Jews have roots in Iraq going  back some 2700 years when they were forcefully  taken  from their  homeland  by Assyrians  and  later Babylonians after the distraction of the First Temple.

In 1948 Iraq was a member of a  coalition  of  Arab countries that attacked newly-formed state of Israel. In 1949 Israel signed an Armistice agreement with all Arab countries  except Iraq.

In 1949 the Jewish population of Iraq was around   150,000. After the creation of the state of Israel and defeat of the Arab armies in 1948, the Iraqi Jews  were severely persecuted.   Between 1949 and 1951 Israel managed an evacuation of almost  125,000 Jews out of Iraq through Operation Ezra & Nehemiah.



Winning Iraq

When President George W. Bush unveiled his new strategy for Iraq, I could not help but admire him for not bowing to the enormous pressure from his critics. Lesser men would have crumbled a long time ago. I hope that his new strategy works and some semblance of civility will return to Iraq.

 Unfortunately when you look at the reality of the daily Iraqi life, it's very difficult to remain optimistic. Unbelievable levels of violence grip the ancient city of Baghdad, the city which over the centuries has seen more then it's share of warfare. And from the looks of it, it will see a lot more in years to come.

People here in U.S. are too busy with their own lives and hardly anyone pays attentions to the names of the fallen American soldiers appearing in the obituaries. There is only so much information that our brain can absorb especially after you get your daily dosage of the Hollywood divorces and feuding celebrities.

So it's not surprising that there is no time left to follow up on the body count of the dead Iraqis. I followed up the developments in Iraq the other day to get a feel of what is going on outside the Green Zone. The number of casualties at the end of the day were nothing short of sickening. Please keep in mind this is just for one day!

- Seven bodies found in the northern city of Mosul  In south
- Sixty bodies were found in the city of Baghdad, many of them victims of torture
- 11 Shia pilgrims returning from Hajj to Mecca were killed by Sunni insurgents
- Two more bodies found in Mosul, a woman and a male nurse
- Four civilians were wounded in Baghdad in roadside bomb attacks
- One civilian was killed and three wounded in south Baghdad when a car blew up
- 30 bodies of young men, blindfolded and with their hands cuffed, discovered in the south Baghdad
- 14 more bodies found nationwide, their cause of death was not known

This kind of sectarian violence can not be controlled by adding 20,000 more troops. If the terrorists want to blow themselves up in the market places and universities we can not stop them, or rather we can stop only some of them, at best. Just ask the Israelis who have been dealing with terrorism for decades. The entire country is trained to watch out for suicide bombers and explosive devices.

They have the superior intelligence services and are not shy about pulling a trigger to take out the terrorist leadership. And yet once in a while the terrorists still find their way to hit their targets. It's a numbers game. If you send out a dozen "volunteers" for suicide mission thair is a good chance that one or two will succeed.   So how do we win this war? 

The answer is, we already won it, back in 2003 and it lasted only few weeks. We took over the country and began the "democratization" process which is still going on to this day. We can say that we failed in implementing democracy but we can not win this war simply because it's not our war to win. We have no interest in taking over any Iraqi land and all we really wanted was to topple Saddam's regime, take away his toys of mass murder and to try to building a democracy in the heart of the Muslim world.

I have to admit I was one of those people who got caught up in the idea of the democratic revolution. I envisioned liberated Iraqis building a democracy where all people are equal and where human and religious rights are respected. Man, did we choose a wrong country for that sort of experiment.   As I watched Saddam Hussein's hanging shown over and over by the news agencies across the globe, a very uncomfortable felling took hold of me. It was not that I felt sorry for the "Butcher of the Baghdad" but rather the way the execution was conducted and how this spectacle will affect the future of Iraq.

The video lasted only about a minute but it spoke volumes about the state of affairs in this ravaged country. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words and what this particular picture told us is not to expect a peaceful resolutions in Iraq any time soon.  

