One From a Psyops Unit and
the Other From a Journalist Based in Lebanon

January 8, 2004

Comment: #503

Discussion Threads - Comments #s: 500, 499, and related blasters

Attached References:

[Reference 1] Nicholas Blanford, The Specter of Sectarian and Ethnic Unrest in Iraq, January 7, 2004

The following was sent to me by a good friend who has a good friend (unknown to me) who vouches for its authenticity. I have no idea who Tex de Atkine, the author, is. This report on his observations while in Iraq is somewhat dated (having been written in early December, prior to Saddam's capture). Still, I urge you to read it carefully. Reference 1 is an unrelated report on the growing possibilities for sectarian and ethnic conflict among Iraqis. Both are very interesting and contain some very useful, if sometimes contradictory, insights into the evolving conflict in Iraq.


Baghdad, Iraq
4 Dec 2003

I have been in Iraq going on about three weeks now working with a PSYOP unit, but I have spent most of my time roaming about the Coalition Provisional Authority palace and listening to any of the chiefs or their Indians who would talk to me (and most do), as well as daily and long discussions with the many Iraqis who work with us. This is my interim report on my observations and my initial analysis of what I have heard and seen.

First some bottom lines.

Since my last trip in June, life has gotten much better for the Iraqis and worse for American soldiers. I do not mean the usual quality of life stuff, e.g., food, accommodations, entertainment, R&R, etc. Actually that is very good in most cases. I mean security. In June I got around the city fairly well, but now we must be very cautious. Every American killed or injured is a propaganda victory for the thugs arrayed against us. Running up and down the roads just to prove we can do it is an exercise in Russian roulette.

Meanwhile the Iraqis are enjoying life to an extent they haven't had for decades. Every commodity is available, the shops are full, a few nightclubs are reviving, satellite dishes are like mushrooms sprouting everywhere. Families are out at night (although there is still a crime problem in some areas). Dozens of internet cafes have appeared. The Iraqis are watching Friends and Ally McBeal (one of the favorites). Arab music (which I love) is booming out everywhere. Food is plentiful, booze is available; the girls are out in western dress, beautifully attired and made up. And, I might add, many are exceedingly attractive.

No, Iraq isn't up to US standards; decent dental or medical care is only available to the very wealthy, and the infrastructure is falling apart. Saddam invested an unbelievable amount of money in palaces and hunting clubs, and his cronies emulated his example. Electricity still goes out; fuel lines are long. They pay about 5 cents a liter!!! The looting destroyed what little remained of the infrastructure and we have had to start from scratch.

The miskin (miserable poor) Shia in Sadr city live in squalor but, ironically, it is one of the safer places we can go. The middle and upper class Sunni areas are usually hostile, but that is a generalization not true in a number of areas. One-on-one they are still a friendly and hospitable people. I eat at an Arab restaurant every night and have yet to pay for a meal. I tried a number of times and was told, "do you want to spoil the evening?" So, the question is why? Why, with ridding Iraq of Saddam and bringing a chance for a decent life to these people, do we still lose a soldier or two every day?

The recent Oxford University survey of the Iraqi people is the best yet. According to it, 75% of the people do not trust us! But only 1% wants Saddam back. The undeniable truth here is that 99% of our soldiers want us out of here but only 17% of the Iraqis do at least in the short term. The latter statistic is by survey, the soldier survey by anecdotal evidence. (I say 99% because a few have fallen madly in love with Layla or Jamila). These are all contradictions. How can one explain them? They shoot at us. They love us, they hate us, they want us out, and they want us to stay!! It is difficult I know because I have tried a number of times and I realize how difficult it is to explain to Pentagon or White House staff the nuances of the situation here.

First of all, we are dealing with people who have an in-bred cynicism, a distrust of authority, all authority, and we are the only authority in town. They have never trusted their rulers. Why would they suddenly bind their lives over to us, particularly with our track record of abandoning allies in the recent past?

