I was able to break away from my obsessive interest in the Cheney hunting accident and tax evasion scandal to hear my colleague, Nir Rosen. speak about Iraq’s unacknowledged but significantly expanding civil war.
There are a number of observers such as Al Jazeera‘s Yosri Fouda, Al Quds‘ Abdel Barri Atwan, author Amos Oz, Peter Bergen, the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape, and the eminent Juan Cole who are high on my list of thoughtful commentators on what is unfolding in the Middle East, but Nir Rosen combines in his excellent commentary the grit that comes from being there and hanging out with insurgents, terrorists, clerics, Iraqi nationalists, and American soldiers.
This Sunday, Nir Rosen will have a major article that focuses on Jordanian jihadists in the New York Times Magazine. I’ve had a preview — and it’s fascinating and important commentary.
The most disturbing part of our meeting today with Rosen is his view that a civil war in Iraq is raging now, and spreading beyond Iraq’s borders. The tempo of violence is increasing.
He reports that there have been several significant failed efforts to unite Shia and Sunni Muslim elements, and these have all failed. I’m not going to go into the fascinating detail that Nir Rosen did today, as I think that much of this will be in his piece on Sunday.
What is really depressing about this growing regional tension, spinning out of Iraq, is that sectarian-fueled identity and violent rage has been aggravated and deepened by the transition from Saddam Hussein, who identified himself more tribally as a Tikriti than as a Sunni, to American occupation.
The Saudis and Jordanians are informally exporting youthful, religious zealots to join the insurgency, particularly Zarqawi’s organization — who are fighting the Americans and the Shia. Muqtada al-Sadr, whose organization is opposed to American occupation, is the leading nationalist Shia cleric — who does not want the nation torn apart, but neither is a beacon of Shia-Sunni reconciliation.
That said, al-Sadr did attend this year’s Haj in Saudi Arabia as the guest of Saudi King Abdullah, a Sunni, who is looked at by many Saudis as the first incorruptible and competent king since Faisal.
So, perhaps there is some strand of hope — but after spending an hour with Nir Rosen, fresh from trips to Iraq and Jordan, I think that we need to do some reality-checking and testing of the rosey assessments that have recently been issued about the state of Iraq’s efforts to stabilize and democratize.
In case you did not see it, read Nir Rosen’s important Atlantic Monthly piece “If America Left Iraq: The Case for Cutting and Running“.
— Steve Clemons