We Can Work It Out

Quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – the fractious tribes of Iraq are sorting things out:

The Sunni Arabs never expected all this armed resistance, to Shia and Kurdish rule, to get Sunnis back in power. What they want is a deal on the question of war crimes trials and revenge in general for their complicity in Saddam’s decades of atrocities. The armed resistance gives the Sunni Arabs something to bargain with. Of course, the major members of Saddam’s gang will go to trial, but there are thousands of lesser officials, nearly all of them Sunni Arabs, who also have blood on their hands, and real concerns about prosecution (legal, or otherwise.) Negotiations have been intense, and many of the Sunni Arab clans and families involved have begun to actively battle al Qaeda gangs in their neighborhoods. These groups are a mixture of Iraqis and foreigners, and are basically armed religious fanatics. There’s no negotiating with them, and the terrorists don’t apologize if one of their suicide bombers accidentally kills a lot of Sunni Arab civilians. It’s Gods will, and all that. Increasingly, Sunni Arabs are fed up with this, and killing al Qaeda in their vicinity, or driving the fanatics out. It will be difficult to prosecute a lot of lesser war criminals who have recently become heroes by fighting al Qaeda.

And that’s how it should be, on two counts. First, it’s best if the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds can settle things (relatively) peacefully among themselves. An imposed solution would most like break at the first stress – see Bosnia in the ’90s. Second, there’s no need to prosecute every single Baathist in Iraq, especially not ones who have come around to the good side, so to speak. We didn’t do so in Germany or Japan after WWII, and that kind of practicality should serve us well in Iraq, too.

But mostly, it seems we’re sitting back and let the Iraqis work it out. Smart.