Secondly, we are not Arabs, we are not Muslims; we are kufr (infidels) to many of the people here. There is no way to modify or change that fact. Tolerance is in short supply in this part of the world. Christians are particularly fearful of what comes next. A number of Christian owned liquor stores have been burned by Shia militants. There is a certain amount of secularism in the urban areas (ironically, thanks to Saddam who regularly killed off radical clerics), but make no mistake about it, this is a very Muslim country. There are Wahhabi influences in this country among the Sunni, and the Shia are enforcing new rules of dress and conduct on their people. The town in which the Spaniards were murdered is a prime example. It is a Wahhabi town. Many townspeople thought they were Jews, which in the Wahhabi doctrine is a good enough reason to kill them.

Thirdly, we are occupiers of their country and, while liberating them we killed people and destroyed a number of buildings that are visible everywhere, huge charred ruins of twisted metal and concrete, that are a constant reminder that their army was defeated in a war. That obviously bothers them a great deal. We were amazingly judicious and careful in our destruction, but nevertheless there was some collateral damage. And innocents died, as well as soldiers. Their country was defeated. That is the reality they live with.

We drive through their streets with tanks and constantly stop people, search them, women included, change their money, take over the homes of elitist Ba'athis, (all for a damn good reason) and very often our troops are not culturally attuned to the society. Every day I watch young marines search women, not with hands but with metal detectors. Nevertheless it is a humiliating experience for people here. I must say, however, that overall the American soldier is a great ambassador. But after you get shot at every day or an improvised explosive device blows up nearby in the same village and young men taunt you with pictures of Saddam Hussein, making gestures like they are shouldering an RPG, the hearts and minds go out the window. I totally understand that, but apparently there are a number of reporters who do not, or perhaps for political reasons choose not to care. At the press conference I attended I was struck by the cynical smart-ass questioning more like hectoring of the flag officer spokesman. After the imbedded reporters, it is back to business as usual with the baiting and lecturing.

Fourthly, this was a mafia-run country. A relatively small number of people ran this country by fear and intimidation. Violence and cruelty that often rivaled that of the Soviet regime has characterized their lives for decades. The fear is still here. Our translators tell us that only their family, not even their life-long friends, know they work for us. Not because they would be seen as traitors but because the Ba'athi mafia would find out and kill them. It happens almost every day. Yet hundreds line up at the gate every day for jobs. They work hard for $10 a day or less.

Fifth, as part of the above point, people who have lived in an environment of fear, have a problem with trust of neighbors, even relatives, let alone we Americans. Saddam was fond of telling his cronies, "I will cut my own hand off before I give up power" and in killing his two sons-in-law he demonstrated what he meant. Hussein the Dictator is mostly a dead issue (many Iraqis think he is dead; they say why have we seen no video?), but his legacy lives on, a legacy of paranoia, getting the drop on your neighbor, looting the power companies, museums. Life is a zero sum game. If he has it, I won't. There isn't enough to go around. How can I trust the Americans? I don't even trust my in-laws or next-door neighbor!

Finally, we must understand our culpability in this civilian and military. We committed a number of monumental errors of judgment, compounded by a palpable arrogance, and a continuing case of self-deception and denial. We demobilized the army, the only respected institution in Iraq (not the Republican Guard or Special Republican Guard or the various intelligence and security services). There was no one to restore order at the end of the war and hundreds of thousands of men were out of a job with families to support. Ex-Generals in big villas with fancy cars were now selling their jewelry and furniture. Not that I feel sorry for them, but now they stay home and in the words of one young Iraqi woman, "order their wives about and plot against the coalition." Where we needed pragmatism, we injected some Wilsonian balderdash. They are, in many cases, the core of the leadership against us. It is more a matter of pride and honor than any deeply rooted patriotism.