War in engrained into this land from the time humans inhabited it and it has not changed from the period of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires to the present day. So when the critics of George W. Bush say that he has no winning strategy for Iraq it almost makes me laugh because if he did he would be the first one in several thousand years. And granted that current the administration has made a lot of mistakes, overestimated their abilities and also the willingness of the Iraqis to fight for their freedom, there is not really that much that they can do at this point. Sending more troops to Baghdad and few other areas is a face saving strategy not a winning one.  

I would compare what we are doing today in Iraq with our peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Somalia, just on a much larger scale and with a lot more at stake. Thousands of NATO peacekeepers have been enforcing the fragile peace in the tiny country of Bosnia, with a population of only about 4 million people, for almost a decade now and yet everybody knows that the moment the peacekeepers leave the ethnic fighting will resume immediately.

Our venture to save the starvation in Somalia abruptly ended after the "Black Hawk Down" incident and years later Somalia is still a killing field. There are times when peace can not be enforced. It can only come from within and produced by the people of the region, not by the outsiders.   The future of Iraq has already been written. Just like many other countries artificially created during the first half of the 20th century it's doomed to be divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. In last twenty years we have several examples that give us a very good indication of what to expect from Iraq.

When the former Soviet Union collapsed, many "brotherly" republics separated creating a wave of new countries. But even within those new smaller countries the process of further division across the ethnic lines is still going on. Look at what happened to the former Yugoslavia. After several bloody wars it no longer exists and instead you have the slew of new countries of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Macedonia.

And when you think that they can not possibly squeeze another country out of former Yugoslavia, Kosovo is most likely to be added to the list n the near future. It's almost like a law of nature, once the grip of the dictatorial fist loosens all ethnic denominations run for independence and there is no power in the world that can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.   Iraq is no different, just look at it's recent history. It did not even exist as a country until the 1920s when the British and French carved up the defeated Ottoman Empire into several pieces disregarding the ethnic and religious makeup of the newly formed countries.

They put together the minority Sunni and the majority Shia groups, adding to the mix a non-Arab Kurdish population with few other minority groups and called it the "State of Iraq".   Under the British Mandate, power in Iraq was given to the members of the Hashemite Dynasty who were the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

They represented a dominant Sunni religious group who in the newly formed country were in the minority. Even back then the Shia and the Kurds fought for independence only to be defeated by the British army. The balance of power favoring the Sunnis was maintained long after the Iraqi monarchy was ousted in July of 1958. Even the Baathist party of Saddam Hussein, who was in control of Iraq for decades, was primarily made up of Sunnis who represent only about 20% of the entire population.  

During Saddam Hussein's reign there were more uprisings by Shias and Kurds. They were brutally dealt with by Saddam who killed them in mass and by any means possible. He gassed entire villages using helicopters and when the traces of gas were gone the bulldozers rolled in to level the homes so nobody would come back to live there. People were tortured, raped, thrown from buildings with their hands tied and shot by firing squads by the thousands.  Saddam even brought his pre-teen sons to the torture sessions so they can get used to the blood. His sons did grow up to be the sadists just as Saddam hoped because power in his mind was about instilling fear in the population.

He did a really good job at it, so much so that even when he was jailed people were still afraid that he was coming back.   It was on the backdrop of that horror that U.S. troops invaded Iraq and not surprisingly, at least initially, many Iraqis jubilantly celebrated their liberation from the tyranny. But soon reality kicked in; Sunnis did not want to share the power they enjoyed for decades. Baathists began the so called insurgency while Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by al-Zarqawi, declared a war on Shia majority. 

Interesting to know that Zarqawi was not even an Iraqi and yet he found a lot of support amongst Sunnis which brings us to the real problem of Iraq that did not start with Saddam, the British Mandate or even with Ottoman Empire.  

