Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Some people think I am 'sectarian'

I hear a lot of Arabs accusing each other of being 'sectarian' these days. What is sectarian? When did sectarian become a dirty word? Arabs insist that Saddam's regime was not sectarian, but the top members of Saddam's government were Tikriti, and I venture to guess that the vast majority of his victims were Kurds and Shia, especially if the three quarter million Iranians who were killed in Saddam's war are also counted as his victims.

A Google search of 'sectarian conflict Iraq' gives over a million results - the first page lists mostly articles from the American mainstream press, all but two published in 2006, and none from the Arab media. One article in the Turkish Weekly caught my eye - it was written by Cengiz Candar, who acknowledged in February 2006 that the conflict was sectarian in nature, and that it had already been a 'low-intensity civil war' until the bombing of the Askari shrine:

"But, not an Arab-Kurdish type of civil war, but a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites, and that is exactly the immense threat we all might be facing now in the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on Wednesday. It is, indeed, a most ominous development for Iraq, the entire Middle East, the U.S. and including Turkey. For all of us.

Being a very close and keen follower of the developments in Iraq and having been very recently there with the privilege of talking and listening to the main political actors in the field, ranging from President Jalal Talabani to the U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Shiite leader Adil Abdelmehdi, I cannot but be prudent to say I am optimistic for the imminent future. But as an inborn optimist, I refrain from being optimistic this time.

The Shiite-Sunni conflict was already there and already a "low-intensity civil war" was underway between the two communities of Iraq with underpinnings reaching to the entire and wider Middle East region. The situation was a looming civil war. Presently, we are at the threshold of a "high-intensity civil war."

Preventive measures could place the Sunnis who participated in the last elections (Dec. 15, 2005) into a competent national unity government. And, Zalmay Khalilzad was engaged in doing so. However, if the dose of medication is not arranged deftly, it could poison the body and may create fatal consequences. I am afraid that is what we have been witnessing in Iraq over last few days, and worse might be coming soon.

Zalmay Khalilzad, on Tuesday, publicly threatened the Shiite Alliance that won the elections by saying that unless it formed a national unity government that significantly includes Sunnis, it risked losing American financial assistance and he also insisted -- not unjustly -- that politicians with links to Shiite militias be banned from two ministries, interior and defense."

None of the Arab media has acknowledged the sectarian nature of Saddam's regime, and many Arabs vehemently deny it, but we can all agree now that Iraq is experiencing a sectarian civil war. I wonder why the press was not discussing the sectarian nature of this conflict before 2006. Was the bombing that killed Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and 124 others in Nejef in August 2003 not sectarian? Were the 279 suicide bombings that occurred in Iraq before 2006 not sectarian in nature?

PS - I did find this at the bottom of the first page of that Google search:

"The Hussein regime over the years has exploited tensions between the diverse religious and ethnic communities within Iraq for its own political gain. How have Saddam Hussein's policies affected relations between Kurds, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, and other religious and ethnic groups within Iraq? How can the United States and the international community prevent sectarian violence in the wake of a conflict there?

On February 11, 2003, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a briefing to examine the challenges of ethnic reconciliation in a post-Hussein Iraq. Moderated by Institute Middle East specialist and Research and Studies program officer Tamara Wittes, the briefing featured former Institute senior fellow Amatzia Baram of the University of Haifa; Rend Rahim Francke, executive director of the Iraq Foundation; Hatem Mukhlis, chief of political section, Iraqi National Movement; and Jihan Hajibadri with American University's Program on International Peace and Conflict Resolution."

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