02 August 2005


Via Mark A. R. Kleiman, an excellent long overview of the current problems in Iraq in the New York Review of Books.
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.

I've been guilty of seeing the insurgency as a nationalist anti-occupation movement myself. But I think that's a result of sticking too close to the Vietnam analogy.

But a Sunni Arab insurgency is not really comforting news. It points to how there is no strong Iraqi national identity for us to support; instead, there's a complicated set of tensions between the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Shi'ite Arabs that cannot be reconciled. And the majority Shi'ites are uncomfortably cosy with Iran.

There are two central problems in today's Iraq: the first is the insurgency and the second is an Iranian takeover. The insurgency, for all its violence, is a finite problem. The insurgents may not be defeated but they cannot win. This, of course, raises a question about what a prolonged US military presence in Iraq can accomplish, since there is no military solution to the problem of Sunni Arab rejection of Shiite rule, which is now integral to the insurgency.

Iraq's Shiites endured decades of brutal repression, to which the United States was mostly indifferent. Iran, by contrast, was a good friend and committed supporter of the Shiites. By bringing freedom to Iraq, the Bush administration has allowed Iraq's Shiites to vote for pro-Iranian religious parties that seek to create—and are creating —an Islamic state.

It's a long article, but worth reading through.

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