The ‘Stay Or Leave’ Debate In The U.S. Finds A Mirror In Baghdad

November 16th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: The ‘Stay Or Leave’ Debate In The U.S. Finds A Mirror In Baghdad

New York Times
November 16, 2006
By Sabrina Tavernise
BAGHDAD, Nov. 15 — While Americans in a faraway land debate their fate, Iraqis have already decided on the cure. The only problem is that there is more than one set of Iraqis. Shiites want their country back. Sunni Arabs want a strongman. They cannot agree.
“We don’t want to see them in the streets,” a wiry man named Tariq said of American troops as he measured cloth in a tailor shop.
Saad Abdul Razzaq, a Sunni whose brother was killed by Shiite militiamen a week ago, was of the strongman school: “Democracy is not working. Only power can control Iraqis.”
As the United States grapples with difficult decisions over the war, Iraqis are also debating. But just when they need to band together, they have never been further apart. Their government has ground to a halt, paralyzed by disagreements between Sunni and Shiite parties. Militias are at the root of the security problem, but as long as the state remains helpless, many consider them its only solution.
The landscape is that of a country sliding into war, and Sunnis and Shiites, like Republicans and Democrats, desperately look for ways out.
Shiites agree with many Democrats: American soldiers should withdraw to their bases. Sunnis say total control by the Shiite-dominated government could mean massacres.
“It’s a disaster if the American forces stay in Iraq, but it’s also a disaster if they go,” said an elderly man named Ayad, who was discussing politics with friends in central Baghdad.
Abbas Fadhel, a college professor sitting in a social club in central Baghdad, spoke of the widening division and dim prospects for the future. “The seriousness of this is that the sectarianism has penetrated to the educated people,” he said. “They deny it, but when push comes to shove, you can see that they have become so.”
The mass kidnapping at a government ministry on Tuesday by gunmen in Iraqi military uniforms was symbolic of the breakdown. “It was really something humiliating,” said Husham al-Madfai, an architect who was sitting in his garden drinking beer Wednesday afternoon. “They went into a ministry and kidnapped tens of people. That means the government does not exist.”
But the kidnapping was interpreted in different ways. Sunnis laid much of the blame with the government. Reflecting a broad shift that has taken place among Shiites, Sunnis had more sympathy for what they saw as the government’s plight. Militias, they said, were like parasites that the government would not be able to get rid of until it gained more control over security tasks now handled by Americans.
“It’s like organized crime,” said Tariq, gesturing animatedly with a thimble on one finger. “If the government had sovereignty, it could combat all these things that are going on.”
Violence that many see as having been carried out by Sunnis has hardened attitudes. Muhammad Faisal, a Shiite whose brother and seven friends were shot to death in southern Baghdad on Sept. 23 while they were putting up a poster of a Shiite cleric, said the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was like “a surgeon without his instruments.”
Meanwhile, militias are seen as a necessary protection against aggression by the other side.
As Shiites have risen to power and filled the ranks of the security forces, Sunnis, who used to condemn the American forces, now often see them as a primary safeguard against Shiite violence. They do not trust the government, a concern that was underscored by Tuesday’s kidnapping.
The sheer magnitude of the violence since Mr. Maliki took office in the spring has swept away what trust they had. In all, five members of Mr. Abdul Razzaq’s extended family have died in violence since 2003.
He would like to see a military coup, to be headed by a strongman, possibly Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister and secular Shiite with a past tied to the Baathists, the ruling party under Saddam Hussein.
“He worked with Saddam,” Mr. Abdul Razzaq said. “He knows his way.”
Mr. Madfai, the architect, disagreed. A coup would not work. The new government would be besieged. “All those militias will turn to fight against them,” he said, speaking by telephone.
He paused as two helicopters thundered overhead. The beer was running out, he said, a problem he blamed on the Americans. All the alcohol sellers in his area, Mansour, have been killed, and most shops are now closed.
“Who’s responsible for that? Rumsfeld,” he said. “He should send us some beer.”
Alcohol, a target of some of the Islamic militias, was not in short supply at the social club, where Shiek Mazin al-Khalaf, an Iraqi Sunni who speaks British-accented English, was enjoying a vodka. Iraqis are destined to fight, he said, because after years of abuse, they are capable only of abusing.
“Iraqis have been in prison since 1958,” the year the monarchy was overthrown, he said. “The prisoners got out, they smelled the air, saw cars and cellphones. But they are criminals.”
A Shiite sitting on the other side of the table took issue with the description. “Victims, not criminals,” he hissed, after Mr. Khalaf left the table.
A Shiite sheik from Amara, Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi, offered an extreme prescriptive. He said the only solution would be to ban the major political parties, declare martial law and begin again.
The alternative, he said, is for the American military to leave Iraq completely and let the Iraqis begin a full-on civil war. “This is better than the Iraqi condition now,” he said.
Faaz, a student in Sadr City, the largest Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, agreed. “I’d prefer to have what they had in Lebanon — a declared civil war,” he said. “There is a lot of killing, but no one confesses what he is really doing.”
Sabah, a Shiite whose husband, a Sunni, was killed by Shiites in early September, said a full-scale pullout would be a disaster. “If the American forces leave Iraq, we will walk on bodies,” she said, sitting in her tiny living room in Karada, in central Baghdad. “The war would be face to face.”
For Tariq, all this talk of sects was irritating. It is bad manners in Iraqi society to ask somebody’s sect. His response, when asked on Wednesday, was simply, “Muslim.”
But the clunky yellow-stone building across the street, the ministry where the employees were kidnapped Tuesday, seemed a looming reminder that in Iraq, more and more often, sects count.
He was relieved to know that one of the kidnapped employees, a senior official and a wearer of his suits, had been released. The man, he said, was a Shiite.
Qais Mizher contributed reporting.
November 16th, 2006  
Rob Henderson
*sigh* They are in the middle of a war and the only thing they can think about is BEER?! Why dont they try staying sober for more than 5 minutes so they can talk this stuff out?

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