The human urge to find things to which we can give our unqualified support never ceases to amaze me. In any dispute, the natural urge is to pick a side and assume that everything done by that side is ethical, just, and sensible. This compulsion is much on my mind lately as I ponder Iraq. One of the hardest things for me, a critic of our efforts in Iraq, has been my failing hope of finding some good guys I can root for, just so I can get to a somewhat comfortable psychological place.
When we invaded Iraq, my assumption was that the Sunni Arabs were the bad guys, and the Shiites, Kurds, and Marsh Arabs were the good guys. Saddam Hussein drew his power from the Sunni minority and spent a lot of his time suppressing and murdering Iraq’s other ethnic groups. As it turns out, I was right about the Sunnis, obviously they’re not all bad people, but Sunnis who lost out when their patron was deposed form the backbone of the insurgency.
As time has passed, however, my assumptions about the good guys have proven incorrect. Among the Shiites, there are many people (not just followers of Muqtada al-Sadr) who would prefer theocracy to democracy, and who are mostly interested in revenge on their former oppressors. Many of them don’t seem to respect women’s rights, and are downright Taliban-esque when it comes to respect for civil rights in general. I’m not saying they’re bad people, but I can’t give the Shiites my unqualified support.
Then there are the Kurds. Brutally oppressed and subjected to mass murder by Saddam’s regime, the Kurds have been sold out and screwed in every country where they reside. They were my early sympathetic favorite. They built a functioning state for themselves in the no fly zone that we enforced after the Gulf War, and there has been no Kurdish insurgency. However, Kurds have been running people out of every town that borders their lands in hopes that those towns will be placed under Kurdish control when Iraq’s federal system is put in place. Kurds are displacing Arabs, Turkmen, and members of Iraq’s Christian minorities and are all too glad to come in and play the toughs when the coalition forces need Iraqis to beat up on their fellow countrymen. The Kurdish leadership is acting out of self interest, and I’m sure Kurds are happy about it given their history of mistreatment, but again, not the good guys.
You don’t read much about Iraq’s Turkmen population, maybe they’re the good guys? They were treated badly before the invasion, and other ethnic groups are treating them badly now because they’re not really numerous enough to defend themselves. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be the good guys either, because the US is fighting them right now in the town of Tal Afar.
Then there are the coalition forces. I sure wanted to believe that we’re the good guys, but clearly that’s a mixed bag at best as well. Between conducting counterinsurgency via airstrikes, a massive program of torture at various detention centers around Iraq, and a plan for the occupation that wound up sinking Iraq into constant violence, the coalition isn’t worthy of unqualified support, either. And I think that explains why Americans haven’t accepted just how bad things are in Iraq right now. I’ve had to force myself to accept this complex situation in which everyone is tainted. I think most other people have chosen not to.