Washington’s Sunni Myth and the Middle East Undone

Washington’s Sunni Myth and the Middle East Undone by Cyrus Mahboubian (Pen Name), War on the Rocks

I was not surprised to see my first article greeted with so much outrage by those who adhere to the conventional Western narrative of the civil wars in Iraq and Syria as well as the larger tumult of the Middle East. In truth, these conflicts are not so easily defined by the easy sectarian narrative offered in the Western press.  I argued that Western elites were surrendering to and even embracing the Saudi definition of what Sunni identity should mean. And I provided accounts of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq that do not comport with what you likely have been reading in the newspapers.

But there is far more to the story. It is worth recounting how we got to this point. In the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam and his regime, Iraq’s Sunnis were betrayed by many of their own religious, political, and tribal leaders who demanded that they boycott the post-2003 political order by waging an insurgency against the world’s most powerful military and the government it sought to stand up and support. Of course, it did not help that the U.S.-led occupation and the security forces it empowered victimized Sunni Iraqis disproportionately. The American military’s posture was more aggressive in Sunni-majority areas, and Iraqi security forces collaborated with Shia death squads in pursuit of a vicious counterinsurgency strategy that saw bodies piled up and neighborhoods cleansed. Iraqis en masse suffered from a collective trauma that will take decades to recover from. But hardline Sunni rejectionists and their Western backers have claimed that if Sunnis are not “empowered” then there is no alternative available to them but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). When adopted by Westerners, this argument seems to support Sunnis but actually represents a very low opinion of them because it holds that Sunnis require disproportionate political power to avoid becoming terrorists. Since 2003, Sunni rejectionists have pushed this narrative to hold Iraq hostage, blackmailing Baghdad and its allies like gangsters in a protection racket…

Read on.

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