An increase in Sunni Arab violence last month left over 700 dead and nearly 2,000 wounded. This was the worst month for violence since December 2011. Most of the casualties were civilians, usually Shia killed by Sunni Arab terrorists. About 20 percent were members of the security forces (including those from the autonomous Kurdish provinces). The Sunni Arab radicals are trying to halt the April 21 st provincial elections and, in general, force the Shia government to collapse. That has not been working but the Sunni Arab radicals keep trying.
Many Iraqi Sunni Arabs are driven to this violence for economic and cultural reasons. After the fall of their leader Saddam Hussein in 2003 the Sunni Arabs lost their economic and political power. For centuries, even though part of the Ottoman Turk Empire, the Sunni Arab minority ruled Baghdad and the Shia tribes to the south (and the city of Basra.) In the north Mosul province was largely Kurd and part of Turkey proper, not a conquered province.
After World War I, the victorious British, wary of the new Turkish Republic eventually trying to rebuild its empire, detached Mosul province (and all its oil wells) from Turkey and combined it with the former imperial provinces of Baghdad and Basra to form the new country of Iraq. Despite their minority status, the Sunni Arabs (about 20 percent of the population) took charge of the new constitutional monarchy (ruled by a Sunni Arab noble family chased out of the new kingdom of “Saudi” Arabia recently created by the Saud family). The Shia majority (and minorities, mainly Kurdish Sunnis and several Christian sects and others) objected but the Sunni Arab dominated security forces kept a lid on things. In the 1950s the Sunni Arab generals slaughtered the royal family and the country became a military dictatorship that was eventually taken over by the Baath Party (a socialist, and very Sunni, group) led by Saddam Hussein. This guy was vicious, paranoid and occasionally quite mad. But he rewarded his Sunni Arab followers with most of the oil income and nearly all the political, military and economic power. Iraqi Sunni Arabs miss that and many are willing to kill or be killed to get it back. Because of the increased violence last month, Shia radical groups, who have been largely dormant since 2008, have been increasingly active attacking Sunni Arab mosques and Sunni Arab civilians in general. Many of these Shia radicals want to drive all Sunni Arabs out of Iraq, killing those that resist. A growing number of Iraqi Shia agrees with this solution. Most politicians do not, as trying to chase over four million Sunni Arabs into neighboring countries would bring a strong local and international reaction.
The Shia are not willing to give up power and are angry at the Sunni for their greed and growing terror attacks on Shia (especially civilians). Unused to running things, the Shia have had a hard time since 2003 building an efficient government. The corruption that has long (as in thousands of years) cursed the region does not help, but the main problem is that Sunni Arabs dominated the government and economy for centuries and were the most educated group in the area. While vicious, greedy tyrants, the Sunnis had the skills to make the government work. The Shia are still playing catch-up.
The Shia government is dealing with two main centers of Sunni resistance. In Anbar province (the largely Sunni and mostly desert west) a growing number of Sunni tribes are in open rebellion. There’s a similar situation in the Kurdish north, especially in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, which are on the border between Arab Iraq and the autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq. Mosul and Kirkuk have oil and thirty years ago were mainly Kurdish. But then Saddam began forcing Kurds further north and giving their homes, land and jobs to poor Sunni Arab families from the south. After 2003 the Kurds came south to reclaim the property Saddam had taken from them. The Sunni Arabs resisted, and continue to resist. The claims of all the Kurdish refugees have never been completely settled and the Kurdish government of the autonomous (since the 1990s when British and American warplanes and commandos aided Kurdish rebels in expelling Saddam’s troops and keeping them out) north threaten to take back Mosul and Kirkuk (and the surrounding oil fields) by force. This would trigger a civil war with the Arabs which would probably end in a bloody stalemate. So the Kurds support the low-level violence against the Sunni Arab terrorist groups and the two cities remain the scene of constant ethnic (the Kurds are not Arabs) warfare.
