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18 minutes

…is how long it would have lasted in Iraq before Saddam’s tanks rolled in and started massacring people.

The other day I watched a video of the Cairo protesters dancing and singing “Hosni Mubarak has gone mad” and “Get out Hosni Mubarak”. They were waiving their signs and stuff, was adorable. Reminded me of another video I saw of Iraqis dancing and singing. It was slightly different – from 1991 and the crowd were Republican Guard, and they were waiving around severed heads. That was adorable too.

Twitter? Facebook? Google execs? Demonstrations? Are you kidding me? You want to compare this to Iraq!? Three hundred people died in these 18 days; in the months following the ’91 Shia and Kurdish uprisings Saddam’s thugs tortured, mutilated and killed tens of thousands and subsequently destroyed 90% of the Southern Marshes – an area originally the size of Wales, and one of the most beautiful natural treasures of the Middle East. The punishment continued up until the downfall.

No, Saddam is not “only a little different to Mubarak”, he’s a lot different, like on another level entirely. His regime is more comparable in brutality to Khmer Rouge, the Mongols and some of those crazy dictators from the caucuses who boil people alive (I think Saddam preferred acid baths to boiling, not sure).

I think Shia and Kurds need to actively remember the crimes of the past, because peoples’ memories are short, and popular opinion (that is, Arab propaganda) tends to overshadow reality. Ultimately, it’s not for Saddam’s apologists that we need to do this, they aren’t worth the time of day, it’s for our own selves and our children.

30 Comments on “18 minutes”

  1. Ali February 13, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    When Iraqis rose up and captured most of the governorates from Kurdistan in the north to the Shiite south in an act of unity, bravery and resistance to tyranny, it took Saddam the same amount of time as this Egyptian revolution to kill them in their hundreds of thousands and showed absolutely no mercy. It didn’t matter that his army had suffered a battering in the Gulf war when it came to brutally crushing and killing his own people in 1991 and it didn’t matter that he was spending billions in a war with his neighbouring country when he used chemical weapons in Kurdistan in the eighties. Egyptians talk about 300 dead in a few weeks; come back and tell me about 300,000 dead in the same time period.

    All while this was happening, Iraqis were shown no support from their sycophantic sultan-worshipping Arab brothers. Even when the dictator finally fell we became puppets of America or Iran, and Arabs rushed to blow up innocent people as they did today. We were told how Iraqis were looters and how they couldn’t even protect their national museum, and how they were uncapable of transitioning to democracy and how they deserved the strong hand of not just your average strongman like Mubarak, but Saddam himself.

    Now that Egyptians (after 50 years of idolising their dictators including the acid bath loving Jamal Abdul Nasser who still remains a god in Egypt) got rid of some joker who did 1% of what Saddam did to crush a rebellion, the Arabs are indulging in a sanctimonious round of self-praise and shoulder-patting.

    They Egyptians now deserve the same heartache and misery they visited upon and accepted for Iraqis. It is unlikely they will see a pluralistic liberal democracy for a good many years, and I hope in the mean time they experience the tough transition period, sectarian problems, and Islamism before they realise that even though Iraq apparently had to become a fully developed democracy in a couple of years otherwise the liberation would be judged a complete failutre, the path to complete freedom is a difficult one and it is not something to be craven just when you get bored of your dictator and is not something that you want for yourself and not for your own brothers, but an inalienable right of all people.

  2. Muhammad February 13, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    Great new sectarian addition to the blog! You guys have outdone yourselves this time!

    And the comments are getting more and more graceful too!

  3. Thaqalain February 13, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    In Iraq it was US Military who used Al_Maliki government in hasty trial & execution to drop curtain on what forces were behind Saddam’s rule.

    In Egypt it is its own military which is going to draw the curtain on the Mubarak era.
    Iraqis are one of the smartest arab nation while Egyptians lower class are very simple minded, they already rolled up their stuff from Tehrir Sq, thinking its over. Sad to say within 24 hours army announced its bound to honor Camp David and the ex cabinet will continue working without any firm date for elections. Its b/c White House needs time to test next coming dictators.

    Nothing is changed in Egypt except face of an old aged dying dictator is removed, his financial advisors already diverted his assets and Swiss-UK banks drumbeating they have frozen his accounts.

