What do Iraq’s Sunni Arabs have in common with Ferguson, Mo. African-Americans?

By Juan Cole

If prime minister-designate Haydar al-Abadi in Iraq is to hope to defeat the so-called “Islamic State” (actually a kind of mafia made up of serial murderers and marauders), he must find a way to re-incorporate Iraq’s Sunni Arabs into the government, which has been dominated by Shiite religious parties since 2005, partly because of Neoconservative US preference for Arab Shiite rule under the Bush occupation.

Al-Abadi has succeeded in getting a pledge from the largely separatist Sunni Kurds to hold off on leaving Iraq and to participate in his government at the cabinet and parliamentary level in Baghdad. (Kurdistan is an ethnic super-province a little like French-speaking Quebec in Canada, but with much more autonomy from the central government; Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani has threatened to hold a referendum within six months on complete secession and independence).

A Sunni Arab political bloc, al-Hall (“Solution”), led by Jamal al-Karbuli has sent a letter to al-Abadi detailing their demands. Al-Karbuli (or al-Karbouli) had led a faction within the old Iraqiya party coalition which has been the main vehicle of Sunni parliamentary politics in recent years. He blames Iraq violence and bombings on Shiite Iran.

They want the thousands of Sunni Arab detainees (accused of anti-government activity by outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki) given an amnesty;

They want a fair distribution of cabinet seats and government jobs (the only kind of reliable jobs there really are in Iraq) with regard to the Sunni Arabs, tens of thousands of which were fired in the past decade and replaced with Shiites;

They want the constant Iraqi army shelling of Sunni Arab towns and villages in the north and west halted;

They demand the return to the Sunni Arab community of religious endowments (waqf) for mosques and other religious purposes, which they maintain have been usurped by the Shiites;

They demand the expulsion of Shiite militias from Baghdad and the largely Sunni or mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces.

A spokesman for al-Abadi said that the incoming prime minister was willing to consider the demands sent over by al-Karbuli, but that they could not be seen as prerequisites for forming a new, inclusive government, which would be putting the cart before the horse. Many of them require executive authority, which al-Abadi does not have until he becomes prime minister, and which is still held by lame duck prime minister al-Maliki.

The demands of the al-Karbuli block reveal the situation as seen by Sunni Arabs, and they help explain why so many Sunni Arabs in Mosul and elsewhere preferred even rule by IS thugs to continued occupation at the hands of al-Maliki’s forces. They see themselves rather as African-Americans in Ferguson, Mo., do, as constantly coerced, imprisoned at disproportionately high levels, and kept as an economic underclass by systematic discrimination.

Of course, there is more than one side to the Iraq story, and al-Abadi can hardly suddenly turn on the Shiite militias offering paramilitary support against IS, or cease a military campaign to expel IS from Iraq. But some of what al-Karbouli is asking for, especially on the political and economic side, is obviously necessary if Iraq is not to permanently splinter.

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Related video:

RT: “Iraq v ISIS: Army fights islamists with RPGs, heavy weaponry”

9 Responses

  1. The dominant forces in three countries have adopted remarkably similar tactics. In Iraq, in Gaza and in the US as a whole, but as exemplified most clearly in Ferguson, MO, despised minorities are deliberately isolated, denigrated and ultimately subjected to attempted destruction. There must be a secret playbook being passed around among the elites.

  2. This is about process not substance, but process can get in the way of substance as has happened since you changed your format. I started reading you in 2003 because you offered a clear account of what was happening and we could see clearly the line between what you wrote the day before and what you were writing today. This is no longer the case. Please consider returning to your old format. Thank you

  3. It has certainly been a long time since I commanded US Marines in combat, so I may be ‘out of date.’ However this looks pretty confusing to me. There seems to be no concerted effort by the troops involved to maneuver forward to take or eliminate the position they are attacking – just a bunch of uncoordinated running around and expanding a lot of ammo.

    • As a Marine, you are expecting professionalism. Which may be the thing that is becoming obsolete. Consider the cycle of warfare in the last half-millenium. The monarchs of Europe created small professional armies to wage small, endless feuds with each other over tiny pieces of land. But when an important cause arose that forced all-out war between great alliances, the rules and limitations got thrown out, and the civilian population got involved. Sometimes vast armies of fanatics or conscripts overwhelmed the professionals and then wreaked havoc on the land. Then after the cataclysm, the surviving kings got together to negotiate a new set of rules to put the genie back in the bottle for a century or so:

      Wars of the Reformation > Treaty of Westphalia 1648
      Wars of the French Revolution > Congress of Vienna 1815
      World Wars > Treaty of Versailles (whoops – that one didn’t take) Formation of the United Nations 1945

      Really, nuclear weapons were what forced the cycle back to small wars this time. And ever since movements and peoples have struggled against the Great Powers and their professional power projection capabilities – just as they did after the previous arrangements. Eventually, there will be mass movements in some form of battlefield again, and then people’s wars. The thing is, all that uncoordinated running around you observed is what drives professional armies crazy. Conventional armies want to fight conventional foes – not have to play traffic cop between umpteen nutty armed guerrilla factions as the US has had to do recently.

    • Check out the shoot-em-up videos under “Syria combat” on YouTube and such. Lots of that as tactics. Somehow it seems to still result in casualties, and “movement.” I wonder if the better schooled Gunmen of IS display any better discipline. For $20 billion in Training Bucks, this is what we get as our return on investment?

      Nice helmet cams, though. Home movies galore.

    • I don’t think a civil war based on religious differences, and control of oil lands, has clear cut “San Juan Hill” military situations. A decisive win by either side would probably result in extreme punishment of the losers. Winning isn’t everything, or the only thing.

      • Accommodation, comity, decency, the Golden Rule stuff. The only resolution that might work. You wonder if scarcity, greed, and all those weapons will ever let the other dare I call them virtues a space to grow…

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