One of the facts of life that has been impressed upon me repeatedly in a variety of unexpected situations is that nothing is what it seems. Behind every person, place, and event is an untold wealth of information that most people will never know anything about – it is the rest of the iceberg, the man behind the curtain, the mountain behind the molehill. The complex series of almost random actions that result in a noteworthy event are almost impossible to untangle, they move beneath the surface of most people’s perceptions until they emerge on the surface of society’s awareness.
That philosophical rumination brings me to a news article on the front page of the New York Times: “Sectarian Split Again Imperils the Future of Iraq.” Dr. Rafe al-Essawi, the finance minister, has been founding hiding from arrest among rural tribes in Iraq, who have vowed to protect him from the central government. Like almost everything in Iraq, we have to understand the sectarian concerns influencing the conflict – Dr. Essawi is currently the highest ranked Sunni politician in a majority Shia government, now that Tariq al-Hashimi, the former Vice-President, fled Iraq in ignominy and was found guilty in absentia of running a death squad. Or corruption. Or both, it wasn’t very clear to outside observers. Unlike Hashimi, Dr. Essawi is quite popular among Iraq’s Sunni population, so he had no difficulties finding allies in the Sunni province of Anbar when he was tipped off to his imminent arrest. This drama happened amidst a bloody series of bombs in Baghdad that primarily targeted Shia neighborhoods, “celebrating” the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. To add another layer, let’s remember that the Sunnis greatly resent the Shia dominated government have felt disenfranchised by activities that they see as discrimination – such as the persecution of Sunni politicians (see above), preferential treatment to Shia communities, preferential hiring of Shias, etc. The whole story of that situation is really beyond the scope of this post but can be provided to interested parties.
Are you seeing the bottom part of the iceberg yet? The newspaper headline did comment on why we should care about Iraq’s finance minister by commenting on the sectarian tensions that will no doubt be exacerbated by his attempted arrest. But let’s add a few more pieces to the puzzle – astute observers may remember another event in the same part of Iraq that made the news not too long ago: a busload of Syrian soldiers was massacred in Anbar province as they were being escorted back to the border, along with their police escort.  Syria is, of course, Iraq’s neighbor to the west. Iraq’s neighbor to the east is our favorite fractious state, Iran. What may not be common knowledge is that Syria and Iran are as close to best friends as two authoritarian regimes can be, and that Iran has had the Shia politicians in Iraq by the short and curlies for, well, at least 10 years now?
I don’t have access to inside information about Iraq (anymore), so I can’t say that Syria/Iran asked the Iraqi Prime Minister to start leaning on the Sunni populations that have been plaguing the embattled Syrian regime for a while now (see my previous post, “The Bitter Taste of One’s Own Medicine”). But it seems likely. I can’t say that the attempted arrest of Dr. Essawi was more a part of a new campaign of pressure against the Sunni population and less about the crimes of Dr. Essawi himself…but again, it seems likely. Guess we will just have to see what happens next.
 Adnan, Duraid and Rick Gladstone, “Massacre of Syrian Soldiers in Iraq Raises Risk of Widening Conflict,” 4 March 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/world/middleeast/fighting-escalates-in-syrian-city-opposition-says.html?ref=syria&_r=0