Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Anbar Awakening leader Abu Risha assassinated

One of the few bright spots in the war in Iraq has been the popular movement against alQaeda in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. Recently the leader of the Anbar Awakening movement, Sattar Abu Risha, was assassinated. This is by all accounts a blow to that movement's successes. Abu Risha led an effort to recruit thousands of policemen in the region and showed a willingness to open dialogue with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this movement's activities is its shared belief system with alQaeda. Intra-sectarian violence is an aberration that goes beyond the normal prohibition against killing fellow Muslims. Anbar Awakenings' efforts are an indictment by fellow Sunnis against alQaeda's extremist interpretations of Islam. English-speaking news sources reported that chants claiming that alQaeda was "an enemy of Allah" were heard from mourners.

It is arguable that the US military's alliance with tribal leaders is a short-sighted success. The Sunni tribal leaders have no real confidence in the Shiite led government. There is no guarantee that the thousands of young men in Anbar now on the Iraqi government payroll is a sign of reconciliation between the religious factions.

Sectarian violence remains the largest problem in Iraq. Ending these killings is the key to success in the US's efforts. The cause of the hatred hearkens back to the Iran-Iraq war when the Shiite population was suppressed in Iraq out a of fear they were sympathetic to Khomeini's regime. The Iraqi government is torn between serving two masters. There is the visible American presence in the country which the Iraqi government must work with, but there is also a heavy Iranian influence in the militias and in the government. Most troubling is the fact that Shiite Iraqis see Iran as its greatest ally, and not the United States.

Shiite Iraq has valid complaints with their Sunni former overseers, however such sectarian hatred is fruitless. It is because of this that winning in Iraq will not come from a military or political solution. "Winning the war" requires a religious solution. That is why alQaeda being called an enemy of Allah is such a significant development.

America makes a very poor arbitrator between the religious sects in Iraq. Shiites still bear a grudge against our country. The failed uprising and subsequent slaughter of the Shiites following the first Gulf war, who claim they were instigated by a CIA run radio campaign, remains very much on the minds of Iraqis. Many Shiites probably look to the success of post-Khomeini Iran as encouragement. The Sunnis, fearing retribution, distrust the Shiite dominated government. These old grudges need addressing and require arbitration. The US should withdraw itself from these debates and seek outside help in arbitrating between the sects. Unfortunately that outside help would come from an Arab world full of dictators and selfish interests. We have only to look at the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of the Arab world for proof of that.