May 16, 2007
The Washington Post

What Bremer Got Wrong in Iraq

Iraqis were not primarily Sunnis or Shiites; they were Iraqis first

by Nir Rosen

I arrived in Iraq before L. Paul Bremer arrived in May 2003 and stayed on long after his ignominious and furtive departure in June 2004 -- long enough to see the tragic consequences of his policies in Iraq. So I was disappointed by the indignant lack of repentance on full display in his Outlook article on Sunday.

In it, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority argues that he "was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny," including the Baath Party and the Iraqi army. He complains about "critics who've never spent time in Iraq" and "don't understand its complexities." But Bremer himself never understood Iraq, knew no Arabic, had no experience in the Middle East and made no effort to educate himself -- as his statements clearly show.

Time and again, he refers to "the formerly ruling Sunnis," "rank-and-file Sunnis," "the old Sunni regime," "responsible Sunnis." This obsession with sects informed the U.S. approach to Iraq from day one of the occupation, but it was not how Iraqis saw themselves -- at least, not until very recently. Iraqis were not primarily Sunnis or Shiites; they were Iraqis first, and their sectarian identities did not become politicized until the Americans occupied their country, treating Sunnis as the bad guys and Shiites as the good guys. There were no blocs of "Sunni Iraqis" or "Shiite Iraqis" before the war, just like there was no "Sunni Triangle" or "Shiite South" until the Americans imposed ethnic and sectarian identities onto Iraq's regions.

Despite Bremer's assertions, Saddam Hussein's regime was not a Sunni regime; it was a dictatorship with many complex alliances in Iraqi society, . . .

Bremer also exaggerates the numbers of casualties in the 1991 uprisings against Hussein. While the Baathist regime was brutal and killed tens of thousands, there is no evidence that Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as Bremer claims. But there is growing evidence that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since Bremer first came to power in Baghdad.

Some have indeed pilloried Bremer for his individual errors, such as disbanding the army. But these blunders are not the reasons why most Iraqis hate the American occupation and support violent resistance to it. The main grievance most Iraqis have with America is simply the occupation itself -- an occupation that lingers on years after Bremer waved goodbye.


[Nir Rosen is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq."]

VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT: "The Hidden Facts A Message From The Iraqi Resistance," ICH, January 24, 2006

Born to a Jewish mother and an Iraqi father, Dr. Dahlia Wasfi describes the life of Iraqis under occupation to the Democratic Congressional Forum on Iraq on May 5, 2006 in Washington, DC. She put her medical career in the U.S. on hold for a three month visit with family members in Basra and Baghdad.

Enver Masud, "Iraq: Divide and Rule, 'Ethnic Cleansing Works'," The Wisdom Fund, October 10, 2006

Robert Fisk, "Bush's New Strategy - The March of Folly," Independent, January 11, 2007

Richard W. Behan, "If the Iraqis get revenue sharing, Exxon gets their oil," CounterPunch, March 30, 2007

[The parliament today passed a binding resolution that will guarantee lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the U.N. mandate under which coalition troops now remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose cabinet is dominated by Iraqi separatists, may veto the measure. . . .

Without the cover of the U.N. mandate, the continued presence of coalition troops in Iraq would become, in law as in fact, an armed occupation--Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland, "Iraqi Lawmakers Pass Resolution That May Force End to Occupation," AlterNet, June 6, 2007]

[Why isn't Washington backing the nationalists, despite its growing frustration with Maliki's inability to meet the so-called "benchmarks" of political reconciliation that the United States wants? Because what holds together the emerging nationalist coalition, more than anything else, is militant opposition to the US occupation of Iraq.--Robert Dreyfuss, "Saving Iraq," Nation, June 27, 2007]

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