Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eclipse of the Sunnis by Deborah Amos

Ryan Crocker, posted in the Middle East for over two decades and U.S. ambassador to Baghdad from 2007 to 2009, was asked in 2002 by Secretary of State Collin Powell to produce a memo regarding the future of Iraq should there be an invasion. Crocker predicted the fragmentation and chaos that would follow an invasion. The majority Shiites would vie for dominance over the minority Sunnis. Iraq’s neighbors would try to influence a weakened Iraq. He watched all of his predictions come to pass. (67)
In 2003, the foreign invasion destroyed the Iraqi state. Four million Iraqis have been displaced by the war. Sunnis fled, as did Christians. It became a Shiite dominated state. The invasion had overturned a long established order in the Arab region.
The new Iraqi constitution was approved in 2005 and for the first time in Iraqi history Islam was declared the official religion of the state. The second article of the constitution declared, “no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam.” (64) An Arab state that had previously tolerated Christians now targeted them for conversion or death.
Many fled to Syria and Amos recounts the result. “Syria was a confusing place.” (75) Damascus is a melting pot of dissidents, refugees, loyalists and more. Some fled to Lebanon.
Amos has interviewed many of the refugees and tells their sad stories of survival. When she asked them what kind of country would Iraq be, some answered, “I dare not think about it.” (167) “The American invasion that had removed Iraq from the balance-of-power equations on the Sunni side had tilted the region toward Tehran. The Sunni powers shuddered to think of living under the embrace of Shiite mullahs with nuclear arms.” (178)
Now, Iraq “[is] ranked as the most corrupt country in the Arab world, and the fourth most corrupt among all nations…” (195) “In 2009, more Iraqis were leaving than coming back.” (197) “Iraq [is] effectively a different country, transformed by the sectarian civil war. The Shiites had won, the Sunnis had lost.” (197) Christian minorities are still threatened. The EU stepped up resettlement quotas, promising places for Iraqis, mostly threatened Christians. (199)
Amos ends her book with encouraging words as the Obama administration tries to repair the damage done by the Bush administration. Diplomatic relations with Syria were on schedule to be reinstated. But the bad days for Iraq are not over.
Public Affairs, 213 pages.

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