalition to create a government and stabilize the country, all to their own detriment.
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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.