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ESSAY BARTLE BULL
There was never a civil war in Iraq: no battle lines or uniforms, no secession, no attempt to seize power, no parallel governments, not even any public leaders
happened in Fallujah and Ramadi: when those cities ran out ofcontrol, America doubled up. In November 2004, the marines surrounded Fallujah, killed every insurgent (and plenty ofcivilians), started rebuilding the place and left an effective security cordon around it. Ramadi, on a smaller scale, was next. Now the insurgency has decamped to other provinces, where it does not want to be. Beating them there will be even easier, as is proving to be the case in Diyala. The Sunni insurgents have recognised that there is little point fighting a strong and increasingly skilled enemy—the US—that is on the right side of Iraq’s historical destiny and which—unlike the British in Basra—responds to setbacks by trying harder. (That is essentially the Petraeus doctrine: more resources more intelligently applied further forward.) There is even less point doing so when you are a discredited minority, as the Sunnis are after 35 years ofBaathism followed by their disastrous insurgency, and the enemy is in fact your main guarantor ofa fair place at the national table. Iraq’s Sunnis would not be needing the help ofthe US today had the Sunni leadership not made a historic miscalculation back in 2004. Saddam, a rational man, made an understandable but fatal misjudgement about the people he was up against, and paid for it with his throne and his neck. His Sunni supporters did not learn from this. Thinking they were dealing with the post-Vietnam America of Carter, Reagan and Clinton, they took up arms to prevent the Americans from delivering on their promise of an Iraq that could freely choose its leaders. The habit of centuries of overlordship also fed the Sunni miscalculation: to them, Shia control was unthinkable and so the insurgency was sure to succeed. By the second halfof2004, the insurgency had had six months to show what it was capable of, and it became clear that its goal could not be the military defeat ofthe Americans. The Sunnis were now fighting not for a military victory but a political one, to win in the US congress and the newsrooms ofCNN and the New York Times the war they could not win in the alleys and date palm groves ofMesopotamia. With regard to violence against their fellow Iraqis, the Sunni strategy revealed itself quickly to be an effort to provoke the Shias into full-fledged communal violence and civil war. Such a conflagra
tion would be so hot that even Bush’s Americans would run for home. The key moment in this strategy was the bombing ofthe Shia mosque in Samarra. Until then, the Shias had shown great restraint at the stream ofSunni provocations. Shia cells targeted Wahhabis and Baathists, but mostly left the Sunni populace alone. Under the steadying influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, their religious leader, the Shias endured mass slaughters in markets, buses and schools throughout 2004, 2005 and early 2006 without large-scale retaliation. As the main beneficiaries from the new Iraq, the Shias could only lose from a prolonged civil war. The Samarra bombing seemed briefly to be the final straw. The Shia death squads, most associated with the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, long chafing under Sistani’s restraining hand, were let slip. Neighbourhood cleansing began in much of Baghdad and went on for a year until Petraeus’s surge began in February. It continues in many places where his troops are not present. The world held its breath after Samarra: here, we thought, comes the cataclysm, the civil war that many had feared and that others had sought for three years. But it never happened. The Shia backlash in parts of Baghdad was vicious, and the Sunnis were more or less kicked out ofmuch ofthe city. But over 18 months later, it is clear that the Shias were too sensible to go all the way. It was never a civil war: no battle lines or uniforms, no secession, no attempt to seize power or impose constitutional change, no parallel governments, not even any public leaders or aims. The Sunnis rolled the dice, launched the battle of Baghdad and lost. Now they are begging for an accommodation with Shia Iraq. What is the evidence for this? This summer, Maliki’s office reached out to Baathist ex-soldiers and officers and received 48,600 requests for jobs in uniform; he made room for 5,000 ofthem, found civil service jobs for another 7,000, and put the rest of them on a full pension. Meanwhile leading Baathists have told Time magazine they want to be in the government; the 1920 Revolution Brigade—a Sunni insurgent group—is reportedly patrolling the streets ofDiyala with the 3rd infantry division, and the Sunni Islamic Army in Iraq is telling al Jazeera it may negotiate with the Americans. The anecdotes coming out of Baghdad confirm the trend. The drawing rooms ofthe capital’s dealmakers are full of Baathists, cap in hand. They are terrified ofthe Shia death squads and want to share in the pie when the oil starts flowing. Both Izzat al-Douri, the more prestigious of the two main Baathist leaders, and Mohamed Younis al Ahmed, the more lethal, have been reaching out from neighbouring countries to negotiate an accommodation. Since the summer, the
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news coming out on the Sunni front has consistently been in this one, inevitable direction.