As an adjunct to this, everyone should go back and read Ralph Peters' article in Parameters, (Summer 1994) [Ed. note: official journal of the US Army War College], called "The New Warrior Class." The thugs who shoot at our soldiers are perfect examples of what he wrote about. They are poor, aimless, disaffected urban or village nobodies, who cannot pay the mahr, bride price for a decent girl. Now they are given a weapon, a half-baked ideology, some slogans to shout, perhaps a uniform or headband, and they now swagger about the streets, pushing around the people who looked down on them. As Peters accurately predicted, the disenfranchised officer class provides the leadership.

Now we have a commercial firm trying to build a new army, of which so far we have one battalion. The first battalion seems to have come out well but we have a very long way to go before they can pick up some of the burden. We destroyed the rule of Saddam Hussein and the entire ruling structure but put nothing in its place for weeks, and since then we have alternated between bad guy, good guy techniques. In their eyes, the Iraqis do not trust us for good reasons. From Saddam, as they constantly tell us, they got consistency. He did what he said he would do.

It is obvious that there is a wide chasm between the military command and the civilian side of the house. Its effects are manifested in delayed projects, inconsistent policies, backtracking, and an atmosphere of frenetic but unfocussed activity. After taking numbers of casualties and basically doing very little about it, we began some offensive operations against the former regime loyalists (FRL), a bad term actually because few are really loyal to Hussein. They have gone beyond him, but now the "experts" are claiming this will further alienate the population. Mostly wrong! Actually many Iraqis have been pushing us to do more and bring the thugs to heel. They do not want to live in a chaotic environment. The old Arab saying applies here: One day of chaos is worse than a thousand years of tyranny.

There is ample blame to go around. The DOD experts were wrong, the academics were wrong, (and I was wrong too) and the advisors to President Bush should admit they were wrong and be contrite, instead of making excuses. These White House folks, mostly very young and brash, come in for 60-90 days, check the block on their resume and do dumb things. Young 30 something's females hold meetings with grizzled old Bedouin tribal chiefs and violate every known tradition of the Arab world. They mean well, but tear down what takes months to build.

Having written all this, the bottom line is we take three steps forward every week and two steps back, but that still gives us a plus which continues to add up. People work very hard here. There is nothing to do so people are at work till 11-12 midnight and up again at 6.

There is a conviction we cannot afford to fail. It would be catastrophic for our country for decades to come. You can be sure they will come after us, not the Iraqis but all our other enemies, particularly the Muslim radicals who will see us as weak and ineffectual.

Basically it seems the coalition military understand this is a war we must win, while the civilian component is involved in winning the peace. But there is no peace. The war goes on. I do believe we are gaining the upper hand on the battlefield but my take on that varies from day to day. And we continue to lose one or two young soldiers a day.

The 700 projects on the list to consume the 18.6 billion dollar construction appropriation should be a big boost. General Kellog has arrived with a good team and will get this thing going soon. The problem is achieving and maintaining enough security to actually get the project completed and not blown up. I understand that some of the companies are having a difficult times keeping their ex-pat employees. They are under great pressure from their families to come home. Even with the astronomical salaries it is a tough sell. People who drive supplies up to Takrit and Faluja draw 100k salaries. I am not sure I would do that myself. It is highway 13, Saigon to Ben Cat all over again.

Finally I must say I was wrong in seeing the Iraqis as just another slightly different group of Arabs. They are an immensely complicated people. The Arab, Muslim fatalism and outlook on life, combined with 35 years of the most repressive, intrusive state control over people one could imagine, put Iraq on a par with Stalin's control and paranoia.

As an Iraqi Brigadier told me today, in his neighborhood there was a monitor who knew every small detail about each household, to include who was pregnant and the due date. This was the system throughout the urban areas. As he said, "our minds and spirit were destroyed, our trust in each other, even our belief in ourselves, was destroyed. We cannot function without a strong leader." The imprint of Hussein on him was disconcerting. It was as if he were trying to exorcise an evil spirit, and as he talked he became agitated, almost hysterical. A fellow Iraqi sitting with us summed up the Iraqi mentality very well when he said that an Iraqi is the only person in the world who can be both a dedicated communist and devout Muslim at the same time. They are a multi-layered people who cannot be reduced to a one-dimensional personality.

