11 January 2007

Sunni Exodus From Iraq?

The conservative military website Strategy Page is making some strong assertions about what is going on in Iraq right now. The more political it gets, the less accurate it tends to become, but it is worth getting this version of the story out there to discuss.

It argues that ethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs has proceeded at a scale much greater than press accounts have previously suggested, and is essentially a fait accompli in Baghdad itself.

[R]adio and print calls to arms [have been] circulating in Sunni neighborhoods recently. Armed Sunni Arabs are urged to go to Baghdad, to fight the decisive battle to keep Baghdad Sunni. That battle has already been lost, but the noise level on the Sunni side has reached epic levels because the Shia death squads are now invading solidly Sunni neighborhoods. There are no more safe havens for Sunnis in Baghdad. The men of Anbar (the Sunni heartland west of Baghdad) are being called in to save Baghdad. That has led to some spectacular street battles in the last few days. But all of these have ended with a lot of dead Sunnis. The Battle of Baghdad has been lost, but the fighting will go on for a while. The Sunni Arabs are dead-men-walking, and more of them will have to be put in the ground before the majority admit they are beat.

What the United States is trying to avoid is a massacre of the Sunni Arabs. The new military operation will disarm many of the Sunni Arabs who guard Sunni Arab neighborhoods. Unless the Shia militias, and their death squads are also crippled, the Shia will kill and terrorize Sunni Arabs on a large scale. . . .

About half the Sunni Arabs of Iraq have been driven from their homes so far. Some 60 percent of those have left the country, while the others have taken refuge in areas where Sunni Arabs are the majority. There are far fewer "mixed" (Sunni and Shia) neighborhoods in Iraq today, and there will be a lot fewer in the future. In 2006 alone, about ten percent of the Sunni Arab population was driven from their homes, and either left the country or settled elsewhere in Iraq.

Each month, 50-100,000 Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, leave the country. There are nearly a million Iraqi refugees in Syria, about 700,000 in Jordan, nearly 100,000 in Egypt, about 40,000 in Lebanon, and about 20,000 in Turkey. Over a hundred thousand have fled further still, to Europe and the Americas. The U.S. is trying to keep Sunni Arab refugees out, as it is believed many of them would be inclined to support Sunni Arab terrorist groups like al Qaeda, and seek revenge against the United States.

If 30% of Sunni Arabs have become external refugees (dropping their share of the nation's population from about 20% to about 14%), and another 20% are internal refugees (from "mixed areas" to predominantly Sunni areas), and a large share of all Sunni Arabs who aren't refugees lived in predominantly Sunni Arab places in the first place, this has immense implications for a political solution.

The impact on Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, already awash in Palestinian refugees, could be particularly intense. And, with many internally displaced Sunnis pouring into strongholds in Western Iraq and leaving behind mostly Shiites in the Southeast and central part of the country, the prospects of a Syrian annexation of West Iraq and Iranian annexation of East Iraq, with the North becoming an independent Kurdistan doesn't seem as out of the question as it did when the conflict began and the population was much more ethnically mixed.

Other accounts I've heard about those leaving the country suggest that those going abroad are primarily the middle and upper middle professional and managerial class of Iraq, which is particularly a blow to Baghdad, one of the few centers of the Islamic Middle East which is economically vibrant based upon its people, rather than its oil alone. So, the refugees may not be all bad news for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. But, the people who would be the most plausible targets for Sunni political buy in to a new regime, may be irrevocably gone already. Also, notably, almost none of the Iraqi Sunni Arab migration appears to be to the oil rich Sunni Arab monarchies to the South.

Like Bosnia, Iraq was not strictly divided on ethnic lines when the war began, but if this account is correct, it looks likely that it will, like Bosnia, be almost completely divided on ethinc lines by the time the war is over.

Partition is happening, with or without a formal governmental sanction for it. At this rate, by the time President Bush leaves office, diplomacy and a political solution may simply be a matter of ratifying a de facto partition already carved out in blood, and the Sunni Arab Iraqi disaspora may become as permanent a part of the world political situation as the intractable status of the Palestinians.

The Bush Administration, of course, has not so much as mentioned the ethnic cleansing dynamic that is going on in Iraq, and indeed, doesn't seem to have much of a grip on what dynamics, if any, are driving the country.

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