April 10th, 2008
03:30 PM ET
10 years ago

Blitzer: Could the Sunnis turn against U.S.?

 CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer

CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer

(CNN) - By now, everyone knows about the long-standing tensions between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis. Saddam Hussein and his fellow Sunnis ruled over the Shiites with an iron grip even though the Shiites represent about 60 percent of Iraq’s population. The Sunnis compose only 20 percent of the population, while the Kurds, who are clustered largely in the northern part of the country, represent the remaining 20 percent or so.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein, the Shiites have come to dominate Iraq, including the government. To a certain degree, there has been plenty of payback.

Many Sunnis resisted that domination. Some went into exile. Others were in the forefront in the insurgency against the U.S. military and the Iraqi government.

That was especially true in the al-Anbar province which became a hotbed of violence. The Iraqi Sunni insurgents killed a lot of Americans.

But that began to change about a year ago when the U.S. counter-insurgency strategy was implemented by General David Petraeus. Part of the strategy was to put the al-Anbar Sunnis on the U.S. government’s payroll. That worked. More than 90,000 so-called “Sons of Iraq” began to cooperate with the U.S. military.

All of which is good background in understanding this exchange on Wednesday between Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and General Petraeus - an exchange that mentioned something I had said in The Situation Room on Tuesday.

Congressman Smith referred to this comment I had made: “A lot of people fear that as quickly as these guys switched from being enemies, insurgents, terrorists killing Americans, killing Iraqi troops, and now being on the payroll, in effect, of the U.S. government, they could flip right back very quickly if they weren’t on the payroll of the U.S. government.”

That was what I noted. A lot of experts do believe that. Smith, however, suggested that the change of heart by the Sons of Iraq was more the result of enlightened self-interest, and Petraeus agreed. “And we have reminded these newly enlightened Sunni Arabs of what they received from Al Qaeda, which was indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology that on reflection they realized,” the general said. “They’d wondered why they’d ever let these folks into their communities.”

We can only hope that Smith and Petraeus are right. Still, there’s no shortage of Iraqi experts who continue to fear that as quickly as those Sunni Iraqis began to cooperate with the U.S., they could just as quickly turn against the U.S.

Filed under: Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. Obamabot08

    I guess Blitzer can not hit McCain on mixing up Shiites and Sunnis anymore since he did it himself in the first paragraph of this post.

    April 10, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  2. Darth Vadik, CA

    Earth to Wolf,

    Al Qaeda is SUNNI

    April 10, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  3. Randy - Denver

    I ask this question instead of Could the Sunnis turn against the US.. Someone tell mhat VICTORY would look like in Iraq, when asked this very question the AGeneral answered he did not know but would know it when he saw it... with this kind of "leadership" I would not be surprised if the Sunnis did turn on the US.. and maybe on slightly more surprised if the average American soilder turned on his Generals.... (folks I AM NOT suggesting that they will or should just that there is NO leadership being shown in Iraq, no reason to stay, and no way to leave with "honor" But sometimes you have to say to hell with your honor and take the hit for what is right!.. gen Parrot said that we ahve Iraq by the jugular and cannot let go.. my thoughts are different we have the tiger by the tail and are too scared to let go.)

    April 10, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  4. MJE WPG

    Wolf, In a New York minute.

    April 10, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  5. Jeff, Boston MA


    Yes. Anyone with half a brain would realize, it is not a matter of "if", but when.

    They clearly are acting for the wrong reason. Eventually, someone will offer more money, or, the money won't matter anymore. Either way, when they do decide to act against the US military, it will mark the beginning of the end.

    Anyone who has a smidge of intelligence would have known this war was a terrible military move. Heck, anyone who has seen Lawrence of Arabia would have known to avoid military action in this region of the world.

    April 10, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  6. Ca Native

    With Jack Cafferty's blatantly anti-McCain piece and now your drumming up angst over "what if" scenarios... I must honestly wonder, Wolf, is CNN attempting to undermine what good news General Patreaus delivered this week about the progress in Iraq? Or should we just chalk up these articles as pandering to the typical CNN audience?

    April 10, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  7. Peter

    Of course, they could turn against the U.S. just like the U.S. could turn against them by leaving them on their own to face the Shi'ites. The Sunnis, like the U.S., will do what is in their own best interests as defined by whoever is currently in charge.

    April 10, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  8. Kristopher

    Your article has a serious misprint: the "Shiites represent about 60% of Iraqi's population. The Shiites compose only 20%"

    April 10, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  9. Kate, Atlanta

    The only way to keep them from turning on the US and/or the Iraq central government once we take them off of the payroll, would be to ensure that they get a fair share of the oil revenue AND local authority and control over their region. Sound like part of the Biden plan? Well, Joe is wicked smart!!

