Sunday, December 30, 2007

The two sides of the Sunni Awakening movement

So far we've seen a couple of theories of what's going on with the Sunni awakenings: (1) that they are part of an American scheme to combat the Shiite GreenZone government should that government prove to be intransigent in its Iranian leanings (Nahrainnet, summarized here); and (2) that whatever the plan, there is a chance that the Sunni awakenings could turn into an Iraqi-nationalist force, with anti-occupation implications (Al-Hayat, summarized here).

Today, Iraqi journalist Daoud Al-Basri writing for Sot al-Iraq, (thanks to abu Aardvark for tagging this) offers an explanation that in a way brings those two views into a single framework. He says first of all that it should be clear to any observer that the military success of the Sunni awakenings is due primarily to the participation of former Iraq-army people, Baathists, who have had a lot of experience in this kind of fighting since the invasion, only now they are receiving assistance from erstwhile enemies to fight the new enemy, AlQaeda. And the GreezZone government, led by sectarian Shiite parties, are naturally concerned about this because of their particular histories of enmity with the Baath. The GreenZone people see this as part of a two-pronged pressure campaign by the Americans, one in the form of these (what they see as) crypto-Baathist awakenings, and the other in the form of the American "opening" to the Baath in the series of negotiations including the recent Dead Sea talks and the upcoming Cairo talks.

But the journalist points out something else about these awakening councils. While their military success may be due to the participation by ex-Army people, at the same time, there is another current. He puts it this way: While the GreenZone people see the awakenings as a Trojan Horse for the Baath, they are thinking that way spite of the fact that the tribal leadership of the Awakening Councils sees in their groups a national[ist] requirement to cleanse the Iraqi scene of the meddlers and the foreigners and the agents ofAlQaeda, and they have no real interest in Baathist zeal or any other kind, but this is something the Iraqi government authorities disagree with: They see ghosts of the Baath party still standing behind these internal struggles, which are today turning into a test of wills for the approval of the biggest ally and sponsor of the political process, which is the United States.
What this writer is saying is that there are features of the Sunni awakenings that the GreenZone people see as threatening for perhaps good reason (the "ghosts of the Baath still standing"), and hence as part of an American scheme to pressure them; but on the other hand the tribal-leadership component of the movement is nationalist, with no real interest in pursuing sectarian struggles, but rather focused only on throwing out the interlopers and the foreigners. He doesn't go any further in his analysis, instead just calling attention to the complexity and strangeness of the situation.

But I think it is fair to say that if he is right about the composition of the Sunni awakenings, then the point is that they have potentially both the character of tools for the Americans in pressuring for an opening to the Sunnis in the GreenZone, and at the same time the potential to be turned into an anti-occupation nationalist force.


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