Listening to Sunni Arabs

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"Listening to Sunni Arabs"

Marc Lynch deploys his preferred analytic trick of listening to what Arabs are actually saying about things rather than indulging in convenient fantasies. In this edition, Sunni Arab insurgents:

General Petraeus worked creatively and effectively to encourage this trend, and soldiers and diplomats on the ground seem to be aware of the complexities of the new “cooperative” mission. The same can’t be said for surge cheerleaders in the United States. Much of the conventional wisdom about the Sunni areas now seems to come from the impressions formed by politicians and journalists on stage-managed visits to Iraq, or by carefully crafted press interviews with “former insurgents” hand-picked by American military handlers. But we don’t need such a mediated view. Leaders of the major Iraqi Sunni groups actually speak quite often and quite candidly to their own people, though: in open letters, in official statements posted on internet forums, in the Arab and Iraqi press, and in statements released on al-Jazeera and other satellite television stations. What they say in such statements, in Arabic, when addressing their own constituencies, might be considered a more reliable guide to their strategy and thinking. So what are the major Iraqi Sunni leaders saying?

In their literature and public rhetoric, the Sunni insurgency has already defeated the American occupation — which is why the Americans stopped fighting them and came to them for help in fighting al-Qaeda. One discovers virtually nothing in this literature of the American conceit that our forces wore them out or forced them to come to the table. During his meeting with President Bush in Anbar last week, Abu Risha, reportedly joked that his people had achieved in four months what the American military could not achieve in four years. It was one of the few claims made by Abu Risha with which most Iraqi Sunnis would agree, and one which should probably have infuriated more Americans than it seems to have. [...]

Partition, soft or hard, has far fewer fans in Anbar than in Washington. Most Sunnis continue to support a unified Iraqi state, and have exaggerated expectations about the role they should play in such a state. A recent letter from the “Amir” of the Islamic Army of Iraq claimed that Sunnis made up 60 percent of the population of Iraq, and few Sunnis seem ready to accept the status of “tolerated minority” within a Shia-dominated state. [...]

Rather, 72 percent of Sunnis say that the US forces should leave immediately, 95 percent say that the presence of U.S. troops makes security worse, and 93 percent still see attacks on coalition forces as acceptable. Such results should make obvious the vacuity of claims that the turn against al-Qaeda was a victory for American diplomacy.

No reconciliation here.

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