Friday, February 08, 2008

Slicing Up the Pie

or Why Things Were Better Under Saddam

In the comments of Konfused Kid's last post:

[kid] This Iraq is fucked up, the old one was stable.

Well, Kid, it was stable for you. I realize, as you say, that you can only speak from your own POV, but look at Saddam's increasing obeisance to Sunni theocratic power. Look at his war against the Shi'a (and that's exactly what it was). Perhaps you and your sister could have avoided hardship in Saddam's Sunniland but...Oh what the heck. The following is from a conversation I had recently with a friend about the prospects of Sunni Arabs and Shi'a Arabs under Saddam:

LLoyd: 24StepsToLiberty has a point [when he says that Saddam's inner
circle included a lot of Shi'a Arabs and even Kurds].

CMAR II: It's an issue of statistics. Let's use Saddam's fabled inner circle as a model for the chance of a successful life in Saddam's Iraqi society.

Let's say 1) a full half of Saddam's inner circle was not ethnic Sunni Arab and 40% were ethnic Shi'a. Now, lets 2) assume there were 100 slots in Saddam's inner circle and 300 viable Iraqi candidates picked at random to fill those slots.

Now, Sunni Arabs are from 15-20% of the Iraqi population. Ethnic Shi'a Arabs are around 65%. Maybe more. So, 3) let's assume our random selection of candidates perfectly matched the statistical allotment of Sunni/Shi'a Arab:

Inner Circle = 100
Viable Candidates (based on education, experience, and connections) = 300
Ethnic Sunni Arab Candidates = 60 (20% of the viable candidates)
Ethnic Shi'a Arab Candidates = 195 (65% of the viable candidates)

Sunni Arabs selected for Saddam's inner circle = 50
Sunni Arabs left out in the cold = 10 (or 15% of the total)
Selected Shi'a Arabs = 40
Shi'a Arabs left out in the cold = 155 (or 79% of the total)

Extrapolating this to the rest of Iraqi society: You can see that in pre-2003 Iraq the prospects of a random ethnic Sunni Arab blows away those of an equally random ethnic Shi'a Arab (that is, to happen to go to the best schools, best neighborhoods, and to have a well-educated, well-connected family). If Iraq had a rapidly growing economy, these discrepancies would not be so stark. But it wasn't.

This is why so many Shi'a Arabs filling the ranks of Iraq's government look like ill-prepared, backward buffoons to the Sunni Arabs they pushed out: because many of them are insufficiently prepared. But that's the result of the backwards tribal societies of the M.E. where Sunni Arabs dominated every country except Iran for centuries (Iran is the same, only reversed).

This reminds me of the White Southern Americans' perspectives of their state legislatures during Reconstruction as newly enfranchised Blacks began taking leadership roles. However, your child is probably ill-prepared for adulthood when she is 18. But the only way to do it is to do it.

No matter how you slice it, a just accomodation in a non-sectarian Iraq means that life has to get harder for Sunni Arabs in Iraq than it was under Saddam. At least at first. And Iraqi Sunni Arabs will never again feel as well-off in comparison to their neighbors as they did under Saddam. Sunni Arabs need to start viewing themselves as Kurds and Chaldeans have always viewed themselves in Iraq: as a minority population who must accomodate themselves to the majority to secure for themselves (and other minorities) basic rights that prevent official persecution. That seems to be happening at last.

Nevertheless, Kid's recent posts are among the most honest and even-handed analysis of how a sectarian, us-vs-them environment in Iraq has empowered Saddam-love among Sunni Arabs and maintained a cyclic sectarian distrust even among non-religious Iraqis. It's almost as good as Ali's Let's Blame It on the Sunnis.

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