On Point I Was On Nprs On Point Tuesday

On Point

I was on NPR’s On Point Tuesday evening. I was surprised to find the other guests reporting an attitude in the CPA and Washington that Saddam’s capture was the beginning of the end of the low-grade insurgency. There was a sense that now Iraqis would be more willing to turn in Baathists and guerrillas, that a corner had been decisively turned on security. It was also alleged (as I understood it) that Iraqis are not nationalist but rather oriented to tribal identities and if the CPA keeps the tribes happy everything will be all right.

Now, I don’t contest the point made, that all the Shiites and Kurds are happy about Saddam’s arrest, and perhaps 50% of Sunni Arabs are, as well. So it is really only about 8% of the population that is unhappy with Saddam being captured, if that.

But as I have argued in the past few days (scroll down), the guerrilla movement just is not exhausted by the Baath remnants. There are lots of others in it, including Sunni fundamentalists, Iraqi nationalists, feuding clansmen, etc. Only 60% of attacks on Coalition forces even take place in the Sunni Arab heartland. The other 40% are in the Shiite south or the largely Kurdish north. Moreover, the occupation is deeply unpopular with everyone, including the Shiites, who are suffering along with it in hopes of gaining something, rather than actively supporting it. So, the set of Iraqis opposed to the occupation and the set of Iraqis who are pro-Saddam do not exactly overlap, with the latter circle much smaller than the former.

As for the allegation that Iraqis are not nationalistic, it blew my mind. Maybe the word means something different here from my idea of it. But Iraqis seem to me to have a very developed imaginary of the nation, to which they are emotionally deeply attached. I also think the day when tribes were the key to anything has largely passed, with the growth of large urban centers.

I predict that the euphoria in the US about Saddam’s capture will fade fairly quickly. I don’t know if the insurgency will die down this spring, but if it does it will be because of good intelligence and military work, not because Saddam was captured. I personally think it is a little unlikely that the violence will cease soon, though, unless the US can find a way to convince the Sunni Arabs that they are not about to be reduced to a dispossessed minority ruled by Shiites and Kurds.

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