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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 2-Feb-07
The U.S. vs Iran debate may be unifying the Iraqis

Web Log - February, 2007

The U.S. vs Iran debate may be unifying the Iraqis

Iraqis don't want interference from either America or Iran.

Recent terrorist acts against Americans in Iraq have given rise to a debate about Iran's activities in Iraq. The debate has both an American and Iraqi point of view.

I'd like to quote from two interviews that focus on this issue from Iraq's point of view.

The first, which appeared on MSNBC on Wednesday morning, was with Brad McGuinn, a professor at University of Miami:

Q: Is Iran's efforts to spend money on things like hospitals and humanitarian assistance in the end as big an influence to the U.S. in the region as its military efforts?

A: Iran has gravity on its side -- it's there. It also has very deep and lasting relationships with the Shia populations of Iraq and of Lebanon, and to a large extent this is a reflection of their missionary work -- health care, education -- and it reflects a general trend in Iranian policy to deepen its influence in the broader Middle East. So yes, between the United States and Iran there is a competition, a confrontation really, for the hearts and minds of the Shia of the Middle East.

Q: Is Iran succeeding in building support among the Iraqi people?

A: It is with a component of the Iraqi people. Iran had a [kind of] traumatic moment that confronted it when the United States came into Iraq because of the transformation of Iraq into a Shia-dominated state that would be perhaps friendly to the United States was for Iran a major threat, because for the first time there would be another Shia state that would be able to challenge Iran for seniority within that Shia community. So from Iran's perspective, yes, it is a "playing for keeps" proposition.

Q: Do you think there's a point where the Shia in Iraq think that Iran is a better ally than the U.S.?

A: No, I don't they will, because between the Iraqi Shia and Iran there exist many points of convergence, but fundamental points of divergence. There is, at the end of the day, something of Arab-ness, something of Iraqi-ness, that separates the Shia of Iraq from Iran.

Which is not to say that in the security vacuum, in the economic catastrophe that exists, there in Iraq as well as in Lebanon, that Iran does not have a fertile field. But at the end of the day, the Shia of Iraq are Iraqis.

Q: What does Iran want?

A: Influence. And it wants to be sure, as well, that the Shia of Iraq do not come to reflect a pro-Western tendency. They don't want to see the United States gaining an influence with the Shia community there, and then therefore be able to use this Shia alliance as a wedge in the broader Middle East in terms of the sectarian dynamic between the Sunni and the Shia. It's a battle, really, for that population, between the United States and Iran.

I'd like to call your attention especially to this sentence in the second answer: "There is, at the end of the day, something of Arab-ness, something of Iraqi-ness, that separates the Shia of Iraq from Iran."

This captures a concept that I was trying, not very successfully, to convey in article last August on Washington hysteria over an Iraqi civil war: That when the chips are down, Iraqis put Iraqi nationalism above religious differences.

I quoted the Library of Congress (LOC) history of Iraq as saying the following, talking about the Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920:

"Ath Thawra al Iraqiyya al Kubra, or The Great Iraqi Revolution (as the 1920 rebellion is called), was a watershed event in contemporary Iraqi history. For the first time, Sunnis and Shias, tribes and cities, were brought together in a common effort. In the opinion of Hanna Batatu, author of a seminal work on Iraq, the building of a nation-state in Iraq depended upon two major factors: the integration of Shias and Sunnis into the new body politic and the successful resolution of the age-old conflicts between the tribes and the riverine cities and among the tribes themselves over the food-producing flatlands of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The 1920 rebellion brought these groups together, if only briefly; this constituted an important first step in the long and arduous process of forging a nation-state out of Iraq's conflict-ridden social structure.

The 1920 revolt had been very costly to the British in both manpower and money."

I quoted further passages to show that once this crisis war ended, Iraq became a chaotic independent nation:

"On October 13, 1932, Iraq became a sovereign state, and it was admitted to the League of Nations. Iraq still was beset by a complex web of social, economic, ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts, all of which retarded the process of state formation. The declaration of statehood and the imposition of fixed boundaries triggered an intense competition for power in the new entity. Sunnis and Shias, cities and tribes, shaykhs and tribesmen, Assyrians and Kurds, pan-Arabists and Iraqi nationalists--all fought vigorously for places in the emerging state structure. Ultimately, lacking legitimacy and unable to establish deep roots, the British-imposed political system was overwhelmed by these conflicting demands. ...

The arbitrary borders that divided Iraq and the other Arab lands of the old Ottoman Empire caused severe economic dislocations, frequent border disputes, and a debilitating ideological conflict.

The point I was trying to make at that time was that Iraq is a chaotic country when they're left by themselves, but Iraqis stick together as Iraqis when outsiders are interfering.

Now I'll quote another interview from Wednesday, this time with Iraqi's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, on CNN International:

Q: What is the nature of Iranian interference in Iraq today?