    I don’t know why Iraqis always compromised despite reaching near victory. I don’t see any reason why Al-Maliki want to extend contract of US Forces, Mercenaries, Spys to protect 17,000 incoming US Diplomatic Staff in the coming months. There is no reason, Iraqi parliament to legalize 4 VPs, 4 DPMs on the basis of Muhassah (Ethno Quota Sharing).

    This is what Imam Ali described in Khutba#71 , terming the nation similar to a pregnant lady who failed to deliver a matured baby when everything is ready.

    While Americans might want to retreat or leave, history will write it was a Shia Prime Minister who allowed US troops for strengthening its roots in Iraq.

    Logically Iraq is a divided and shattered nation, they need to take breath after so many wars. Iraq is way away from any revolution. Don’t compare revolution by number of bodies or mass massacre, the real revolution means real change.

  4. Thaqalain February 13, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    Ali , like your opinion, we should have our own Satellite Channel to portray 18 minute revolution of Mohammad Abdullah and you.
    I don’t see any Iraqi commentator on Al-Jazeera. So your comments are worth for me.

  5. Thaqalain February 13, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    And the day of 18 minute revolution , Iraqis still discovering mass graves.
    http://www.presstv.ir/detail/164952.html

  6. Don Cox February 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    “I don’t see any reason why Al-Maliki want to extend contract of US Forces, ”

    Training mainly. The Iraqi forces have a lot of new gear but almost no repairs or logistics capability. This needs technical training for thousands of specialists.

    Same applies to forensic technology for police. Without forensics, trials will depend on confessiond by suspects – and you know how people are made to confess.

  7. Mohammed Abdullah February 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Thaqalain, could you refrain from spamming please. This means that replies should be directly relevant to the blog post or someone’s reply, in single posts unless necessary, and without the cryptic use of language.

  8. Salam February 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Silly and pointless post. Try to be more positive and look to the future instead of comapraring Egypt with Iraq. And shame on you for being sectarian.

    • Mohammed Abdullah February 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

      By “look to the future” you presumably mean “not talk about the past”, because that would, inevitably destroy this idea that “Mubarak is only a little different to Saddam”, and therefore Iraqis failed to do what the Egyptians did because they are “cowards, lazy and selfish”.

      What was sectarian about what I wrote?

  9. Abufellah February 14, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Great post, Mohammed. I enjoyed the clear and to-the-point message. I disagree with those who think you are being sectarian simply by reminding us to remember the past and our history so we aren’t doomed to repeat it. I agree that we need to remember who stood with the Iraqis during our times of need, who turned a blind eye, or worse, who had a hand in assisting Saddam’s oppression.

    Keep up the great writing.

  10. Salam February 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    None of the points “Abufellah” or you raise have anything to do with sects. But it’s impossible for narrow-minded people to think outside of the box of sects and ethnicities. Good luck to both of you.

    • Mohammed Abdullah February 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      In other words, you have nothing concrete with which to accuse me. And how quick we are to forget that Kurds are also Sunni, every bit as much as the Arabs, spanning the spectrum from the most liberal to the most extreme (in the form of the Kurdish Salafist group Ansar al Sunna). This is not about Shia victimhood and blaming Sunnis; we lament Halabja and Anfal as much as the massacres in the south. And we blame the Shia terrorist group MKO as much as their allies. The people who’s relatives were murdered, who’s arms, tongues and ears were cut off are still around now, they are part of the present, not some distant history. Playing the “sectarian” card to guilt-trip people into not talking about events that took place a mere 20 years ago won’t work.

      • Salam February 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

        I don’t need to present anything “concrete”, your post and your replies do that for me. I also don’t happen to be the only one who thinks you’re sectarian. You do not seem to be able to break out of that narrow-minded view of things that only sees sects. Even your justification of saying Kurds are sunnis and the MKO are shias are perfect examples of that. I am not telling you not to recount events, I am saying you do so in a narrow-minded sectarian manner that doesn’t serve anyone, including the sects you are trying to defend. Your approach builds up anomosity and creates division. When I say you should look to the future, I meant that even when you recount the past, do it with the future in mind, so that it does not create more problems as you go along. Anyway, I am not interested in having a discussion with you anymore, your perspective is quite obvious to me, I wish you all the best.

      • Ali February 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

        Then why specifically mention that Shias and Kurds need to be actively reminded of Saddam’s atrocities? I’m afraid your post is as sectarian as they come.

