A crucible of discontent
The battle of Falluja exposes ominous rifts in Sunni-Shia relations, writes Abbas Kadhim
The battle in Falluja has already reaped the results many predicted, one of the earliest casualties being the fragile trust between Sunni and Shia in post-Saddam Iraq. Sunni leaders have already concluded that the silence of their Shia counterparts represents a tacit approval of the assault on the predominantly Sunni town. And they contrast this with Sunni support for Najaf when it was subjected to similar atrocities. Indeed, the assault against Falluja is viewed by some as a settling of old scores from the 1991 Shia uprising.
The Sunnis of Iraq made a historic mistake in not supporting the uprising. Yet a consensus exists among today's Shia that it is time to turn over a new page. The Shia always realised Saddam Hussein was not a true representative of the Sunnis, and it is high time Sunnis realised the same about the current prime minister, Iyad Allawi. He does not speak for the Shia. And many Sunni groups and public figures did express, in unequivocal terms, their strong opposition to the use of force by Saddam Hussein against the Shia and the Kurds. Yet Sunni fears have yet to be adequately addressed by either Shia or Kurdish groups. The Kurdish discourse has been informed by arrogance and retaliation while the Shia message ranges from the reconciliations of Al-Sadr to the ambiguity of Al-Sistani.
If Iraq is to have any hope for stability and prosperity there must be full closure of the past. While such closure must include justice for those who suffered under earlier regimes Iraq must not move from a tyranny of the minority to the tyranny of the majority.
When the fears of the Sunni Arabs are addressed and a transparent political process is in place a legitimate government is free to use whatever means it chooses -- and that includes the military option -- against those who seek to undermine it. The current crisis in Falluja, though, is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse, for this military solution, against a people who believe their fears are being swept beneath the carpet, has been authorised by a government lacking any shreds of legitimacy.
What is then neglected in the chaos is that the heavy military presence on the streets, especially when the troops are foreign, does not guarantee security and respect for the law but generates increasing resentment and discontent. There is no dispute about the importance of rooting out terrorism in Iraq and achieving stability and security. Security will only be accomplished, however, when the vast majority of the people choose to side with the government against the outlaws. This government has failed to prove to Iraqis that it is on their side and in doing so it has failed to earn their trust.
Unleashing the military against the country, one city at a time, serves only to exacerbate the gap between the people of Iraq and those living in the bubble of the Green Zone.
As the assault against Falluja was being intensified there was a simultaneous outburst of violence in Mosul, underlining the piecemeal nature of the strategy currently being adopted. It is similar to the hopeless optimism of the householder who faces the approach of winter with a leaking roof. For every hole patched up another three begin to leak.
Mosul's problems centre on two obvious failings. Security in the third largest city in Iraq has been entrusted to largely untrained forces in possession of antiquated equipment. And then there is the process of re-Baathification that the prime minister is pursuing. Whatever the rationale, re-hiring Saddam Hussein's executioners cannot pass as a fresh start.
It is this charade of good versus bad Baathists, good versus bad intelligence agents, that is responsible for the infiltration of the new army, police forces -- indeed every government apparatus -- by people who killed, tortured and oppressed innocent Iraqis.
In the aftermath of Falluja there will be assaults against other cities in the few weeks left before elections are held. It is unlikely that people in any of these places will participate in the electoral process. Is it, one must ask, possible for a city traumatised by death and destruction to become a locus for democracy in any form? To make things worse much of Iraq is now subject to emergency laws.
The new Iraq, it seems, is much like the old. It is amid emergency laws and curfews that democracy is supposed to grow.