Enough rambling for now. One last thought. This is a media war. The only way we can lose is to lose the battle for the American people. And we need the stakes of this war carefully explained, not by slogans or phony patriotic appeals, but pragmatic reasoning. Whether we should be here at all is a matter for historians, but not political cheap shots. You cannot say you support the troops, but not the war. How do you support the troop about to go on patrol in Fallujah and yet tell him he may die for a worthless, ill-considered war?

Tex De Atkine

Postscript, 6 Dec. Visited civil affairs units in Qa'im and Falujah today. A couple of the hottest places in Iraq. Amazing people in the civil affairs. All reserves and they go out almost every day, get shot at, grenaded, taunted, spit on and yet they are back the next day. This is a pysops/information/civil affairs war. I just hope our leadership understands this. We cannot win it with massive "sweeps" ala RVN, but with special, well-trained political military warriors, soldiers who are as comfortable drinking tea and coffee with the tribal leaders as kicking down doors and eliminating the hard core. They will be required to do both.


Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822"

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.

Reference 1

The Specter of Sectarian and Ethnic Unrest in Iraq

Nicholas Blanford
January 7, 2004

(Nicholas Blanford is a Beirut-based journalist. He recently spent a month reporting from Iraq.)

The ominous specter of sectarian and ethnic unrest in Iraq is growing more visible as the country struggles to forge a new identity and system of rule in the wake of Saddam Hussein's downfall. Though such unrest did not explode immediately after the end of the former regime, as some commentators had predicted, in the past few months, Sunni and Shiite Arabs have clashed in Baghdad. Tensions are also on the rise between Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkomans in the ethnically mixed and oil-rich regions around the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. The intercommunal strife is aggravated by the aggressive counter-insurgency tactics employed by the US military in the "Sunni triangle" where most attacks upon occupation soldiers have occurred, occupation policies which seem to favor the Shiites and the Kurds, and the failure of the occupying powers to restore stability.

Political divisions related to Iraq's diverse ethnic and sectarian composition are not new. Traditionally, Sunni Arabs have dominated the central government of Iraq since the country gained formal independence from Britain in 1932. Sunni hegemony was reinforced during Saddam Hussein's brutal tenure when the Kurdish and Shiite Arab communities were viewed as potential threats to the regime and persecuted mercilessly. Nor have communal tensions necessarily been foremost in the public mind since the conclusion of "major combat." The complaints heard from all Iraqis, regardless of faith, creed or ethnicity, concern the frustrations of daily living -- the lack of security, jobs, electricity and fuel, compounded by spiraling prices. The ouster of Hussein's Baathist regime and the vagaries of the US-British occupation, however, have thrown the political future of Iraq into doubt. In this atmosphere, the often competing agendas and interests of the various communities are expressed consciously and forthrightly in sectarian or ethnic terms.


Under Saddam Hussein, Sunni Arab political power was mainly vested in the Baath Party, the security services and the army. Following the disintegration or dissolution of these institutions, the Sunnis fear marginalization at the hands of the Shiite community, the largest sect in the country. According to most estimates, Shiites comprise 60-65 percent of the population while Sunnis (Arabs and Kurds) comprise 32-37 percent, with the remainder made up of Christians and smaller minorities. Some Sunni Arabs have launched attacks upon the US-led occupation, which they view as leading to Shiite domination of positions of power. The weakness of the Sunni polity is evident in the composition of the US-appointed interim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Of the five Sunni Arabs represented on the 25-member council, only two belong to political parties, neither of them carrying much weight.

