Iraqi Sunnis Battle To Defend Shiites

Amidst reports of inter-sectarian quabbles that are making a constitution that will satisfy Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, we have a very positive development: Sunni Iraqis fighting Sunni Abu Musab Zarqawi’s terrorists in order to protect Shiites.

Iraqi Sunnis Battle To Defend Shiites (WaPo, A1)

Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

Dozens of Sunni members of the Dulaimi tribe established cordons around Shiite homes, and Sunni men battled followers of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, for an hour Saturday morning. The clashes killed five of Zarqawi’s guerrillas and two tribal fighters, residents and hospital workers said. Zarqawi loyalists pulled out of two contested neighborhoods in pickup trucks stripped of license plates, witnesses said.

The leaders of four of Iraq’s Sunni tribes had rallied their fighters in response to warnings posted in mosques by followers of Zarqawi. The postings ordered Ramadi’s roughly 3,000 Shiites to leave the city of more than 200,000 in the area called the Sunni Triangle. The order to leave within 48 hours came in retaliation for alleged expulsions by Shiite militias of Sunnis living in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq.

“We have had enough of his nonsense,” said Sheik Ahmad Khanjar, leader of the Albu Ali clan, referring to Zarqawi. “We don’t accept that a non-Iraqi should try to enforce his control over Iraqis, regardless of their sect — whether Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs or Kurds.”

Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders and armed followers of Zarqawi have clashed before in the far west, and Sunnis and Shiites in western cities have sympathized with one another over what they have said are attempts by foreign fighters to spark open sectarian conflict. But Saturday’s clash in Ramadi was one of the first times Sunni Arabs have been known to take up arms against insurgents specifically in defense of Shiites.

The dramatic show of unity in the western city came as Sunni and Shiite Arabs and ethnic Kurds in Baghdad continued negotiations over the country’s constitution. They were trying to meet a Monday deadline but failing to resolve some key differences.

Outstanding. It’s far too early to say that this is a trend rather than an isolated incident. Still, the impulse that, whatever their differences, Iraqis must defend other Iraqis from outsiders is a necessary part of institutionalizing Iraqi nationalism.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.