While there is a standoff with the well-armed and organized Kurdish army in the north, the Sunni Arabs in the West are irregulars and more vulnerable to the growing strength and abilities of the Shia dominated army and police force. The radicals in the Sunni Arab community welcome more violence because they believe that if enough Sunni Arabs are killed by the Shia the Sunni governments in neighboring countries (especially Saudi Arabia and, once the Sunni rebels win, Syria) will intervene and restore the Iraqi Sunni Arabs to power. Most Iraqi Sunni Arabs understand that this would never work, but speaking up against the radicals (including al Qaeda, which has always been a Sunni supremacist outfit) can get you killed. Despite that threat many Iraqi Sunni Arabs do fight the radicals, but that’s a war they seem to be losing as the Shia are coming to believe that all Sunni Arabs are their enemy and all should be treated roughly.
One thing most Sunni Arabs can agree on is the need to be united in dealing with the Shia dominated government. The growing violence last month led to a call for an autonomous Sunni Arab government in Anbar (the province that comprises most of western Iraq). The government will not allow that as long as Sunni Arab terrorists find sanctuary and support in Anbar. As far as the Shia are concerned they have been very generous with the Sunni Arabs, with the understanding that the Sunni Arab community would respond and help in suppressing Sunni Arab terror groups. The Shia consider the Sunni Arab community to have failed in this regard and must either make a better effort to calm down their own radicals or face the consequences.
Some Shia politicians are openly accusing Turkey of backing Sunni protestors and terrorists as part of a conspiracy to regain their lost (because of the British after World War I) Mosul province (the northern third of Iraq). The Turks deny this and there’s no “regain Mosul” movement in Turkey. The Turks are negotiating deals with the Kurdish government of northern Iraq in order to keep things quiet up there and to help suppress the Kurdish separatist radicals in Turkey (the PKK).
The growing violence inside Iraq has distracted Iraqis from the civil war raging in neighboring Syria. There, over eight times as many people died from violence last month. The areas just across the border from Iraq are largely controlled by Sunni Arab rebels or separatist Kurds. The Iraqi Shia fear that a Sunni Arab government in Sunni will provide sanctuary for Iraqi Sunni terrorists. Then again, the current Shia minority Assad government in Syria also provided sanctuary for Sunni Arab terrorists for decades, especially during the Sunni Arab terror campaign in 2004-8 (that, at its height, was killing over 3,000 people a month).
May 4, 2013: The results of the recent provincial elections show the current party in power (led by prime minister Maliki) had a majority in seven of twelve provinces. These were the first provincial elections since the Americans left two years ago. Six provinces did not hold elections. The three Kurdish provinces in the north have their own schedule for local voting. There was too much violence in Sunni Arab Anbar and Nineveh provinces and in Kirkuk province there have been no elections since 2005 because of disputes over who is eligible to vote.
May 3, 2013: The government signed the contracts to buy a second batch of 18 F-16 jet fighters. Ultimately the government wants to have 96 F-16s and the first of these will enter service in two years.
April 28, 2013: The government blocked (from Iraq) eight satellite TV channels for broadcasting encouragement to Sunni Arab separatists and terrorists in Iraq. Most of the Sunni Arabs in the region would feel better if the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq were running Iraq. This is because of the growing threats from Shia Iran to take over the region and impose Shia Islam on everyone. Most Iraqis are Shia, and do not want to be ruled by Iran either.
April 27, 2013: In the north (Salaheddin province) Sunni terrorists have been particularly active and even took control of a small town (Suleiman Beg) for a short while.
April 23, 2013: In the north (Hawijah, 50 kilometers south of Kirkuk) soldiers and police were ordered to break up a camp where a thousand Sunni Arab demonstrators were protesting not being in charge and getting most of the oil money anymore and refusing to go home. The police believed several dozen armed Sunni Arab terrorists were hiding out among the demonstrators and the raid was to grab the terrorists. The demonstrators resisted the troops and the soldiers opened fire. Three soldiers and about fifty civilians died and the Sunni Arab community was outraged.
April 22, 2013: Sunni Arab separatists organized large demonstrations and strikes (ordering businesses to close or else) in five provinces with large Sunni populations (minorities, except in Anbar).
April 21, 2013: Provincial elections were held in 12 of 18 provinces. Voters are deciding which members of fifty parties and coalitions shall hold 378 seats on provincial legislatures. These elections are held every four years.
April 20, 2013: The government postponed provincial elections in Anbar and Nineveh because of the threat of violence.