  11. Fatima Ali February 20, 2011 at 2:55 am #

    Interesting post Mohammed. Like yourself, I disagree with those who state that Mubarak was “a little different than Saddam”. The Egyptians did not face nearly as much oppression as Iraqis did when Saddam ruled them. And I must agree with you that history should not be forgotten and Shias and Kurds should always remember the oppression and massacres that their people faced. That being said, I do not believe people should live with a pessimistic view on life, but rather be optimistic for the future of Iraq.
    Ali, you state that “They Egyptians now deserve the same heartache and misery they visited upon and accepted for Iraqis”. Egyptians were not the only ones that accepted the oppression of Iraqis, but other countries as well. Many Iraqis have no sympathy towards Palestine because Palestinians loved Saddam. However, what did the young children who are suffering have to do with anything? As Iraqis, and caring humans in general, we need to stop being selfish and look out for our brothers in faith and in humanity. This is especially true for shias who commemorate the death of Imam Hussein for two months of every year. Imam Hussein sacrificed his life and his family to stand up against dhulm (oppression). One would be a hypocrite if they mourned their Imam and showed no compassion for the oppression that others are facing. What shocks me the most, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that non of the maraji3 or 3olama have spoken up against the situation in Egypt.

    • Mohammed Abdullah February 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      Khamanei gave a Friday speech in Arabic in support of the Egyptian protesters, and he was subsequently followed by Nasrallah. They were careful not to do this early on because it would be latched on by the suppressive authorities. I don’t think the Egyptians paid much attention to what they (Khamanei, Nasrallah) had to say. Publicly, they have been trying hard to distance themselves from Iran, to assuage fears that the US and Israel might have.

      • Muhammad February 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

        Khamenei should allow iranians to protest or shut the hell up. Disgusting hypocrite.

  12. Azad February 23, 2011 at 1:27 am #

    I agree with this post and many of the comments here. Why is it that Saddam is still mourned as a victim of Western imperialism while Mubarak is scorned as a dictator? Calling Mubarak “Saddam lite” is too rough on Mubarak. Keep writing the truth.

  13. anonymous February 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    Mohammed you are sectarian because you pointed out the sect and ethnicity of Saddam’s victims. That makes you sectarian in the way that saying Hitler killed Jews makes you anti-semitic. You are not allowed to mention the sect of the victim even if it is their sect which resulted in their persecution, becuase that will upset people from other sects who may be feeling a little guilty that they either turned a blind eye or actively assisted in the repression.

    It would of course be sectarian to discriminate along the grounds of sect or to try to cash in on the suffering of other Shias in the past to claim some kind of right to power. But to describe history with all its ugly dimensions so you can learn the lessons you need to learn from it, and to correct the past wrongs, that’s not sectarian.

    • Ali February 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

      It really is ridiculous to classify Saddam’s victims by sect. In one fell swoop it manages to both remove from history those victims who do not fit your narrow sectarian narrative, whilst also distorting the grim history of Iraq under the Baathis.

  14. Muhammad February 24, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    It is secterianism when it’s not the truth.

  15. Mohammed Abdullah February 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    Have kept a fairly close eye on the comments made by various Arabs in the media, there has been much discussion on why these uprisings have happened now. Just saw an Egyptian lady saying that in fact these uprisings have a long history, starting with the Palestinian intifadha in 2000. Not once have I seen a non-Iraqi refer to the 1991 Shia and Kurdish uprisings. It has never been a legitimate uprising in their minds. Saddam was and still is a martyr in the minds of many of them. As I said, the foreign Arabs are no concern of mine, it is only a tragedy if Iraqis themselves are swept up by the same distortion of history. Cry “sectarian” all you like, it won’t stop anything. If I’m still on this blog in a year, I will remind everyone again on the 21st anniversary.

  16. Mohammed Abdullah February 25, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    @Ali, Kurds and Shia engaged in uprisings against Saddam and they had campaigns of genocide instigated against them. Hundreds of thousands of each group were tortured and murdered, and their livelihoods and property obliterated. It was not arbitrary ad-hoc killing and destruction, it was a campaign and a domestic national policy. The Shia and Kurds have motivation to remember the crimes committed against them, because, as the comments in the 18 days blog stated, some people are propagating the idea that Iraqis could not overthrow Saddam was because they were cowardly and selfish, in contrast to our noble Arab brethren who recently made sacrifices and were brave. These uprisings and the years of resistance before then are clear evidence that this was not the case. If this period in history is not remembered the sacrifices of the martyrs will be in vain. They deserve to be honoured, and lessons need to be learnt. If you think this is sectarian, so be it. I don’t think it is – I know Saddam killed Sunnis too, 100,000 dead Kurds from Anfal is evidence enough. In any case, I’m not particularly interested in avoiding offence at the expense of diluting historical truths. We’re still accidentally discovering mass graves, years after the regime’s downfall.

