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Iraq is terminally broken

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He just arrived in America fresh from Iraq. The deep lines in the face of this 40-year old Chaldean Iraqi speak silently of the sorrow and sadness of his people. He is very happy to be in America and he'll never go back to Iraq.

Earlier this year he was kidnapped in Baghdad and held for 24 days as a hostage. His kidnappers claimed to be Sunni Muslim and they demanded a huge ransom for his release. They kidnapped him in the name of Jihad and they received hundreds of thousands of dollars to release him in the name of their jihad.

While in captivity, he was abused verbally and tortured physically. His Christianity was denigrated and he was slapped around as a worthless Kafir or infidel. He showed me his back which was used as an ashtray by his captors. It was dotted with black marks of cigarette burns that burrowed small holes like volcano craters. As a Muslim I felt deeply ashamed of my cruel Muslim brothers.

Back in the days of Saddam Hussein this man was a major supplier of alcohol in the Baghdad area. His life was good and even by American standards he was a millionaire. But now he tells me that Iraq had become hopeless and killing is the only game in town. He says that Iraqis are bracing for a long and protracted civil war like the 15-year war of Lebanon.

He might be right because I watch the Arabic TV stations and their version of the news is different from what is shown in America. The commentators here are fighting the wars of "staying the course" or "cut and run" while the commentators in the Arab world are mostly turbaned Imams extolling the virtues of Ali, the prophet's nephew. One might wonder about a historical figure like Ali and his relationship with what's going on in Iraq today. The Shi'a Imams are arguing that only in the days of the Umayyad rule (661-750) were Shi'a believers killed based on their religious identity. They were persecuted because they believed that Ali was more deserving of the Caliphate; the Supreme leadership of Islam.

This is a religious dispute over 1,300 years old and it was not settled back then and it is being used today to fuel the sectarian violence. The Shi'a Imams are making their case that Muawiya, who established the Umayyad rule, had little faith in his heart and it was Ali who was filled with the faith of Muhammad since his childhood. By focusing on this ancient argument they are creating a long-sought legitimacy for the rule of Shi'a over Sunnis.

This is irrelevant in toady's politics except that it widens the gulf of animosity between traditional Sunnis and Shi'a. Sunnis do not consider Muawiya as a revered figure like Ali, but they respect the fact that he expanded the Muslim empire from India to Morocco and united it under one banner. He is nicknamed as the genius of Arab politics.

Some Iraqi Shi'a Imams are equating the ways of Sunni terrorists with the ruthlessness of the Umayyad rulers. They claim that Sunni terrorists are killing them today just because they are followers of Ali. Shi'a terrorists, on the other hand, are only retaliating for the killing initiated by Sunnis.

This started almost three years ago and the vicious cycle of retaliation and counter-revenge has entrenched itself. Too many people have already died and no one in Iraq is calling for forgiveness. Prime Minister Maliki is shuttling between religious and political leaders calling for reconciliation and power-sharing. Most Sunnis are highly skeptical of his motives as he had not called for an end to de-baathification.

The Sunni-Shi'a argument cuts deep across the Arab and Muslim world. A coalition of seven Sunni insurgent groups, including Al-Qaida of Iraq, called this week for the establishment of a Muslim state and a caliphate out of Baghdad. They offered a plan to divide Iraq into three states. The plan was almost identical to the one that democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Joseph Biden, had outlined earlier this year.

But most Arabs and Muslims have now become involved in this civil war in one form or another. The Sunni Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia do not want to see a Shi'a state on their northern border. They want to keep Iraq united under a Sunni ruler. Jordan has an interest in maintaining insecurity in Iraq as it has been very good for its economy. Syria and Iran want to keep the US military bogged down in Iraq so they do not become the next target. Egypt's Mubarak wants to capitalize on Sunni phobia of Shi'a power and he sends messages that a Shi'a state in Iraq is unacceptable. Almost everyone is united in rejecting the foreign occupation.

It is almost in everybody's interest to keep the war alive in Iraq. The only way to stop this madness is through a Muslim-Muslim reconciliation initiative where everyone will convene under the auspices of a Muslim conference and strike a deal like the Taif Accords of 1990, which ended the Lebanese civil war. The framework of the solution has to be fashioned by all Muslim nations. Iraq has become their problem.

The Bush administration did not start the religious war but its invasion of Iraq was the catalyst that sparked this disintegration. Whenever President Bush is in real trouble he calls on the power that was behind his father's presidency, and the ultimate Republican diplomat, former Secretary of State James Baker. He called him in 2000 to lead the Supreme Court battle over Florida's election results. Now, he has appointed him along with former congressman Lee Hamilton to chair a study group on Iraq. Their report is due in December, not surprisingly after the elections. Baker predicts that the report's recommendation will be somewhere in between "cut and run" and "stay the course".

This is a major shift in Bush's unwavering stance. The Democrats deserve the credit for this shift as they have been very disciplined in broadcasting the same message in this campaign. Patrick Murphy, a young army captain running for congress in Pennsylvania, answered the President's radio address last Saturday by saying: "staying the course is not visionary, it is blind. Standing still and staying the course is not resolute, it is reckless." I heard the same punch lines used by Senator John Kerry in New Hampshire and by Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the House, in California. They are all singing the same hymn lines whether in New York or in Minnesota.

They have adopted the Karl Rove modus operandi in running campaigns and Bill Clinton seems to be heavily involved in the current campaign to take back the House. It looks like President Bush has already factored in the expected Republican defeat by calling on Baker to work out the compromise with Democrats. The Iraqi debacle will belong to the US Congress in 2007.

Early next year, we can expect US troops to redeploy from Iraq to Afghanistan where they will resume the war on terror. As for Iraq, we can expect with confidence the disintegration and the dismantlement of that state in the near future.
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Neal AbuNab is a Michigan-based author of "The War on Terror and Democracy"- available on He is a commentator on Arab and Muslim affairs and he can be reached at:
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