The Shia story was different. There have been two broad tendencies in Iraq’s Shia politics: the proIranian camp and the nationalist camp. Iraq has two great traditional pro-Iranian Shia parties—Nouri alMaliki’s Dawa party and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (the former SCIRI). They fought Saddam from exile and spent the wilderness years in Iran. Opposed to these two is the al-Sadr movement, which—under Muqtada al-Sadr’s father Mohammad Sadeq, killed by Saddam’s men in 1999—fought Saddam from inside Iraq and kept its sense ofanti-Iranian Iraqi nationalism intact. Ofthese tendencies, only al-Sadr’s rose up to fight the Americans. Muqtada al-Sadr’s announcement of a unilateral six-month ceasefire on 29th August was significant, but not for the reasons most apparent. Al-Sadr actually stopped fighting the Americans three years ago. He rose up against them twice in 2004, but since the end of his second uprising, his Mahdi army has focused its violence on Wahhabis and Baathists, with frequent clashes against other Shia factions. Al-Sadr’s movement is splintered and immature. Its less legitimate fringes have been active in sectarian cleansing. Many who do have ties to his movement frequently work beyond his control. Some of these tendencies continue to direct violence against the coalition, but this is negligible compared to the force of a true Sadrist resistance, as anyone who was in Najafor Sadr City in 2004 will attest. Since this spring, US troops have been comfortably based in Sadr City—the giant Baghdad slum that is the power base ofthe Sadrists. In mid-September, the al-Sadr parliamentary bloc withdrew its support for Maliki’s government, without providing a public explanation. This repeats a pattern. In April, al-Sadr withdrew his ministers from the cabinet in ostensible protest at the remaining presence ofthe coalition forces; while in December 2006 he did the same thing in protest at a meeting between Maliki and Bush. Each ofthese exercises was greeted as Iraq’s latest cataclysm, but, in the latter two cases, a month or two later al-Sadr’s chiefs were quietly back fronting the ministries that their minions had continued to run in their absence. The point is that having al-Sadr playing political games rather than military ones is the most positive thing that could be happening in Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s most successful, popular and important politician, has underwritten Iraq’s progress towards legitimate politics since late 2004. His sense ofIraqi nationalism will never allow Iranian dominance; his fraternal stance towards the peaceful Sunni tendencies, and the sheer size and passion of his movement, make his support for the
project of reconstruction and pluralism in Iraq the most important political factor in the country. Prospect readers will not be surprised to read that alSadr is on the right side of the key issues, and that this is helping Iraq get over its transition from 35 years ofBaathism’s murderous apartheid (see “Iraq’s rebel democrats,” Prospect June 2005). Since 2004 I have pointed out that al-Sadr, as leader ofthe country’s largest popular movement, has more to win from a functioning electoral politics than from fighting the Americans who guaranteed the polls that liberated his people, or from fighting the Iraqi government ofwhich he is himselfthe joint largest part. As we have noted, the real al-Sadr ceasefire began three years ago. But by saying publicly, again, that his men are putting down their guns, al-Sadr is declaring in the most unequivocal way that the violence in Iraq is not in his name.
Iranian-made rockets will continue to kill British and American soldiers. Saudi Wahhabis will continue to blow up marketplaces, employment queues and Shia mosques when they can. Iraqi criminals will continue to bully their neighbourhoods into homogeneities that will give the strongest more leverage, although even this tide is turning in most places where Petraeus’s surge has reached. Bodies will continue to pile up in the ditches of Doura and east Baghdad as the country goes through the final spasm of the reckoning that was always going to attend the end of35 years ofbrutal Sunni rule. But in terms ofnational politics, there is nothing left to fight for. The only Iraqis still fighting for more than local factional advantage and criminal dominance are the irrational actors: the Sunni fundamentalists, who number but a thousand or two menat-arms, most ofthem not Iraqi. Like other Wahhabi attacks on Iraq in 1805 and 1925, the current one
The moral highway
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