A: All the regional countries want to interfere in Iraq - Iran, Turkey, Arabic countries like Jordan and Saudi, and each one of them has his own reason to interfere in Iraq. Some of them come from the position of facing America in iraq. For some of them, it's about the sectarian confrontation in iraq, and for others from the position of political confrontation in Iraq. Interference exists in Iraq, and we have talked about it frankly and clearly, whether it was by trafficking weapons, or supporting specific sides. And when our delegations go to those countries, the message is, "Stop your interference in Iraq." Because we will not allow you, no matter how good our relations are. For example, Iran is Shiite, and we are Shiite, and we have many Shiites in Iraq. But this does not justify Iran interfering in Iraq. We respect this relationship and we will not allow this interference to exist. Also, Iraq is an Arab country, the majority are Arabs. But this also will not justify for Arab countries to interfere in Iraq.

Q: Is American intelligence wrong when it says Iran is working to kill American soldiers in your country?

A: I didn't say that it does not exist, and the Americans, when they say what their intelligence is saying that Iranians are killing their soldiers - it means that their intelligence is based on information that they got. And this is not an obscure thing - there is a struggle between Iran and America. And we have told the Americans and the Iranians - we know that you have a problem with each other, but we're asking you, please, solve your problems outside of Iraq. We do not want the American forces to take Iraq as a field to attack Iran or Syria, and we will not accept Iran to use Iraq to attack the American forces. But does this [Iranians killing American soldiers] exist? It exists. And I assure you that it exists. But it's based on the struggle between the two countries. And from our side, we're trying to stop the effort to have a struggle in Iraq. We're always encouraging the two sides to negotiate, and to try to find an agreement away from Iraq. Iran and America: We're ready to pay efforts to solve the problems between them if it's possible, but not on the account of Iraq. Iraq has nothing to do with the American-Iranian struggle. And we will not let Iran play a role against the American army, and we will not allow America to play a role against the Iranian army. And everyone should respect the sovereignty of Iraq.

One thing that Malikis words do is throw cold water on a bit of nonsense we keep hearing from Washington journalists, pundits and "experts" is that "the division between Sunnis and Shia is 1400 years old [dates from the 660s AD], and nothing we can do today will change that." Well, we could also say that "the division between Western and Orthodox Christians is 2000 years old, and nothing will change that," or "the division between Catholics and Protestants is 600 years old, and nothing will change that" or "the division between Christians and Jews is 2000 years old, and nothing will change that."

There's an amusing aspect to all of this. A lot of Washingtonians were extremely embarassed by all the publicity that they're ignorant of even the most basic aspects of the Mideast, unable to answer such questions as "What's the difference between Sunni and Shia?" and "Is al-Qaeda Sunni or Shia?" As a result, there's been a spate of articles and TV news segments presenting some of the major sound bites. Now let's hope that nobody asks them the difference between Persian and Arab.

Unfortunately, these journalists, pundits and "experts" seem to have settled on only one sound byte: that Sunnis and Shia have been fighting for 1400 years, and therefore the Iraqi "civil war" will proceed into a bloodbath, unless we do X (where "X" depends on the speaker's political or ideological position).

Now, it's true that there are Sunni vs Shia wars, just as there are Orthodox vs Western Christianity wars, and Catholic vs Protestant wars, and Jew versus Christian wars. But things don't stop there. Groups of people align themselves into identity groups in different ways, and it's not always the simple way that Washingtonians describe in a sound byte.

As I said above, Iraq's history since the 1920 Iraqi Rebellion quite clearly shows that Iraqis have put nationalism ahead of religious differences when it comes to war. That's not to say that there is no Sunni vs Shia violence -- obviously, there's a great deal of it today -- but in view of Iraq's history there's no reason to believe that Iraqi nationalism won't reassert itself as it has before.

Thus, if we examine Prime Minister Maliki's statement in that way, what we see is a trend in that direction, the direction of reasserting Iraqi nationalism. He's not denying that Iranians have been killing Americans on Iraqi soil, but he's taking a "plague on both your houses view": He doesn't want either country committing violence on Iraqi soil.

This is also consistent with what we've been saying for years -- Iraq is in a generational "Awakening" era, and all countries in these eras have the same characteristics: Extremely chaotic political battles, but a very strong aversion to war (unlike countries in generational "Crisis" eras, where the population is drawn to war). Maliki is saying that if America and Iraq are going to have military confrontations, then "please, solve your problems outside of Iraq." It would be interesting to know what place Maliki has in mind, but at any rate he means not in Iraq.

I'll give this one thing to the "Iraq is in civil war" crowd: I'm not saying that there could NEVER be a bloodbath civil war between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq; I'm only saying that it can't happen NOW. What has happened throughout history is that new ideas are born during generational Awakening eras, and then implemented during generational Crisis eras. It's possible that what we're seeing now presages a Sunni vs Shia civil war decades from now. But definitely not before then.

However, that's not the scenario that I expect and, in fact, I have absolutely no reason to change my August 19, 2003, analysis and predictions about Iraq, when I said that there would be no major uprising or civil war in Iraq unless it became a "theatre of war by outside forces." That's what both al-Qaeda and Iran have been attempting, as they fight a proxy war in Iraq, but Maliki wants no part of it.

The events happening today that are most relevant to the Iraqi situation are not taking place in Iraq. The most relevant events are in the Gaza Strip, where Fatah and Hamas are substantially escalating the level of war every day, and a major civil war seems very close.

Such a war would draw in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iran, and the entire Mideast, and some of that war would take place on Iraqi soil whether Maliki likes it or not. (2-Feb-07) Permanent Link
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