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. Brian - Trinidad

    Both sides are using the USA to advance their respective power objectives.As soon as they think they have it,they will turn against the USA.Just like Sadaam did after the we gave him all those weapons to help him against the Iranians.

    April 10, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    I was just about to point that out. Yeah, the Shiites are 60 percent and 20 percent at the same time...CNN NEEDS TO PROOFREAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SEVENTH GRADERS CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 10, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  3. Matt from Iraq

    Iraq = 60% Shia + 20% Sunni + 20% Kurd. Come on Wolf and McCain, get it right already.

    April 10, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  4. Herman LA, CA

    What difference does it make the world is already against the U.S. Barack is the only one that can bring the world together.

    Obama 08!!!

    April 10, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  5. Shane

    I like how some people think they know what's going in Iraq with your silly post. You have no idea. Your probably the suckers that voted for Bush. One person said sunni is al qaeda. What a silly comment. If a country invaded the U.S. we would all become insurgents and so-called terrorist. Let some bum decide to start living in your background. How would you feel about that? That's exactly what the U.S is doing. We don't belong there, had no right to go in, wasn't support by the rest of the world. We are the terrorist. A true patriot can call out the injustices when he sees it.

    April 10, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  6. Mike

    They will find a friend in Obama just like the Hamas have.

    April 10, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  7. ***AMERICAN***

    That is why we need to come home from everywhere and let the world take care of itself. We are not the world police.

    April 10, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  8. Michael, Canada

    Do you even have to aske the question, Wolf? Think bin Laden. Besides, the Sunnis were fighting the US but a few short months ago. Nobody wants the US in Iraq, especially the Sunnis.

    April 10, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. HP Boston

    Oh we will let McOLD take care of the Iraq"problem." Ah he should live so long!

    April 10, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  10. Praetorian, Fort Myers

    It is impossible to tell. Members of either group are subject to being seduced by radical islamic fundamentalist leaders. Yes...we could find ourselves in a situation like Somalia very quickly where our soldiers (particularly if small in number) find themselves surrounded by the enemy and cut-off from rescue.

    It wouid be wise not to trust anything to chance–it's dangerous ground with factions who've been warring against each other as long as recorded history.

    April 10, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  11. Len, Colorado


    Your statement is correct. Unfortunately, some Americans will never see the truth.

    April 10, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  12. Picabo, Upstate New York

    Oh, and if we want to compare Iraq with another country/region ... let's go with the former country of Yugoslavia. When a strong (yet brutal) dictator was in charge, the different ethnic groups co-existed semi-peacefully. When the dictator left power, the country descended into chaos, civil war and ethnic cleansing. NATO/UN/US forces had to step in and provide peacekeeping forces. Eventually the ethnic groups ended up with their own sections of the country and the violence subsided. Eventually.

    We've created the same situation in Iraq. Yippee. So much for learning from history.

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

    One need only look at the Europeans for that mindless answer...

    April 10, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  14. Grif

    My apologies, it seems s they're the same all over the East side of the Gulf.
    Sunni's everywhere..

    April 10, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  15. US out of Iraq

    Why the US media is calling this as a violance Sunni vs Shia, Kurds vs others. This war is not a civil war, this war is not a sectarian violance, IT IS SIMPLY THAT IRAQ HAS BEEN INVADED AND PEOPLE ARE FIGHTING FOR THEIR HOMELAND... we Americans would have done the same if Saddam forces invaded our land.CNN, please get real, stop repeating terms that Warmongers in the White House are using. You are supposed to be neutral and just report... u are a News Agency.

    April 10, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  16. Toby

    Wrong. Not everyone knows about the rift between Sunnis and Shiites. In fact the old ill-tempered guy the Republicans nominated for President isn't even aware of the difference.

    April 10, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |


    April 10, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  18. Doug Pancoast

    It doesn't make sense that Shiites represent both 60% and 20% of Iraq's population. It's a typo. It should be Shiites represent 60% and Sunnis represent 20%. Nobody is perfect, but come on. Let's not pull a Fox News here and let's get it right the first time. That's what editors get paid for.

    April 10, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  19. The Dude

    CA Native, if you call what General Patreaus said this week as good news, then you must just love to hear bad news.

    We, the people, are tired of the rhetoric and doublespeak coming from these guys. The majority of this country want to end the war, and they aren't taking any of that into consideration. Our government is supposed to be working for us, but latelely it seems like it's the other way around.

    When I see General Patreaus and company, I see a bunch of crooks who are taking advantage of the American people, and our tax dollars. I felt like I was watching an episode of Rome when Patreaus was speaking.

    It's time we stand up and do something about this. We are just an Oligarchy pretending to be a Republic pretending to be a Democracy.

    April 10, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  20. rick

    90,000 Sunnis getting $10 a day, thats almost $1 million a day!!! In Iraq they call this the " Splurge". Paying $ tribute to our enemies so they won't shoot at us, another great Administration policy. Whatever happened to never negotiating with terrorists?

    April 10, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  21. Sudhir Malik

    I doubt that Sunni, will trun around so easily. Basically I think Sunni's are more educated then the Shias's of Iraq. Sunni's are the natural allies of USA. They understand that their saftey is to remain with USA. Other wise 60 %'s with arms from Iran will overrun them. Further I would like to comment that Noori Malaki is not the right person in the office. He is not a politiican for example when rape of a Suuni's women came in pict. without thinking he refuse to accept it, where as for a prime minister the best answer would be "I will consituite a special committe to investigate and law will take it course". This is a standard practice adopted by Indian politician to delay any case. How can you offer a red carpet welcome for Iran's president whoes arms are killing you.

    April 10, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. ml

    is. 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."

    above says : 60%Shiite, 20% Sunni, 20% Kurds.
    Where is the confusion?
    I do not see any contradictions.........

    April 10, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  23. sozzi

    Mr. Blitzer, not only are the Sunni's going to turn againat the U.S., but so is the rest of the world, except Isreal & Colombia.

    April 10, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  24. Biel Thich

    Can you see how Bush Administration is encouraging corruption by bribing the Sunni in exchange for calm in Iraq? I don’t understand how US is paying Sunni who are killing Americans and he refused to talk to Iran and Syria. American citizen don’t have job but Sunni get pay without doing anything. God Bless America.

    Biel Thich

    April 10, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  25. Tony

    McCain confused who supports Al Qaeda. There are no mistakes in this article. It's just not so complicated when you know what you are talking about.

    April 10, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
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