Wednesday, January 10, 2007

 

Mesopotamia Surge Redux


Contrary to popular belief, there is strong evidence that the surge has been highly effective thoughout the history of Mesopotamia (maiden name of Iraq). When the Arabs first invaded in 638 they came with enough troups, and most of the population converted forthwith to Islam. A surge was required to take care of the few unconverted, including the Zoroastrian priests, who lost their lives and property. The Muslims had not yet solidified into opposing sects, and the major theological question was whether, if you died from a cause other than battle, you still got the virgins. Due to the ambiguity of the virgin situation, you didn't want to die over the issue, so peace prevailed.
But then schisms developed, the major one being between the Shiits and the Sunnis. They don’t agree which of them is the proper successor to Muhammad (d.632), followers of His father-in-law Abu or followers of His son-in-law Ali. You see, the Prophet favored a process for choosing a successor, and He also favored an individual to be the successor, but they didn't match up. The process was selection by concensus. Abu was selected successor caliph by community leaders, even though it was known that Ali would have been selected by the Prophet, had he still been around. It goes to show what can happen if you don't have a will. Ali didn’t become caliph until the murder of the third caliph convinced the head guys to throw in the towel. The Sunnis follow Abu while the Shiites follow Ali.
Further, the Shiits require that the their leader be a direct descendent of Ali. In other words, the Shiite position is inherited rather than elected, as the Sunnis would have it. This is a familiar problem, as we see in European history. The direct descendents of Ali were the Imans, the 12th of which went into hiding in 940. He will not re-emerge to rule as the Mahdi until the end of time, so in the interval the Ayatollahs are considered the joint caretakers of the Iman office.

The Sunnis and the Shiites don’t consider each other to be true Muslims, and thus, if not technically infidels, are close enough for government work. Now the traditional way of dealing with infidels is of course to kill them. This has in fact worked pretty well for the other religions throughout history, even though it is not generally considered P.C. currently (with the possible exceptions of Ireland and the Levant). Even for those exceptions it could be argued that outside interference has prevented the inhabitants from working things out in the traditional manner.

Indeed, outside influence has been a problem for Mesopotamia all along. In the 14th century the Black Sheep Turkmen took control, but later lost it to a surge by the White Sheep Turkmen. The Black Sheep have had a bad reputation ever since. In the 16th century the Ottoman Empire took over. The Turks, regardless of sheep preference, generally followed the practice of keeping the Abu and Ali followers from resolving the Muhammad descent question by carefully arranging massacres and hangings. The British continued the practice when they took over after the Great War, imposing a monarchy and drawing the maps without reference to the religious preferences. Unrest and killings dragged along for several years until the big British surge (massacre) in 1920 brought relative peace. Then, as now, there were critics. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) wrote in the London Times August 22, 1920:

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. . . Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.

Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen thousand local conscripts embodied, and killed a yearly average of two hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats, and armoured trains. We have killed about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer. . . . A Minister in the House of Lords said that we must have so many troops because the local people will not enlist. . . We have not reached the limit of our military commitments. Four weeks ago the staff in Mesopotamia drew up a memorandum asking for four more divisions. . . . If the North-West Frontier cannot be further denuded, where is the balance to come from? Meanwhile, our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the wilfully wrong policy. . . .

Iraqi army officers took over in 1958, executing the royal family in the palace gardens, ending the monarchy installed by the British. Things went back and forth, with the Kurds continuing to make trouble until 1970, when Saddam Hussein, secretary general of the Ba’th party, engineered a political settlement with the Kurds. Over the next decade Saddam became the de facto ruler, formalizing that in 1979. He was Sunni, and continued the proven practices of the Turks and the British to maintain peace, temporarily ending the need for outside influence. Later a surge would become necessary.

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