Faced with overwhelming and increasingly sophisticated American military power and–perhaps most important–a unified Shia political slate, Sunni intransigence toward Iraq’s elections continues to weaken. According to the AP’s Mariam Fam, the Iraqi Islamic Party –the Sunnis’ premier political organization (which, as you’ll recall, withdrew from the government last month in protest over the re-liberation of Falluja) has “quietly” submitted a list of 275 candidates. Leaders told Fam that they wanted to “reserve the right to vote if the election is not postponed.” Translated: the U.S., Shias and Kurds have called their bluff to sit out the January vote–a fact that is beginning to dawn upon the mutinous mullahs and sheiks of the Sunni Triangle.
Most of them, at any rate. The Association of Muslim Scholars–which claims to represent three thousand mosques and advocates resistance to the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq–supports delaying elections, in large part, they claim, because of the security situation. And indeed, like hooded Klansmen stalking the post-bellum south, masked paramilitaries continue their terrorist activities, murdering police officers, National Guardsmen, government workers and other members of the true Iraqi resistance. Their insistence on holding the country hostage to vague, unrealizable or–given the Sunnis’ chance of success in an actual civil war–suicidal demands has puzzled observers. Why won’t their leaders come to the negotiating table? What do the Sunnis want?
In his December 6 dispatch, the New York Times’ John Burns provides a clue. Describing the Marines’ recent operations south of Baghdad, he notes that the targets are “two tribal families, the Janabis and the Kargoulis.” Burns writes,
Under Mr. [sic] Hussein, the Janabi and the Kargoulis were richly rewarded. Their area was the base for Republican Guard units, munitions factories, weapons research establishments and battlefield testing grounds, as well as a host of new industrial plants and depots.
After “Mr.” Hussein’s downfall and the consequent loss of Baathist largess, Burns notes, “the Janabis and Kargoulis families became stalwarts of the resistance.” Are we surprised?
Out of this union of two families–or rather, tribes–emerged a leader, Sheik Abdullah al-Janabi, believed today to direct the paramilitary forces in central Iraq. He enjoys a large power base: estimates of the Janabi’s tribal habitation range from 400,000 to one million people. The tribe’s legitimate business include construction, textile and food processing companies. Among their illegitimate businesses number weapons dealing, black market currency exchange, extortion, carjacking and the kidnapping of foreigners for eventual sale to foreign jihadistslike Abu Musab al-Zarqawi–who, many say, is responsible for raising the tribe, and its chieftain, to prominence.
With so much lucre at stake, no wonder the Sunnis have taken up arms. No wonder, too, that they dread the prospect of a central–and reasonably honest–government wresting control of their black market enterprises. As I’ve argued before, beneath its rhetoric of nationalism and jihad, the fascist counter-revolution in Iraq is steeped in an archaic, irrational and self-defeating resentment against America–the only force on earth that could destroy the Sunnis’ tribal system of patronage and bring its criminal enforcers to justice. What do these Sunni leaders want? What all gangsters desire: money, power, a firm grip over a terrified population and the murder of every honest cop who stands in their way.
UPDATE: According to the AP, two additional Sunni parties are fielding slates of candidates: the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and the Coalition of Iraqi National Unity. The first group, as its name implies, seeks the restoration of Iraq’s monarchy. The second, comprised of numerous anti-Saddam militias, has had close links with the U.S. and has in the past provided manpower to guard oil pipelines in northern Iraq.
Posted by Steven Vincent