Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shiites On A Roll

We don’t know, even today, the exact reasons and motives that caused President Bush to go to war against Iraq. We do know that many of the reasons that were given were inaccurate, to say the least. We also know that many Jewish neo-conservatives were part of the administration at the time and supported, both publicly and privately, the idea of eliminating Saddam Hussein and reconfiguring Iraq as a liberal democracy. I have no doubt these Jewish neo-conservatives believed in their hearts they were doing Israel a favor. After all, Saddam Hussein actually fired missiles into Israel during the Gulf War, and although he never managed to actually send troops to fight in any of the previous wars, he was a bitter enemy of Israel.

Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, the invasion of Iraq did Israel a great disservice. It eliminated one of the major constraints on Iran’s ability to project itself in the region. We did Iran two favors in the last decade. We brought down the Sunni Taliban immediately to the east that was hostile to Iran. We then helped create the much friendlier current regime. Second, in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, we enabled the Shiites of the south to gain power and form close ties with Iran.

Saddam was the Sunni enemy of Iran who fought them for seven years in the 80’s in a war that took a million lives. In 1991, Saddaam ruthlessly put down the Shiite revolt in the south of Iraq. (Saddam has said the worst mistake of his life was not to have executed Ayatollah Khomeni when he was in exile in Iraq) The Shiites in Iraq are the largest goup in the country at 65% of the population. With Saaddam deposed and the Shiites the major force in the new government, Iran was finally free to begin thinking of new adventures. Suddenly an Iranian President Ahmadinejad emerges with the goals of destroying Israel, creating a Shiite axis from Iran to Lebanon, and using nuclear arms to project Shiite power. And now we have an Iranian sponsored Hezbollah war with Israel.

Whatever one might say about the Bush administration, it was not one of their goals to unleash a Shiite resurgence. Our friends in the region are all Sunnis: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States. Yet, this is precisely what we have managed to do. For example, the bulk of our trouble in Iraq is Shiite in origin. Sunnis fearing Shiite domination have joined the insurgency. Some pro Iranian Shiites want to keep American forces bogged down. We have not been able to find a constitutional formula to satisfy both groups, nor have we figured out an acceptable way to divide the oil revenues. The result has been sectarian violence complete with ethnic cleansing. The Sunni jihadists who hate the American occupation are not an overwhelming problem. The jihadists want us out. We want nothing more than to get out.

Our rhetoric has also helped the Shiites. We said that we’re entering the Middle East in order to promote democracy. We must now try to find a way to avoid direct democracy and protect the Sunni minority in Iraq from Shiite dominance. If we don’t, the insurgency or civil war, whatever you call it, will go on forever.

The same problem is in Lebanon. The Shiites are 45% of the population. They are relatively disenfranchised. The Shiites have thirty-five of the hundred and twenty-eight seats in Lebanon’s parliament, largely because the country has not held a census since 1932. Guess why? The Lebanese system bars Shiites from becoming president or prime minister, which are always reserved for a Christian and a Sunni. In principal, we should be in favor of a new census, and a more democratic arrangement. But if we’re going to help the Shiites of the south, we thereby help Hezbollah and Iran. Checkmate.

Here are some other examples of where our rhetoric is in conflict with reality. In Kuwait, 30% of the population is Shiite. These 730,000 people have very little influence. In Bahrain, the situation is even worse. Seventy-five percent of the seven hundred thousand people in the country are Shiite. The sheik who runs the country is a Sunni. Are we in favor of democracy in Bahrain? And so it goes… Twenty percent of Pakistan, seventy five percent of Azerbaijan, ten percent of Saudi Arabia are Shiites. The Gulf Shiites are going to get uppity once a Shiite regime is installed in Iraq. The Saudi Shiites live in the Eastern Province where all the oil has been found.

Sunnis are not going to sit quiet for all of this. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have provided the bulk of the suicide bombers in Iraq. Al- Quida is Sunni.

The existence of a Sunni-Shiite split in the Arab world raises interesting possibilities, both for the Israel and United States. Where does Israel stand on this split? Is Israel also pro-Sunni, anti-Shiite? Palestinians are secular or Sunni, never Shiite. Syria is mostly Sunni. If there was some way of exploiting the animosity between Shiites and Sunnis, it might be very helpful. Israel seems, however, to be totally oblivious to these issues. Right now the main thrust of everyone’s foreign policy seems to be: Stop the Shiites.


At 12:48 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

Do not forget that Saadam bankrolled Palestinian suicide bombers, and c. 2003 still posed a (roundabout) threat to Israel thereby. I agree though that even then the chief threat was known to be Iran.

I never did share the Bush/Neocon enthusiasm for spreading 'democracy' -- as Bernard Lewis says democracy/freedom is potent stuff and is best administered in small doses, lest it kill the patient.

I believe he also floated the idea back then that Iraq ought to be carved into three ethnically distinct entities. Although that proposal might have strengthened the Shiites too, it would have kept the Shiite-Sunni war on a recognized border instead of in fruit markets in Bagdad, and the US troops might've been out of the region in 2006.


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