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Tough On The Sunnis



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Jim Hoagland yesterday had an excellent column pointing out that Saddam’s capture would have been impossible without the adoption of new tough tactics in the Sunni triangle (of the sort that were opposed by liberals here in the U.S.). He associates these tactics with a broader shift in our strategy from wooing the Sunnis to trying to keep the Shiites on our side:

“The dictator’s arrest was a direct result of a change in tactics by the U.S. military, and an indirect result of a change of heart by administration decision-makers about the strategy for terminating an occupation that seemed to be bogging down only a few months ago.

The change in tactics was visible. Saddam was tracked down as part of an escalating military roundup of his kin and other Baathist fugitives who had previously moved with impunity in the Sunni heartland around Baghdad. The get-tougher tactics replaced CIA-inspired efforts to buy off or otherwise co-opt Sunni influentials and tribes, who took the money but never delivered.

The Sunni Arabs make up less than 20 percent of Iraq’s 25 million people, but they have for a millennium monopolized privilege and power in the territory of Mesopotamia, lording it over a Shiite Arab majority based in the south and a Kurdish Sunni minority in the north.

Less apparent was the dawning realization in Washington that the Sunni strategy favored by the intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracies was bringing no results but was increasingly alienating the Shiite majority, which had acquiesced to or supported the coalition occupation.

“In the summer it became clear that if we lost the Shiites we would lose the country,” says one U.S. official. “The priority became understanding and trying to respond to their political needs rather than winning hearts and minds in the Sunni Triangle. That’s important. But this was important and urgent.”



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