Sunnis Now Want U.S. to Remain in Iraq

Although they comprise most of the insurgency, a growing number of Sunnis now want U.S. forces to remain in Iraq, reports the NYT.

As sectarian violence soars, many Sunni Arab political and religious leaders once staunchly opposed to the American presence here are now saying they need American troops to protect them from the rampages of Shiite militias and Shiite-run government forces. The pleas from the Sunni Arab leaders have been growing in intensity since an eruption of sectarian bloodletting in February, but they have reached a new pitch in recent days as Shiite militiamen have brazenly shot dead groups of Sunni civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad and other mixed areas of central Iraq. The Sunnis also view the Americans as a “bulwark against Iranian actions here,” a senior American diplomat said. Sunni politicians have made their viewpoints known to the Americans through informal discussions in recent weeks.

The Sunni Arab leaders say they have no newfound love for the Americans. Many say they still sympathize with the insurgency and despise the Bush administration and the fact that the invasion has helped strengthen the power of neighboring Iran, which backs the ruling Shiite parties. But the Sunni leaders have dropped demands for a quick withdrawal of American troops. Many now ask for little more than a timetable. A few Sunni leaders even say they want more American soldiers on the ground to help contain the widening chaos.

While I suspect many war supporters will view this as a positive development, it is a manifestation of a serious problem for which no obvious solution exists: sectarian violence. While it appears we are making substantial progress against the jihadists and getting local security forces trained, the Sunni-Shia violence is on the upsurge.

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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.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    What is it they say about hindsight? If only they’d reached this obvious conclusion 18 months ago! They might have participated in the first round of elections and taken any of the other myriad of actions that might have prevented things from reaching the current pass. Now on top of everything else they have to convince the Congress and the American people. Timing is everything.

    I agree with you, James: this isn’t particularly good news.

  2. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    The Daily Telegraph, the most conservative of all the UK newspapers and the one that has always been most sympathetic to neocon views, has a truly eye-opening account of just how bad things have gotten in Baghdad. Definitely worth a read.

    Regards, Cernig

  3. Bithead says:

    WOLF!!!

    (Sorry… echo of the cited article)

    Actually, James, this is simply a logical progression. I don’t think it good news OR bad, but rather, simply, a shift. When you’re dealing with that part of the world, it is simply a given that there’s going to be sectarian violence. That’s why, as a matter of course, any ruler of the country in that part of the world is going to have to rule with a fairly iron hand.

    The things that we here in the cozy west despise so many middle eastern leaders for, that is; the proclivity for breaking heads at the slightest provocation, is precisely what’s required to remain in power and relatively stable in that part of the world for that very reason.

    For example, the only reason Saddam stayed in power as long as he did, was because he was able to mostly keep a lid on the sectarian violence. Usually, by generating a little violence of his own. Distasteful as it is, that seems to be the only thing that works in that part of the world.

    There is a fine line, however, that Saddam clearly stepped over. As such I don’t claim that the people there were better off under Saddam as some of the left has.

    But this situation does bring forward a major point that I made almost a year ago; the degree of sectarian violence we’re now seeing over that last year should not be taken as an indication of a failure of our mission. It’s simply part of the animal in that part of the world.

  4. Gregg says:

    Sectarian violence is a problem the Iraqis have to fix themselves … or not. Until you have strong police forces who are willing to deal firmly (harshly, actually) and even-handedly with both Sunni and Shi’ite killers, the problem will continue.

    The U.S. dealt harshly with the “Indian problem” and with the Southern separatists. We need to get over the idea that all state-sponsored violence is bad. You can have a strong central government and a strong internal police force that deals sternly with violent sectarian groups, without having anything like Saddam Hussein. You don’t need torture, gassings, mass graves, a terrorized civilian population, or a dictator and a brutal secret police force. You just need a government that has the will to gain and maintain a monopoly on violence.

  5. Bithead says:

    Sectarian violence is a problem the Iraqis have to fix themselves � or not. Until you have strong police forces who are willing to deal firmly (harshly, actually) and even-handedly with both Sunni and Shi�ite killers, the problem will continue.

    Precisely correct. And you bring up an excellent point that I should have brought up as regards Saddam; He was far from even handed, wherein lay the major problem with him. (Leaving aside the financial issues)

    You can have a strong central government and a strong internal police force that deals sternly with violent sectarian groups, without having anything like Saddam Hussein. You don�t need torture, gassings, mass graves, a terrorized civilian population, or a dictator and a brutal secret police force. You just need a government that has the will to gain and maintain a monopoly on violence.