The core problem of Iraq is actually shared by the entire Muslim world and that problem is a severe enmity between the Sunni and Shia braches of Islam. It goes back to the days of the prophet Mohammed when he chose Abu Bakr as a successor over his own cousin/son-in-law Ali. Shias believe that the succession should have passed through blood ties while the Sunnis believe that the right of succession should be based on ability and not on relationship to the prophet. This was a significant rift between the two groups and from there they grew farther apart both in theology as well as the practices of the religion.  

The hatred between these ancient enemies is very significant, to the point that the Wahhabi Sunnis do not even consider Shia to be Muslims. In Sunni dominated countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan the minority Shias are a mistreated minority. In Afghanistan, the Taliban movement was a predominantly Sunni group while the Northern Alliance had a strong representation by Shia. In Pakistan, where Sunnis are in majority, the bombings of Shia mosques is common place. In Iran where Shias are the majority, it's the Sunnis who are often mistreated and abused.  

So it is not at all surprising that Sunni militants in Iraq began targeting the Shia population for wholesale slaughter and it was only due to Grand Ayatollah Sistani's call for calm that kept the Shias at bay for some time. But non-stop bombings of the innocent civilians broke the camel's back. Shia militias, like the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades, grew in influence and in power by engaging in retribution attacks against the Sunnis.

The Shia death squads are targeting the Sunnis civilians living in mixed neighborhoods and often times it's for no other reason than to force them out of their homes. Make no mistake about it; the ethnic cleansing in Iraq has began. Dozens of mutilated bodies with drilled heads and chopped limbs are found almost on a daily bases.   And it's not only the Shias and the Sunnis that are dying at a frightening rate. The Christian population, which can trace their roots in Iraq as far as 2000 years ago, has been subjected to church bombings, assassinations and kidnappings.

The fact that many Christians were traditionally owners of the liquor stores does not help the matter in the place where Muslim religious fervor is spreading like a wildfire. Many Christians are fleeing to foreign countries, knowing that they can not expect fair treatment from the religious fanatics of ether the Sunni or Shia creed.  

In the meantime the Shia dominated Iraqi government managed the impossible which is to make a martyr out of Saddam Hussein. It's not a fluke that Saddam's executioners were calling out the name of the Muktada al-Sadr during the hanging and then danced around the body of the dead tyrant. This was not an Iraqi execution; it was a Shia lynching of the man who terribly mistreated them for decades.

Even Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt and not a fundamentalist by any means, said the following: " It was very painful to watch. When all's said and done, nobody will ever forget the circumstances and the manner in which Saddam was executed. They have made him into a martyr, while the problems within Iraq remain" I agree with him in that these images will be engrained into the minds of Sunnis for many generations to come.

Saddam Hussein deserved to be hanged 100 times over for what he did to the Iraqi people but this execution was done under the name of the Iraqi government. The problem is the Shia dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki did not even bother to consult the Sunnis and the Kurds before executing Saddam. This is not what governments do when their country is already drowning under the blood spilled from sectarian violence.

Moreover it was done on the day before one of the holiest holidays in Islam while millions of Muslims were on the pilgrimage in Mecca. Way to go! The execution could not have possibly been handled any worst; sorry, apparently it could. When Suddam's half-brother was executed a few days later he was actually decapitated by the rope during the hanging. The event frightened even the executioners.  

So what is the U.S. to do? For starters we have to find our own unity. Just take a look at the Congress today and you'll find plenty of home grown Shias and Sunnis, except here they are called Democrats and Republicans. Sometimes you get an impression that they are more interested in hurting each other then finding a solution for Iraq.

You hear a lot of criticism but very few recommendations. When you hear the alternative "plans" offered by politicians and so-called experts you quickly come to the realization that they have none. Everybody was waiting anxiously for the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. It was introduced with huge fanfare only to die quietly within a couple of weeks when people realized that in did not contain any realistic solutions.

The supporters of an immediate withdrawal are demanding it not because it's in the best interests of the United States but mostly for the ideological reasons and their hatred for President Bush. Leaving Iraq with the perception that the U.S. lost the war would have huge consequences.

