Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can the Shia rule Iraq?

Last night President Bush announced a ‘new strategy’ which will involve sending thousands more US troops whose main task will be to try to stop the violence in Baghdad. But he also seemed to be trying to shift increasing responsibility onto the Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Suspicions are growing that Mr Maliki’s predominantly Shia government has not been doing enough to govern for all Iraqis – including the Sunni and Kurdish minorities. “Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people”, Mr Bush pointedly noted last night: “Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.”

The question of whether a Shia could govern Iraq was one the British faced in 1918. When a local Shia sheikh offered his services as Emir of Mesopotamia, he was turned down on the grounds that “It would alienate Sunni element in Baghdad which accounts for the best educated and most advanced group in Mesopotamia. …It would raise throughout Iraq latent animosity between Shiah and Sunni which every administration must strive to allay.” (The National Archive: FO 141/444/7)

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