By contrast, the main Shiite and Kurdish political parties are well-represented. The two main Kurdish parties -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Jalal Talabani and the older Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by Masoud Barzani -- enjoyed a degree of autonomy following the 1991 Gulf war in the twin Kurdish enclaves of northern Iraq. After the fall of the old regime, the Kurdish members of the IGC are pressing for greater autonomy in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, a position which other communities perceive as weakening the consensus that Iraq should remain whole rather than split into ethnic and sectarian statelets. The Shiite religious parties who sit on the IGC are centered around the traditionally powerful Shiite clergy. They include the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which fields a military wing called the Badr Brigades, numbering about 10,000 fighters, al-Da'wa, one of the oldest Shiite parties in Iraq, and the Iraqi Hizballah, composed mainly of "marsh Arabs" living in the south of the country. After decades of oppression, the Shiites expect a leading -- if not the leading -- role in the country's governance.

Apprehensive about the prospect of Shiite dominance, in the last week of December 2003 Sunni Arabs representing three Islamist trends, as well as urban professionals and tribal leaders, convened a national consultative (shura) council. The council aims to present a unified Sunni voice to the occupation authorities and to fellow Iraqis. "We never needed a body like the shura council before," Sunni cleric Harith Dhari told the Washington Post. "But now we need it to look after our political, social and religious affairs." Spokesmen for the body have declined to back or denounce the insurgents, though they rhetorically support an Iraqi right of resistance to occupation. The overtly communal basis of the council finds echoes in other recently constituted bodies which appear more ready to take up arms. On January 5, 2004, al-Hayat, a pan-Arab daily based in London, reported that the Sunni "Clear Victory Movement" plans to establish a militia in response to the "Mahdi Army" assembled by the young Shiite cleric Sheikh Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been a vocal critic of the occupation from early on. The Movement has sworn to oppose the US military presence if the Sunnis are not better integrated into the existing political order. These events followed several instances of intercommunal violence in the preceding month.


Simmering hostility between Sunnis and Shiites boiled over in an incident in the Hurriyya district of western Baghdad which largely went unreported. The residents of the neighborhood, more or less equally divided between Sunnis and Shiites, say that the two communities formerly lived in harmony, with intermarriage commonplace. On December 9, three Sunnis were killed in an explosion at the Ahbab al-Mustafa mosque. Sheikh Faruq al-Batawi, imam of the mosque, claimed that two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the building from the roof of an adjacent school, killing three men standing in the courtyard shortly after dawn prayers. He blamed the attack on Shiite "outsiders," naming the Badr Brigades and al-Da'wa, who spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in exile. "The relations with the Shia have always been very good here," he said. "Only the Shia who have come from outside Iraq want to cause problems." The Shiites in the neighborhood had a different take on what happened. They said that the victims were "Wahhabi" resistance fighters, referring to the austere branch of Sunni Islam that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Iraqi Shiites often inaccurately describe Iraqi Sunni Islamists as Wahhabis. The men died, the Shiites claimed, when a bomb they had manufactured exploded prematurely as they were placing it in a car beside the mosque.

The two versions were irreconcilable, both sides preferring to believe the worst of each other. Communal peace in Hurriyya was shattered by one violent incident. Both Sunni and Shiite clerics urged calm and reconciliation. But there was little disguising the distrust felt by Sunni clerics toward their Shiite counterparts, as well as the numbers commonly cited to show Shiite majority status. "In their [Shiite] mosques, they announce their enmity to the sahaba [the term given to the companions of Muhammad, used in a derogatory sense by the Shia]," said Sheikh al-Batawi. "They think that the Sunnis are a minority in Iraq. But if you connect all the provinces and the Kurds, we are 64 percent of the country." Reflecting the new sectarian consciousness of the Sunni Arabs, Batawi went so far as to assert that, "If there is a sectarian war, the Kurds will side with the Sunnis." He claimed that similar attacks against Sunni worshippers had occurred in Baghdad in previous weeks.

