The Yipping of a Small Dog

Many years ago, a friend of mine bought a Rottweiler, which is, of course, the perfect pet for any apartment dweller. Soon after arriving, this dog was taken to visit my dog, a much more sensibly-sized Chihuahua. Apparently, the juxtaposition of the two was supposed to be amusing to the non-Chihuahua fans involved, since one dog weighed about five pounds and the other around six metric tons (as best I could tell).

The meeting took place on the Chihuahua’s turf — where she was accustomed to ruling — and she went still as stone staring at the much larger dog, which hung down its massive head and leaned forward for an introductory sniff. That’s when it happened. The little dog made a noise which I can only describe as “RIKATCHATATATAAAA!† and executed a strange canine Kung Fu move, which ended with her teeth drawing blood from the big dog’s nose.

Just for a moment we stood there in silence and stared at the expression on the Rottweiler’s face, which was more conflicted and human than anything I have ever seen on Terry McAuliffe. Then — swiftly — my friend’s arm swept silently down to take the Rottweiler firmly by the collar, because we all knew what was about to happen. Meanwhile, the tiny dog pranced off victoriously, unaware of the arm that restrained her vanquished foe.

For some reason, I suddenly remembered this story very clearly the other day while watching news reports of the bombings of two Shiite mosques by Sunni terrorists in Iraq.

Although the Western media generically calls the men who do such things “Iraqi† insurgents, there are precious few involved who are not Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arab tribes have ruled Iraq since its inception and they see themselves as Iraq’s natural aristocracy, blessed by heaven to rule over the ignorant Shiites and the barbarous Kurds. They were the primary beneficiaries of Saddam’s nepotistic thugarchy. And they seek, with this uprising, to put their hands back on the levers of national power. The only problem with their plan is that they are just 15% of the population of Iraq. The Arab Shiites constitute an overwhelming majority of the country (60%), while the non-Arab Kurds comprise another 20%.

For years though, the smallest of Iraq’s three main peoples did rule the other two and this gives them an overreaching confidence that they can again. However, there has been a major change to the playing field that will prevent this.

The Sunni Arab Government of Iraq was, in large part, a self-perpetuating phenomenon. The Sunni Arabs were able to remain the governing class because they already controlled the instruments of government. Recognized as the “legitimate† government of Iraq, they could secure loans, sell favors, solicit bribes and kickbacks, and prosecute some crimes and not others. They could also buy the latest in Soviet tanks or French Fighter Jets, paint Iraqi flags on them, man them with Sunni Arab crews and use them to massacre Shiites in Basra or Kurds in Mosul — and call the whole thing an internal political matter. These advantages are now gone from the Sunni Arab clans — and, what’s more, they are about to be shifted wholesale to the Sunni Arabs’ former victims.

The (literal) machinery of Iraq’s former government is firmly under Coalition control. The buildings, the tools, the tanks, the artillery and the oil facilities will all be handed over — all legal like — to the winners of the January 30th national elections. And the election has already been won by the Shiites. They simply need to continue down the disciplined path they have been pursuing thus far, and a Shiite coalition will soon be declared the most legitimate government Iraq has ever had. Additionally, a large volume of military gear and local governmental authority is already in the hands of the Kurds — the one group that held their own against the Sunni Arabs even when they were the government.

After the handover of national power to the Shiite majority, the insurgency will no longer be directed against a foreign-appointed multi-ethnic bureaucracy, whose functionaries and police fear looking like Yankee puppets. It will be directed against a coherent and native entity that wears the mantle of legitimacy. This Shiite-led coalition will be in charge of the Oil fields, the Army, the Police, the Courts and the payrolls. Moreover, it will not be confounded by a lack of intelligence, language skills or understanding of local culture in the same way that the Coalition has been. It will also not suffer from many of the self-imposed “ethical† restraints of the U.S. forces. And it can never be made to withdraw — no matter how often it is bombed and sniped at.

Iraq’s big dog and its Kurdish fellow traveler will soon be unleashed upon the Sunni Arab insurgents, and the unseen arm of the Coalition will no longer be there to hold them back. The U.S. will not defeat the Sunni insurgents directly, and indeed, does not need to. The sound of their gunfire is just the yipping of a small dog, barking out its last threats before it is set upon by a quietly maneuvering pack. The “insurgents† (“reactionary† would be a more accurate word) are living on borrowed time and are a threat primarily to their own people, whom the Shiites and Kurds will not be so careful of when it is their turn to suppress the insurgency.

This scenario also means that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq’s Arab provinces is probably much closer than most pundits predict. Once ensconced in the palace, the Shiites will have more to gain from a U.S. withdrawal than from our continued presence and will very probably ask the U.S. to leave — a request we must honor. The only possible exception to this scenario would occur if the Shiites decide — for propaganda purposes — to attempt to harry the U.S. on its exit, rather than simply asking us to leave. In that case, a quick withdrawal will be difficult to affect without loss of face and so withdrawal will be delayed. All in all, though, both the Sunni rebels and the U.S.-led Coalition are likely to get what they want: quick U.S. withdrawal and an end to the rebellion. Neither of these parties, however, may be happy with the consequences of their desired result in the long term, and the U.S. must make plans to deal with a number of unpleasant contingencies — including the need to intervene on behalf of the Kurds, our only real allies in the region, after the Sunni Arabs have been subjugated and the big dog looks North for its next meal.

The roadside bombs of the insurgency have grabbed all the headlines. As usual, the press — looking for an easy story — have run to wherever the loudest noise can be heard. But the story they report — that the United States is battling the Sunni insurgents for control of Iraq — is all wrong, for neither side will end up in control. The real story in Iraq is not who’s planting bombs, it’s who’s not — yet.


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