It's a Struggle for the Sunni Triangle

A closer look at the recent pattern of hostilities in Iraq demonstrates some good news that hasn’t gotten much exposure in the liberal press. In light of the large turnout for yesterday’s elections in the Sunni regions of Iraq, this pattern may point to even more good news ahead.

According to Defense Department data, not a single U.S. serviceman or woman was killed by hostile action in Iraq’s Sulaimaniya Province in the 12-month period that ended December 1. Nor were any killed in Muthanna, Karbala, Irbil, Duhuk or Najaf provinces.

All of these provinces have some things in common: They are not dominated by a Sunni Arab population. They are in Iraq’s Shiite South, or Sunni Kurdish North. They are regions where there was a large turnout for last January’s elections for an interim government, and they are where, in October, large majorities voted for the new Iraqi constitution.

Outside of Baghdad Province itself, where 207 U.S. servicemen and women were killed in the past year by hostile action, U.S. fatalities were concentrated in localities that also share characteristics: They are dominated by a Sunni Arab population. They are regions where there was not a large turnout in last January’s elections for an interim government, and they are where, in October, majorities voted against the new Iraqi constitution.

The good news hidden here is that if political participation in the new Iraq continues to be a positive indicator of the degree of anti-American violence in a region, anti-American violence could now go down in Iraq across the board considering the large reported turnout for last week’s election in Sunni Arab regions.

As the map and chart below illustrate, U.S. fatalities have been largely confined to Baghdad and to the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Anbar, Salaheddin and Ninevah. In fact, of the 755 U.S. fatalities in Iraq over the last year, 679 were in Anbar, Baghdad, Salaheddin and Ninevah.

Although there is no up-to-date census data for Iraq, CNN reported this year that Baghdad is 40% Sunni. Anbar is widely accepted to be the most predominantly Sunni Arab province. Ninevah and Salaheddin are deemed to have large Sunni Arab populations, mixed with Kurdish Sunnis. And Diyala, which is East of Baghdad, has a significant Sunni Arab population mixed with both Kurds and Shiites.

In addition to being concentrated in just a few provinces, U.S. fatalities outside Baghdad have occurred most heavily in the Sunni Arab cities along the Euphrates River in Anbar province. This is where Fallujah and Ramadi are. A second heavy concentration is in the Sunni Arab cities along the Tigris River north of Baghdad. Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, is along the Tigris in Salaheddin Province.

The Associated Press reported that turnout was so unexpectedly strong even in Fallujah — 45% yesterday, as opposed to 2% for all of Anbar Province in January — that they ran out of ballots in some provinces.