    Of course anyone can remember the martyrs of ’91. I would be honoured of Swedes and Indians joined us in remembrance, but I’m not counting on them actively doing so.

    RIP martyrs of ’91.

    • Ali February 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

      Mohammed Abdullah, the martyrs of the ’91 uprising deserve our utmost respect and must never be forgotten. I agree with you that the media, Arab and otherwise, seem to have suffered from a form of collective amnesia with regard to that brutal and horrifying event. My only objection to your initial post stemmed from your classifying those Iraqi victims by sect. Saddam committed innumerable atrocities against every section of Iraqi society, with the ’91 uprising resulting in victims who overwhelmingly came from the South and North. Yes, that mainly means Shia Arabs and Kurds, but I can’t help but feel that this form of tagging of each crime with a sect or racial grouping will create a hierarchy of grievances that will ultimately have negative ramifications for all concerned. Emotions justifably run deep when it comes to discussing the past under the Baathis, but discuss it we must as openly and honestly as possible. However, I believe we all have to shoulder the collective responsibility of trying to do so in a way that does not, even inadvertantly, come across as formenting division or emphasising sectarian boundaries. I would hope that in the years to come when children in Iraq are taught about the ’91 uprising, the victims are remembered as true Iraqis alone. I fail to see how that in any way tarnishes their legacy.

  17. Mohammed Abdullah February 26, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Firstly on the point of the media; it’s the Arab media that’s the problem here. The Western media has not forgotten Saddam’s crimes. It has been part of the media and public debate on the morality of the Iraq war for nine years. The Western world see that there was a very real case to be made to invade Iraq on the basis of the brutality of the former regime. The Arab media, in contrast, has been very kind to Saddam and the post-2003 “resistance”. Even the Iraqi Sharqiyya channel described yesterday’s demonstrations as the “biggest in Iraq’s history”. Laughable, unless their history started only very recently.

    Now you say “…discuss it we must as openly and honestly as possible” yet you advocate doing precisely the opposite – not using the words “Shia” and “Kurds”, and have ” the victims are remembered as true Iraqis alone”. Do you actually want openness and honesty, about the Ba’athist era, or is this merely a hollow platitude? Because any serious account of that era cannot escape the the truth of the Ba’athist policy of genocide and collective punishment of the Kurds and the Shia. The numbers speak for themselves – hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced and enormous damage to property and livelihood and environment.

    What else would you like to do – refer to the Armenian genocide as “some citizens of the Ottoman empire who were killed”? Or the Nazi campaigns against Jews, Gypsies, the disabled and homosexuals as “some Germans and Poles who were killed”?

    In my previous reply to you, I said I would not avoid offence at the expense of diluting historical truth, and in your very next reply, you make my point with the statement “…with the ’91 uprising resulting in victims who overwhelmingly came from the South and North. Yes, that mainly means Shia Arabs and Kurds”. This makes it sound like there were uprisings in the North and South and by virtue of demographical distributions, it means that it happened to be mostly Kurds and Shia who rose up. Firstly lets be clear – it was not a general uprising in the North – it was Kurdistan specifically. Mosul is in the North, the Arabs of Mosul did not revolt against the Ba’athists. It was a specifically Kurdish uprising. Furthermore, the uprisings were not a just a “Southern” phenomenon. There was also revolt in al Thowra in East Baghdad, but there wasn’t one in Adhimiyya, despite the proximity of the two areas. It was not a geographic uprising, it was a Shia and Kurdish uprising. So this is a perfect example of the blurring and distortion of events of history that comes about from banning words from our lexicon for the sake of political correctness and avoiding offence.

    There is, furthermore, a practical element to my advocating that Shia and Kurds actively remember Saddam’s crimes – that practical element being that they will actually do it. It is clearly not to suggest that this was the entirety his victims – for that we would even have to include Udday, so of course some Sunni Arabs (and Communists, Christians, etc) both suffered and revolted during the span of his rule. I just don’t observe much enthusiasm in those communities as a whole to institutionalise the remembrance of the Ba’athist era crimes and the ’91 uprisings. If I’m wrong then great, but I don’t really see it happening. The Kurds and Shia will though, simply because the huge scale of Saddam’s apparaturs of terror means almost every family has was affected by Saddam’s ethno-sectarian policies – either been killed arbitrarily, imprisoned, tortured, had their property taken, or forced to flee the country.