Hooded Sunni gunmen wearing identity badges declaring them to belong to the "Khalid ibn Walid Forces" flooded the district. The morning after the bombing, the gunmen stormed a husseiniyya, a Shiite prayer house (formerly a Baath Party headquarters) some 300 yards from the mosque. The gunmen ransacked the husseiniyya, tearing up pictures of Imam Ali, smashing the minbar, the black-painted pulpit from which Shiite clerics deliver sermons, and ripping out the loudspeaker system. Furious Shiites clamored for revenge. "I am facing a lot of pressure to let my people fight them," said Sheikh Mahdi al-Muhammadawi, a local Shiite cleric. "But I reject this and call instead for a peaceful solution because otherwise the results will be seen in the graveyards and the hospitals." Tensions subsided over the following days, but the series of events soured relations in Hurriyya and was indicative of a growing sectarianism on the streets.

The explosion and the despoliation of the prayer house were not isolated incidents. On December 16, two days after Saddam Hussein was captured, Shiite residents of Baghdad's Kadhimiyya district entered the Adhamiyya neighborhood to celebrate. Sunni residents of Adhamiyya resented the intrusion and clashes broke out, leaving more than a dozen people dead. On December 24, four Sunni worshippers were shot dead in a drive-by shooting as they emerged from a mosque in the Shiite-dominated Washash district. The Board of [Sunni] Muslim Clerics accused a "foreign power," a reference to Iran, of engineering the killings "in the context of instigating sectarian warfare."


Leaders of both communities tend to underplay the depth of sectarian sentiment in the country. Sheikh Kardom al-Awadi, a Shiite cleric from the town of Samawa in southern Iraq, ruled out the prospect of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites. "We get closer to God by loving the Sunnis," he said. "It's obvious we have been suffering but that doesn't mean that we want to get the better of others." Sheikh al-Awadi is a close aide to Sheikh Muqtada al-Sadr. Despite assurances from the Shiite community, Sunnis remain wary of Shiite political aspirations. "If it happens that the Shia and Kurds rule Iraq, the country will never be safe and stable, not for hundreds of years," said Sheikh Abd al-Karim al-Qubaysi, a prominent Sunni cleric in Baghdad. "This is not a threat. The Sunnis are not declaring war. We always call for brotherhood and dialogue. But we will not allow anyone to cancel out our role in Iraq. Just as Iraq needs Shia clerics and leaders, so Iraq needs Sunni clerics and leaders. There must be a balance between the two. Iraq will never calm down unless the two sides are equal."

The main reason for Shiite magnanimity toward the occupation forces is the expectation that they will reap the rewards in the new Iraq by virtue of their superior numbers. Indeed, it is only the powerful Shiite clergy that is keeping the community in check. The average Iraqi Shiite has as little regard for his occupiers as his Sunni countrymen. It would be a serious mistake to assume that Shiite quiescence is a sign of approval for the occupation. "Patience has its limits and we are waiting because we are tired of seeing tanks and soldiers and listening to the sounds of explosions," Sheikh al-Awadi said. "The existence of the Islamic clerics exerts a spiritual control over the people. If these people were released, there is no one that could stop them. The wisdom of the hawza [the highest institute of Shia religious learning] is holding the people back."

Shiite political ambitions are on a collision course with Sunni Arab fears of being left out. If the Shiites fail to receive what they feel is their due and if the poor state of basic services is not drastically improved, there is a very real risk of a Shiite resistance emerging. That would effectively sound the death knell of the foreign military presence in Iraq. While the current insurgency may be fragmented and ad hoc, the well-organized Shiite groups -- some of which were trained by the Iranian military and have combat experience -- would make the occupation untenable. Yet an Iraq in which the Shiites have a greater say than the Sunnis will feed the latter's fears of isolation and possible persecution, undermining any motivation to cooperate with the new order. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and their bosses in Washington and London are aware of this dilemma. Following Saddam Hussein's capture on December 14, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a point of addressing Iraq's Sunnis. "To the Sunnis, whose allegiance Saddam falsely claimed, I say there is a place for you playing a full part in a new and a democratic Iraq. To those formally in Saddam's party, there by force and not by conviction, I say we can put the past behind us," he declared.