    April 10, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. Obama/Any one but Hillary

    On the third line you ment to say Sunni 20%

    April 10, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  11. Sly in Seattle

    very good point, Wolf.. very good point.

    April 10, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  12. Matt Davis

    "... the Shiites represent about 60 percent of Iraq’s population. The Shiites compose only 20 percent of the population..."


    April 10, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  13. Obama/Any one but Hillary

    On the six line you ment to say "The Sunni compose only 20%........

    April 10, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  14. citizen_c


    I think you mean to say, "Shiites represent about 60 percent of Iraq’s population. The SUNNIS compose only 20 percent of the population ..."

    People have a hard enough time understanding these two sides.

    April 10, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  15. carmen

    There were three factions there before the US invaded. They were stable and in control under their own sovereign government (politics aside). Now that their structure and infrastructure has been demolished, the result can only be internal civil war and strife and hostility toward the aggressor who invaded them and from those factions that were promised more than can ever be delivered. No rocket science here.

    April 10, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  16. roger torstenson

    You mean the Sunnis comprise 20% of the population.
    Does anyone proofread these?

    April 10, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  17. grace chu

    did you mean the *Sunnis (instead of shiites) only compose of 20%?

    April 10, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  18. TheLeftNut

    The word of the day is "Fragile".

    April 10, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  19. Frank

    Like all the other factions in Iraq, the Sunni's will cooperate with us only to the extent that, and only as long as, it serves their interests.

    And therein lies the problem. Our "success" in Iraq requires the cooperation of groups whose interests are fundamentally incompatible.

    That's why the administration and its military supporters can't answer the simple question "what do our troops have to do in order to come home?"

    There is no answer to that, because the future of Iraq is not ours to determine. Our troops there are hostages to the intentions of those whom they defeated militarily.

    That's the reason why McCain's comparison the situation in Iraq to our occupations of Japan and Korea makes no sense. We carried out those occupations on our own terms after subduing and disarming entire population.

    All the surge did was put more arms in the hands of a larger number of Iraqis. That, and our bribe money, will keep them happy for a while. But it doesn't put the broken pieces of the country together again.

    April 10, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  20. Barb Canada

    I think we heard it all the other day, when it was brought up that Al Qauida was hoping to bankrupt the U.S. and watch the fall! How do we know that Iraq isn't doing the same thing, by not paying for the things they have promised, even though they obviously have the available funding with oil sales? Making an already broke Country (U.S.) pay for your Country (Iraq) would be a brilliant way to perform a take down!

    April 10, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. Lou

    I'm confused...Do the shiites compose of 60 percent of the population as stated in the first sentence of this article...or 20 percent as stated in the second? Did you get help from McCain when you wrote this?

    April 10, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  22. Debbie,NJ

    There is another scenerio I haven't heard anyone talk about. If the US leaves, the Sunnis and Shiites would fight amongst themselves. Whosever side Iran or other neighboring countries take is their problem. My point is that they were fighting when Sadam was in power and yes innocent people were being killed too. They're fighting while we're there, they will be fighting if we leave. What is the real reason that we're still there? No WMD, they're not giving us any oil, as a matter of fact we are paying more for oil, giving them money and American lives. In debt to China because of the war. Being poisoned by China's food and toys. Just capture Ben Laden, nobody even talks about him anymore. We were told he was responsible for 9/11 and all of those deaths. Why are we really paying such a high price? The Bush administration owe us the truth. Are we there to keep Iran and other countries from having power over there at the expense of a whole generation of Americans. Somebody give us the truth.

    April 10, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  23. Velle

    When the US is handing out money, we are flush with "friends" and supporters. When the money stops or someone else pays more, we find the hard truth in our folly. Hell, MY GRANDMOTHER told me "you can't buy friends"!
    Why is this fundamental truth so elusive to the US Government? Certainly there is plenty of historical evidence of this lesson? Are "We the People" to blame for placing our government in the hands of "officials" more ignorant than fifth-graders?

    April 10, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. tom

    I guess our leaders were not paying attention in grade school American History and the British use of Hessian mercenaries in one of the seminl points in our history.

    April 10, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  25. Grif

    .The Sunni's Hate the USA... Remember Somalia.. 97.9% Sunni Muslim... They are the same people as Iraq. But it won't do them any good, because Turkey will take the Oil Fields, in the North, and they may lose the oil in the south to Kwaite etc.. The Arabs in the Gulf wonb't stand for any take overs... So!! The rest is anyones Guess..
    They're sunni's in Jordan also...

    April 10, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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