    • Ali February 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

      Mohammed Abdullah :
      Firstly on the point of the media; it’s the Arab media that’s the problem here. The Western media has not forgotten Saddam’s crimes. It has been part of the media and public debate on the morality of the Iraq war for nine years. The Western world see that there was a very real case to be made to invade Iraq on the basis of the brutality of the former regime. The Arab media, in contrast, has been very kind to Saddam and the post-2003 “resistance”. Even the Iraqi Sharqiyya channel described yesterday’s demonstrations as the “biggest in Iraq’s history”. Laughable, unless their history started only very recently.

      I disagree, and really haven’t seen much about it in the media at all. It certainly doesn’t have the prominence of Anfal or the debate surrounding WMDs.

      ,Now you say “…discuss it we must as openly and honestly as possible” yet you advocate doing precisely the opposite – not using the words “Shia” and “Kurds”, and have ” the victims are remembered as true Iraqis alone”. Do you actually want openness and honesty, about the Ba’athist era, or is this merely a hollow platitude? Because any serious account of that era cannot escape the the truth of the Ba’athist policy of genocide and collective punishment of the Kurds and the Shia. The numbers speak for themselves – hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced and enormous damage to property and livelihood and environment.What else would you like to do – refer to the Armenian genocide as “some citizens of the Ottoman empire who were killed”? Or the Nazi campaigns against Jews, Gypsies, the disabled and homosexuals as “some Germans and Poles who were killed”?

      Your comparison with the Holocaust illustrates the problem here. The Jews were systematically targeted and killed by the Nazis because they were Jews alone, not because they resisted or attempted to overthrow the government. Similarly with the Armenians, who were specifically oppressed in contrast to the Turkish Ottomans. As we have established, the Baathi government had no qualms with crushing resistance to it regardless of sect or ethnicity. So why paint it in a way that implies they did?

      In my previous reply to you, I said I would not avoid offence at the expense of diluting historical truth, and in your very next reply, you make my point with the statement “…with the ’91 uprising resulting in victims who overwhelmingly came from the South and North. Yes, that mainly means Shia Arabs and Kurds”. This makes it sound like there were uprisings in the North and South and by virtue of demographical distributions, it means that it happened to be mostly Kurds and Shia who rose up. Firstly lets be clear – it was not a general uprising in the North – it was Kurdistan specifically. Mosul is in the North, the Arabs of Mosul did not revolt against the Ba’athists. It was a specifically Kurdish uprising. Furthermore, the uprisings were not a just a “Southern” phenomenon. There was also revolt in al Thowra in East Baghdad, but there wasn’t one in Adhimiyya, despite the proximity of the two areas. It was not a geographic uprising, it was a Shia and Kurdish uprising. So this is a perfect example of the blurring and distortion of events of history that comes about from banning words from our lexicon for the sake of political correctness and avoiding offence.

      It’s a perfect example of dealing in absoloutes when they do not exist. Perhaps it’s also useful to ask why Kadhimiya, which is adjacent to Adhamiya, did not witness mass revolt despite it being a predominantly Shia area? Baghdad as a whole remained sedentary, but had huge Shia and Kurdish communities that did not as a whole participate. What about the Shia of Tal Afar? The uprising was very much Northern and Southern in nature, and likely gained in momentum when the Allies entered large swathes of the South vacated by Saddam and encouraged the people to revolt.

      There is, furthermore, a practical element to my advocating that Shia and Kurds actively remember Saddam’s crimes – that practical element being that they will actually do it. It is clearly not to suggest that this was the entirety his victims – for that we would even have to include Udday, so of course some Sunni Arabs (and Communists, Christians, etc) both suffered and revolted during the span of his rule. I just don’t observe much enthusiasm in those communities as a whole to institutionalise the remembrance of the Ba’athist era crimes and the ’91 uprisings. If I’m wrong then great, but I don’t really see it happening. The Kurds and Shia will though, simply because the huge scale of Saddam’s apparaturs of terror means almost every family has was affected by Saddam’s ethno-sectarian policies – either been killed arbitrarily, imprisoned, tortured, had their property taken, or forced to flee the country.