One of the reasons Usama bin Laden kept attacking us so boldly was because, after our hurried withdrawal from Lebanon and Somalia, the perception in the Middle East was that U.S. was a "paper tiger". If we leave Iraq with our tail between our legs the outcome will be celebrated as a victory by our enemies regardless of what the reality is.  

Just take a look what is happening in Lebanon, where Hezbollah by just surviving the war with Israel is so emboldened that they are trying to bring down the democratically elected government of Fuad Seniora. Our departure will give a new life to the jihadists around the world, it will make our work in Afghanistan very difficult and will destabilize the friendly Arab regimes who would be forced to pursue more radical polices just to survive. If we think that there are few moderates in the Middle East now, they will all but disappear when we depart.  

Prime-Minister Maliki knows where all this is going. That is why these days he is more interested in protecting the Shia extremists then chasing an unattainable idea of a united Iraq. Although the Shias are currently dominating the Iraqi government they are far from being a united bunch. They have some serious internal problems that need to be resolved.

The competing militias of Muqtada al-Sadr and of the al-Hakim clan are already engaged in a deadly power struggle. The talk of disarming these groups is futile because at this stage they are more afraid of each other then they are of Americans or Sunnis. It's pretty obvious that the south will be dominated by Shias and the new entity that emerges from the ruins of Iraq will be in the mold of an Iranian theocracy. But the Iranians will have to work very hard to prevent the Shia's own civil war.  

The Kurds in the north already have a de-facto autonomy for the last 10 years but are terrified of being abandoned by U.S. It's no accident that current Iraqi president Jalal Tlibani was so critical of the Iraq Study Group recommendations. The Kurds, who are a separate ethnic group, have been abused for centuries by their Muslim brothers in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

They know that left without protection they are very vulnerable to aggression from Iran and Turkey who have large Kurdish populations with a taste for independence. They are not likely to tolerate a successful Kurdish state on their borders. The Kurds need us badly and we should accommodate them by creating military bases on their territory from where we can reach out and touch our enemies when needed.   The only uncertainty is what will happen with the Sunnis.

To this day our intelligence does not seem to have a clear understanding of who is behind the violence emanating from their camp. Truth to be told they are mainly responsible for starting the sectarian war in Iraq. At this point it's impossible to tell what sort of entity will emerge from this mess. There is a good chance that it will just become a failed state, like Somalia, with local tribes, terrorists and criminal gangs competing for power.

Not a pretty picture, especially for the rich Gulf States who also happen to be predominantly Sunni but are not very popular amongst the radical Islamic groups. They better wake up and start planning some sort of Sunni "intervention" in order to prevent a cancerous growth in their midst.   Iraq will be split into several entities no matter what we do and how many troops we send there. So if the split is inevitable maybe we should devote our energies towards helping the warring parties separate as peacefully as they can and try to avoid genocide on several levels.

Hopefully the Bush administration understands these facts and their "change of strategy" will lay the groundwork to easier transition for the inevitable split. But we can not do it alone. We need to start the process by getting the neighboring countries with immediate interest in the outcome of this conflict to start participating in the separation process. They will be helping themselves to carve up Iraq in a way that would make some sort of peace attainable.  

Our government needs to make it very clear to both our "allies" and enemies in the region that at this time it's the Iraqis and us that are bleeding but that can change very quickly. All we have to do is to pack up and go home. After all that is what the rest of the world wants us to do as well as a lot of people here in United States. And if we leave it's the countries in the neighborhood that’ll have to deal with this mess for many, many decades.

We need to remind them that this conflict has a potential to grow into a sectarian warfare engulfing the entire Middle East and in the process it will swallow up many regimes and dynasties. The separation process will not be easy, and it's better that it will happen with the oversight from U.S. and the rest of the international community. The alternative of leaving the parties to their own devices can be catastrophic not only for them but also for the rest of the world.