    You speak the truth. Unfortunately the only way to overcome a hell’s kitchen, is to become part of hell. Which makes the level of evenhandedness desired a long term goal, rather than a short term one. Particularly from the perspective of , as I say, the cozy west.

    We here in the West, view much of what went on in the Middle East for the past 60 years to be repulsive…. And perhaps rightly so.

    But Judging their actions and basing those judgments on our values, is not exactly the best way to go about it. I would hardly be the first one to make note of the idea that passion, and violence, it seems to be part of the culture in that part of the world far moreso than in our own. I do not see that as a positive thing, merely what is…. what exists.

    Here it is; given the violence of the non-governmental groups (the militias , Hamas, Hezbollah etc.) if any government there is to maintain control of the situation by gaining and maintaining an essential monopoly on violence, the perch from which we condemn middle eastern governments for violence, is a very precarious one, indeed.

    So, too, is the perch from which we judge the success or failure of a military mission in that region. For example, claiming civil war is erupting, based on sectarian violence.

  6. Jim,MtnViewCA,USA says:

    It is a shame, but there has been a lot of dysfunctional gov’t in MidEast. Line me up with those who say it will be years and plenty of additional heartache to unwind Iraq.
    Best wishes to Iraq, the Iraqi people have overperformed, IMO, given what they’ve been through. Don’t even think about giving up on them. It won’t be pretty but they’ll come through.

  7. Maybe Murtha just hasn’t explained to the Sunni’s the many advantages they would see from having their interests protected from Okinawa.

  8. Mehdi says:

    Where are the intellectually impoverished western leftists to come and denounce the various Iraqi death squads that mete out religious justice?

    Where are the intellectually impoverished post-colonial western leftists to demand human rights, democratic resolution of conflict, and civil society for Iraqis?

    No, as long as this sectarian violence can be traced back simply to the US invasion, and they can claim the US has installed a puppet government, the post-colonial leftists have all the reason to support the death squads and religious fascism for Muslims.

  9. Mitch says:

    Apparently, if we’re to believe the New York Times, the U.S. military has finally decided that Shiite attacks on Sunnis deserve its attention just as much as Sunni attacks on Americans.

    But independent journalist Aaron Glantz reported on how the motivation of this crackdown on Shiites was not to help Sunnis, but was to punish proponents of a measure in the Iraqi Parliament that would have demanded a timeline for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq:

    �’We asked them to put a timetable on their withdrawal, and they think that they should stay. This is the main reason of the conflict,’ explained Sadr movement spokesman Fadil el-Sharra, adding it was Sadr�s representatives in Parliament who had put forward the resolution demanding a timeline on a U.S. troop withdrawal.”

    The Times article reports that this U.S. military reversal garnered plaudits by many Iraqi Sunnis. But absent polling data to show a diminishing of the 80-plus percent of Iraqis who want the U.S. out, I wouldn�t have gone so far as to pat ourselves on the back for turning around Iraqi sentiment.

    And judging by the ulterior motives sited by Glantz, I certainly wouldn�t have allowed the explanation by a U.S. military spokesman ascribing noble causes to the U.S. reversal to go unchallenged.

  10. Mehdi says:

    Sadr is a criminal thug. But as the post-colonial Mitch attests to above, if the US attacks his death squads then according to such leftists, it is not because of him running death squads, but because Sadr wants US out. As if the Sunnis and Sistani do not want US out? As if Badr and Hakim have never asked US to set a timetable?

    Mitch even laments the fact the Sadr’s death squads are taken out of action by Americans.

    The moral and intellectual poverty of the post-colonial leftist supporting fascist Islamists have no lower bounds.

  11. Mitch says:

    Of course all Iraqis want the U.S. out, and many have asked, but there has not yet been a measure passed in the new “sovereign” parliament that says so. Such a measure would be devastating to the U.S. illusion of Iraq being a sovereign democracy, one that Bush apparently thinks is an example Putin should aspire to.

    Your point is well-taken that the U.S. may indeed have been attacking Sadr because of death squad activity, in fact that’s what the U.S. military would want us to believe. But it’s also not inconceivable that the U.S. attacked him because he runs death squads AND because he is a political threat in Parliament.

    Supposedly there is a truce between his movement and the U.S., and he does lead a party that not only has seats in the Parliament, but is powerful enough to have selected the Prime Minister, and just put forward a resolution to call for withdrawal.

    This issue doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game where it’s one or the other; it can be both. But trying to devise clever insults can prevent people from seeing that.