      I don’t see why Shia or Kurdish Iraqis will struggle to remember it unless it is explicitly set out in sectarian terms. The issue here is not one of offence, but of the use of lazy and loose language which paints the people of Iraq as belonging to monolithic blocks of Shia, Sunni and Kurd. The use of terms such as ‘the Shia’, as if Shia Iraqis hold uniform views about Iraq, merely serves to reinforce this. By describing events as you have, it really is only a small step away from stating that Iraqi Sunnis were complicit or actively involved in the genocide of Shias and Kurds, as inferred in the comment by Anonymous above. If you believe that to be the case then fine, but if you don’t then your language certainly gives the opposite impression. I am also not sure of the point you are making regarding Saddam. You state he oppressed all groups in Iraq, but then talk about ethno-sectarian policies.

      The broader point I am making is if people insist on framing Iraq in this sectarian light, then the day when we will have political parties not defined exclusively by religion or race will be further away. Interestingly, Iraqis in Iraq seem to be further ahead of the diaspora in this regard.

  18. Ali (1) February 27, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    In 1991, it was only the four Sunni (Arab) provinces which did not support their Iraqi brothers and sisters in the uprising and did not rebel against Saddam. Post-2003, it was these provinces that did not support the democratic process and did all they could to bring it down, including harbouring and producing terrorists to kill Iraqi people (and even had the cheek to use that as proof that Saddam was good for them) If this doesn’t demonstrate an inherent sectarian nature to recent Iraqi history then I don’t know what does.

    #MohammedAbdullah the Communist Party gave many many martyrs in the past 50 years and of course they remember Baathist era crimes. Many people in Iraq (especially the Shia) had family members in that party many of whom were killed or imprisoned.

    #FatimaAli When did I say children deserve to be oppressed and they will definitely not be being oppressed by any Iraqis who I don’t think are going to rush to Cairo and start blowing themselves up. But these Arabs have still not opened their eyes and it seems that the only way for them to empathise with Iraq’s history is to experience it themselves.

  19. Mohammed Abdullah February 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Ali :
    As we have established, the Baathi government had no qualms with crushing resistance to it regardless of sect or ethnicity. So why paint it in a way that implies they did?

    I didn’t. My original point is that there was a Shia and Kurdish uprising in ’91, which was followed by brutal suppression and collective punishment of Shia and Kurds, and that the Shia and Kurds need to actively remember these events. I didn’t say, nor imply, that this suppression was conditional on the ethno-sectarian make up of the rebels, nor that had the Sunni Arabs revolted the Ba’athists would have been reasonable. My point is that they were Shia and Kurds.

    Your assertion is that what I wrote is sectarian because I talked about the rebels as Shia and Kurds, when they patently were. Instead you propose that we use the labels ‘North’ and ‘South’ in place of ‘Kurd’ and ‘Shia’. You imply that the rebels were Kurd and Shia because the rebellion happened to be in the North and South respectively. You’ve got it the wrong way round – the rebellions took place in the North and South because that’s where Kurds and Shia happened to be. Geography is not the determining factor, the people who rebelled are. The Kurds had already been through a campaign of genocide, and the Shia were heavily oppressed since the beginning of the 1908’s. Their grievances were more than a decade old, they did not start in 1991.

    Once again the language you want us (me) to use is grossly misleading – Kurdistan rebelled, not the North in general. Shia rebelled in the South and elsewhere.

    Ali :
    It’s a perfect example of dealing in absoloutes when they do not exist. Perhaps it’s also useful to ask why Kadhimiya, which is adjacent to Adhamiya, did not witness mass revolt despite it being a predominantly Shia area? Baghdad as a whole remained sedentary, but had huge Shia and Kurdish communities that did not as a whole participate. What about the Shia of Tal Afar?

    I’m not talking in absolutes. I didn’t say that every Shia and Kurd came out of their home and picked up a rifle, and that no Sunni Arab did. No one does that when talking about mass events like uprisings. But you can certainly talk in terms of trends and generalities. Baghdad being the capital, it’s frankly surprising that there was any unrest at all. The fact that there was a Shia unrest speaks to how intense their grievances were. They were from Sadr city – which saw the greatest amount of humiliation from the Ba’ath, and murder of their revered religious leaders.
    Theres is little point in speculating why some Shia or Kurds here or there did not revolt, that would just be a fanciful back story which is fairly inconsequential to the over-arching trend of the rebellion.