Yet the policies of the US-British occupation have to some extent served to reinforce ethnic and sectarian tensions. In northern Iraq, elements of the peshmerga, the militias of the two Kurdish parties which number 35,000 men in total, conduct security operations with the US military, usually against Sunni Arabs. The Kurds remain staunch allies of the occupation authorities, who view them as a useful ally against Sunni militants. But there is a price to be paid. The northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, both of which have mixed Sunni Arab and Kurdish populations, as well as minorities of Turkomans and Christians, have witnessed spurts of ethnic violence in the past six months. In early January, several Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk were killed in clashes with Kurdish militias, furthering resentment among the local Sunni community which fears Kurdish efforts to incorporate the city and its petroleum-producing environs into a partially autonomous Kurdish entity.

In early December 2003, US troops accompanied by Kurdish militiamen sealed off the town of Hawija, 35 miles west of Kirkuk, arresting residents, seizing weapons and partially bulldozing the house of a suspected militant. The Sunni Arab residents of Hawija viewed the day-long operation in ethnic terms, arguing that the Kurds were seeking to incorporate the town into the Kurdish area. At times, the occupation authorities can appear surprisingly oblivious to the consequences of their actions. For example, in December, the US military announced a plan to establish a new battalion composed of volunteers drawn from mainly Shiite and Kurdish militias to conduct counter-insurgency operations. The militias slated to participate in the new battalion include the Badr Brigades, the peshmerga of the two main Kurdish parties, and the military wings of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) led by Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite businessman close to the Pentagon, and the Iraqi National Accord of Iyad Allawi, another Shiite and former exile with ties to the CIA and the State Department. The leaders of all five parties sit on the Iraqi Governing Council.

Back on August 31, 2003, Chalabi had written an editorial for the Washington Post urging the US to put INC and Kurdish paramilitaries to work helping the Marines find what were then still known as "regime remnants." The idea was summarily dismissed at the time, but five months later, the US adopted it. This plan immediately came under fire from Sunnis who viewed the Shiite-Kurdish military unit in sectarian terms. "This organization put forward by the political parties is a bomb that could explode at any time," said Sheikh Abd al-Karim Qubaysi, a Sunni cleric. In fact, the battalion would probably have a negligible impact on the insurgency. But its planned creation unnecessarily reinforced Sunni Arab fears of isolation and persecution.


The US military's counter-insurgency tactics in the "Sunni triangle" north and west of Baghdad is having a similar effect. It is not lost on the Iraqis that the US military has embraced some of the tactics used by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza. Massive displays of firepower, sealing off villages with razor wire, mass arrests and bulldozing houses of suspected militants have become commonplace. Sunni mosques have been raided and senior clerics detained. While those tactics have helped temporarily reduce the number (if not the lethality) of attacks against US troops in the "Sunni triangle," they have only increased the sense of resentment among Sunnis toward the occupation. The Americans are falling into the same vicious cycle that ensnared the Israeli army in south Lebanon in the early 1980s: cracking down on the guerrillas fuels support for the resistance, which leads to more repressive measures, and on and on. The US army views its counter-insurgency efforts largely in military terms. However, political measures are equally, if not more, important for diminishing the violence of opposition. The efforts of the CPA are concentrated on the quite different goal of managing the transition to an indigenous interim government, selected by complicated caucuses, on the White House's electoral timetable. But the new Sunni shura council has echoed the demand, widespread among the Shiites, for direct elections.

Unless Sunni Arabs feel they have a stake in the new Iraq, it is difficult to see how their various kinds of resistance to the military occupation and its political program can be defeated. The signs for the future, as the Sunnis organize explicitly under the sectarian banner, are not encouraging. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan voiced the worries of many Iraq watchers when he observed upon the announcement of the Clear Victory Movement: "That's all we need, another communally based militia."

For background on the sectarian-ethnic composition of the Iraqi Governing Council, see Raad Alkadiri and Chris Toensing, "The Iraqi Governing Council's Sectarian Hue," Middle East Report Online, August 20, 2003.

For background on Shiite aspirations, see Juan Cole, "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq," Middle East Report Online, April 22, 2003.

Middle East Report Online is a free service of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP).