Khalilzad firmly believes that one of America’s gravest mistakes was ignoring the Sunnis after the fall of Baghdad
By Sami Moubayed
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrapped up a visit to Baghdad last week with an ultimatum, calling on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to “extend a hand to the Sunnis”. Only that, he added, will “save the situation” in Iraq, echoing what former US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been saying to the Iraqis for the past 12 months.
Key to this initiative is reversal of the controversial de-Ba’athification campaign that many say is the root cause of most of Iraq’s problems. A US-inspired bill is now with Parliament that aims significantly to reintegrate former Ba’athists under Saddam Hussein, who are predominantly Sunni, into society, the armed forces and government.
Khalilzad firmly believes that one of America’s gravest mistakes was ignoring the Sunnis after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, and making the Sunni community collectively pay the price for Saddam’s dictatorship. Not all Sunnis were members of the Saddam regime, and certainly not all of them benefited during his years in power.
The Americans forgot that all of their traditional allies in the Arab world, ranging from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the Arab Gulf and Jordan, were Sunni countries that would not stand by and watch the Iraqi Sunni community being crushed by Shi’ites and Kurds.The Americans mistakenly believed that Iraq’s Shi’ites would support them until curtain-fall, motivated by a thundering hatred for Saddam and gratitude for whoever would bring him to justice. They forgot the Iran factor, and their alliances with the Shi’ites snapped the minute they dominated Baghdad after Saddam was ejected from power.