    Ali :
    The uprising was very much Northern and Southern in nature, and likely gained in momentum when the Allies entered large swathes of the South vacated by Saddam and encouraged the people to revolt.

    I’ll repeat what I said – it was North/South because that’s where the Kurds/Shia mostly were. It was not Kurd/Shia because they were mostly in the North/South. If the latter were the case, you might have seen at least some Sunni Arab rebellion in the North, if not all of it. So where was it? The rebels managed to capture Kirkuk yet failed to capture Mosul. The rebellion was not representative of the ethno-sectarian makeup of Iraq. Given how large the rebellion because, and how successful it was becoming, why did it remain a Kurdish-Shia uprising? Whatever role geography played at the outset, it could not have mattered as the uprising continued to gain ground (which it successfully did). Yet there was no major rebellion in the Sunni Arab areas.

    And these cities were fought for, they were not there for the taking vacant of Saddam’s loyalists.

    Ali :
    I don’t see why Shia or Kurdish Iraqis will struggle to remember it unless it is explicitly set out in sectarian terms. The issue here is not one of offence, but of the use of lazy and loose language which paints the people of Iraq as belonging to monolithic blocks of Shia, Sunni and Kurd. The use of terms such as ‘the Shia’, as if Shia Iraqis hold uniform views about Iraq, merely serves to reinforce this. By describing events as you have, it really is only a small step away from stating that Iraqi Sunnis were complicit or actively involved in the genocide of Shias and Kurds, as inferred in the comment by Anonymous above. If you believe that to be the case then fine, but if you don’t then your language certainly gives the opposite impression.

    Iraq is broadly divided into three groups. And it was during these events. You can see the effects quite clearly in the elections of both 2005 and 2010. People voted on ethno-sectarian lines. You can pretend this pattern does not exist if you wish, I prefer to deal with the picture as it is.

    I think using terms such as “the North” and “The South” with respect to these events is both inaccurate and imprecise. Mind you, it’s not lazy, because you are doing it with a specific purpose in mind.

    There is not much ambiguity about the Shia and Kurdish attitudes to the Ba’athist era rule – they were overwhelmingly anti-Saddam and anti-Ba’ath. I doubt very much this is the case with the Sunni Arab section of Iraq, in which case there is not as much resentment, and some esteem. That’s not to treat any group as one monolithic entity. There is clearly much disagreement on other matters.

    I’m less concerned with the role of the general Sunni Arab population, more the role that Kurds and Shia had in valiantly attempting to overthrow Saddam, even if it did not work out in the end.

    Ali :
    I am also not sure of the point you are making regarding Saddam. You state he oppressed all groups in Iraq, but then talk about ethno-sectarian policies.

    He was willing to kill anyone in his way, even his own family. However, his general policies were certainly ethno-sectarian. He was not stupid – a dictator can’t make enemies with everyone. Whether his motivations were personal ideology of Sunni Arabism (as his “Persian Majoos” rhetoric suggested), or a matter of strategy, what was reflected in his government’s actions is very much ethno-sectarianism. Personally I don’t think he was any kind of Sunni in the real sense of the word, only in the tribal sense.

    Ali :
    The broader point I am making is if people insist on framing Iraq in this sectarian light, then the day when we will have political parties not defined exclusively by religion or race will be further away. Interestingly, Iraqis in Iraq seem to be further ahead of the diaspora in this regard.

    There’s a difference between framing events in an ethno-sectarian light when it’s not there, and framing it as such when it is there. There’s nothing good that comes out of removing that frame when it is there, even if it’s for good intentions.

    Unfortunately you can’t change history, and the effects of that history. Iraq is an ethno-sectarian country whether we like it or not, as evidenced by the political composition of the government. It didn’t suddenly become ethno-sectarian in 2003, as the commonly propagated myth suggests, oh because you know, Sunnis and Shia were marrying each other etc before then.

    However, the more educated people become, the more they can see these events of history dominated by ethno-sectarian blood shed as good reason to reduce it as much as possible as a matter of self-interest. This is why many people (including myself) who talk about this are also strongly in favour of democratic institutions, secularism, accountability, transparency and rule of law.

  20. Abbas February 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    You’re so sectarian that you don’t even notice it anymore. Shameful.

  21. Hawra March 22, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    I read this months ago but just wanted to comment that it is my absolute favorite piece by you Mohammed. Keep up the great work!!

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