For some time I've been hearing some debate, that in many cases involved warnings, about the possible negative consequences of US troops and Iraqi government allying with Sunni tribes in fighting al-Qaeda. Honestly I wasn't inclined to comment on this since I thought it was a no-brainer—those tribal fighters are fighting al-Qaeda like no one else did and the change in Anbar testifies for their effectiveness.
But then someone sent me this video and asked for feedback; so here it is…
Now believe it or not this video talks about the very same part of Iraq where an earlier story we reported was taking place [earlier follow up here] Small world, isn't it? the significance of that story and the sequence of development does not arise from the magnitude of the local course of events but from the fact that these have close resemblance to many other situations in spots with mixed populations cursed by the presence and activity of both al-Qaeda and Shia militias.
Now if we compare the two accounts; namely the part in the video where the Shia citizen says " it's the Falahat.." and my distant relative's frustration with the attitude of some Shia neighbors we can see that distrust does indeed exist; people who belong to the two different sects within the "ordinary" populace are inclined to blame the extreme wing of the other sect but sometimes they would also blame the other sect in general.
What I found misleading in the video is that it focused on one side of the case and ignored the other, especially when it comes to refugees. Because as far as I know, from the people I know who live there, there was forced displacement and an intimidation campaign that affected all the population and did not spare a certain sect or tribe. Most important, the displacement happened before the Sunni tribes joined the US troops in fighting al-Qaeda, not after it. In other words, while it's true the new alliance hasn't yet helped reverse the tragedy, it must be remembered that the continuation of the tragedy is not caused by it.
I can tell that the producers through their work were trying to warn from the consequences of recruiting and assisting supposedly former insurgents and the risk to have a fertile ground for civil war that is entailed in doing so. My only objection is that the vision reflected in the production of the video has a flawed order of priorities in addition to the confused understanding of the history of sectarian displacement in that region.
let’s look at the situation realistically; this is a battle in which there are certain priorities and these must be addressed first before moving to address a potential danger and a tragedy it had nothing to do with . And I insist on saying potential because we can now see that forced displacement and the resistance for its reversal comes almost entirely from the two extremes, not from the groups closer to the middle of the spectrum of either side.
Here's for example what an American officer in Anbar said some ten days ago:
"Colonel Richard Simcock, commander of the Regimental Combat Team 6 of the US Marine Corps pointed out the improvement in security in Anbar province…and pointed out that somewhere between 30-40% of Shia families have returned to their homes in Anbar after they had been displaced..."
Or there's the most visible example that all Baghdadis are aware of which is Karradah; despite the vicious attacks that targeted this district and the attempts to spark sectarian displacement there is still no evidence of significant forced displacement of Sunni families by the Shia majority around them.
In Iraq right now, as have been for a while, the greatest two threats are al-Qaeda and the Shia militias that do fight Iran's proxy war. While the shadows of all-out civil war, thanks to the surge which stopped the terrorist gangs from pushing the country into one, has been forced back to the bottom of the list.
Civil war in Iraq is no longer an immediate and imminent threat (I'm not going to criticize those who were saying in 2006 that it was already underway since facts have already done that) yet I have to admit that establishing this new balance of power involves the potential risk of having future disputes and maybe violent contestation for power among the now-considered moderate/friendly powers once the primary threats are gone.
What I'm trying to say is that we probably need to accept that we can only deal with things one at a time since it would be much more costly and complicated, if not impractical, to deal with all of them at the same time.
After all, the advantages that can be gained from defeating al-Qaeda in terms of time and favorable environment will offer a greater margin of freedom in dealing with future possible power-sharing problems and the prospects for success would become even exponentially greater if the Shia tribes start their own awakening too and break the other wing of extremism.