Friday, April 09, 2004

Threat of ethnic strife in Iraq overstated

It used to be the case that the American government could play Sunni and Shi'a Muslims off one another. You know, Iraq against Iran, Iran against Afghanistan. But not anymore.

Signs That Shiites and Sunnis Are Joining to Battle Americans

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago, one of its chief concerns was preventing a civil war between Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country, and Sunni Muslims, who held all the power under Saddam Hussein.

Now the fear is that the growing uprising against the occupation is forging a new and previously unheard of level of cooperation between the two groups — and the common cause is killing Americans.

"We have orders from our leader to fight as one and to help the Sunnis," said Nimaa Fakir, a 27-year-old teacher and foot soldier in the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia [whose spiritual leader is the much-in-the-news Moqtada al-Sadr]. "We want to increase the fighting, increase the killing and drive the Americans out. To do this, we must combine forces."
So factions in Iraq (Shi'a fundamentalists, Sunni fundamentalists, secular Ba'athists) who were previously at each others' throats are now at ours? This makes us safer how? Given the Bush Administration penchant for implausible, far-fetched spin, expect to hear Wolfowitz sound off about how the threat of ethnic strife in Iraq was overstated or, better yet, how American military intervention unified the fractured people of Iraq.

During the retaliation in Afghanistan, the government of Iran was helpful because of its own rocky relations with the Taleban. In addition to the Sunni-Shi'a divide, a Taleban massacre of an Iranian diplomatic mission to Afghanistan didn't help. Heaven help us if Sunni al-Qa'ida and Shi'a Iran overcome their distaste for each other.