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     Volume 4 Issue 61 | September 2, 2005 |

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IRAQ Bush's Islamic Republic

Peter W Galbraith

On June 4, Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, attended the inauguration of the Kurdistan National Assembly in Erbil, northern Iraq. Talabani, a Kurd, is not only the first-ever democratically elected head of state in Iraq, but in a country that traces its history back to the Garden of Eden, he is, as one friend observed, "the first freely chosen leader of this land since Adam was here alone." While Kurds are enormously proud of his accomplishment, the flag of Iraq - the country Talabani heads - was noticeably absent from the inauguration ceremony, nor can it be found anyplace in Erbil, a city of one million that is the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region.

Ann Bodine, the head of the American embassy office in Kirkuk, spoke at the ceremony, congratulating the newly minted parliamentarians, and affirming the US commitment to an Iraq that is, she said, "democratic, federal, pluralistic, and united." The phrase evidently did not apply in Erbil. In their oath, the parliamentarians were asked to swear loyalty to the unity of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Many pointedly dropped the "of Iraq."

The shortest speech was given by the head of the Iranian intelligence service in Erbil, a man known to the Kurds as Agha Panayi. Staring directly at Ms. Bodine, he said simply, "This is a great day. Throughout Iraq, the people we supported are in power." He did not add "Thank you, George Bush." The unstated was understood.

When President Bush spoke to the nation on June 28, he did not mention Iran's rising influence with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. He did not point out that the two leading parties in the Shiite coalition are pursuing an Islamic state in which the rights of women and religious minorities will be sharply curtailed, and that this kind of regime is already being put into place in parts of Iraq controlled by these parties. Nor did he say anything about the almost unanimous desire of Kurdistan's people for their own independent state.

Instead, President Bush depicted the struggle in Iraq as a battle between the freedom-loving Iraqi people and terrorists. Without the sacrifices of the American servicemen and -women, and the largesse of the US taxpayer, the terrorists could win. As Bush put it, "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi."

Bush's effort to revive the link between Iraq and September 11 produced a flood of criticism, leading some of his critics to dismiss him as a habitual liar on Iraq matters. Alas, the comment may be more indicative of how disconnected administration strategy is from the realities of Iraq. Unfortunately, many of the administration's sharpest critics seem to share its assumption that there is a people sharing a common Iraqi identity, an inaccurate assumption that provides fodder for misleading Vietnam analogies.

There is, in fact, no Iraqi insurgency. There is a Sunni Arab insurgency. And it cannot win. Neither the al-Qaeda terrorists nor the former Baathists can win. Even if the US withdrew tomorrow, neither insurgents nor terrorists would be knocking down the gates to Iraq's Presidential Palace in Baghdad.

Basically, the military equation in Iraq comes down to demographics. Sunni Arabs are no more than 20 percent of Iraq's population. Even in Baghdad once the seat of Sunni Arab power Sunni Arabs are a minority. To succeed, the insurgency would have to win support from Iraq's other major communities the Kurds at 20 percent and the Shiites at between 55 and 60 percent. This cannot happen.

While the Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims, they have a history of repression at the hands of Sunni Arabs. A few dozen Kurds have been involved in terrorist acts, but al-Qaeda and its allies have no support in the Kurdistan population, which is one reason Kurdistan has largely been spared the violence that has wracked Arab Iraq.

The Shiites are completely immune to any appeal by insurgents. Sunni fundamentalists consider Shiites as apostates, and possibly a more dangerous enemy than even the Americans. (The Americans, they know, will leave. The apostates want to rule.) For the last two years, Sunni Arab insurgents have targeted Shiite mosques, clerics, religious celebrations, and pilgrims with a toll in the thousands. The insurgent goal is to provoke sectarian war, and they seem to be succeeding. In spite of calls for restraint by Shiite leaders, there are growing numbers of retaliatory killings of Sunni Arabs by Shiites.

But while the insurgents cannot win, neither can they be defeated.

For most of his thirty-five-year rule Saddam Hussein faced guerrilla warfare from Kurds or Shiites and sometimes both. Even the most brutal of tactics could not pacify communities that did not accept Sunni Arab rule. Today Sunni Arabs reject rule by Iraq's Shiite majority. It is unrealistic to think the American military operating with a fraction of the intelligence of the Saddam Hussein regime and with much less brutality (Abu Ghraib notwithstanding)can quell a Sunni Arab resistance that is no longer solely anti-American but also anti-Shiite.
In his speech, President Bush outlined a two-pronged strategy for dealing with the insurgency: the training of Iraqi military and security forces to take over the fight ("As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down") and the continuation of Iraq's democratic transition with the writing of a constitution as its centerpiece.

Building national security institutions is a challenge in a country that does not have a shared national identity. Saddam's army consisted of Sunni Arab officers (with a few exceptions) and Shiite and (until 1991) Kurdish conscripts. Today, the Iraqi military and security services are a mixture of Kurdish peshmerga, rehabilitated Sunni Arab officers from Saddam's army, and Shiite and Sunni Arab recruits. What is little known is that virtually all of the effective fighting units in the new Iraqi military are in fact former Kurdish peshmerga. These units owe no loyalty to Iraq, and, if recalled by the Kurdistan government, they will all go north to fight for Kurdistan.

The Shiites, naturally, want a Shiite military that will be loyal to the new Shiite-dominated government. They have encouraged the Shiite militias and notably the Badr Brigade to take over security in the Shiite south, and to integrate themselves into the national military. Neither the Shiites nor the Kurds want the Sunni Arabs to have a significant part in the new Iraqi military or security services. They suspect with good reason in many cases that the Sunni Arabs in the military are in fact cooperating with the insurgency. No Kurdish minister in the national government uses Iraqi forces for his personal security, nor will any of them inform the Iraqi authorities of their movements. Instead, they entrust their lives to specially trained peshmerga brought to Baghdad. Many Shiite ministers use the Shiite militias in the same way.

A few months after the Iraqi elections, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to warn the new Shiite-led government not to purge Sunni Arabs from the police and military. He got a promise, but the government has no intention of keeping on people associated with Saddam's regime. Too many of them have the blood of Shiites or Kurds on their hands, and neither group is in a forgiving mood. But the Americans, with little comprehension of Iraq's recent history, seem not to understand. Recently, the Kurds identified the retired Iraqi officer who personally carried out the 1983 execution of more than five thousand members of the tribe of the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. The killer's son holds a senior security position in Iraq, appointed by the American occupation authorities.
A Shiite list won a narrow majority in Iraq's January elections. Sponsored by Iraq's leading Shiite, Ali al-Sistani (himself an Iranian who was therefore ineligible to vote for his own list), the list includes Shiite religious parties, some secular Shiites including the one-time Pentagon favourite Ahmad Chalabi, and even a few Sunni Arabs. Real power in Shiite Iraq rests, however, with two religious parties: Abdel Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa ("Call," in English) of Iraq's

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