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. Allen Brock

    Wolf, I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province for over six years in 1992 – 1998. I would bet my next paycheck (if I had one) that you are right. I don't know what Rep. Chris Smith and General Petraeus have been smoking. Either they, along with many others in our government, don't know anything about the situation in the Middle East, or they have something else in mind. Anyone with half a mind would know by now that Sunnis and Shiites are going to fight each other unless one has total domination over the other, or unless they have a common enemy.

    April 10, 2008 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  2. Venus

    You bet they would! As a matter of fact – miss the first payment and see what happens! You know, with a lot of Americans losing their jobs we may have to apply for a job over there!

    April 10, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  3. Rick from NJ

    This is a frightening scenerio. Money will be the guide for any decision in foreign countries. The Americans have no idea how these people really think. They have the ability to play with us. After all they don't have much to lose by not standing with the US.

    Talking to foreign countries is not the same as speaking from state to state in the United States.

    We can't rationalize with irrational people. What is America thinking?

    April 10, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  4. s.b.

    You mean like Al Quaeda?? lol

    April 10, 2008 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  5. Chicago Bob

    Wolf (by the way that was my great grandfather's name), I am sure you know Iraq is Balkanized into more than just Shia, Sunni and Kurd. There are factions of each of these. Getting rid of Saddam was the end of Iraq. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia broke apart and Iraq has done the same. The Sunni can and may turn.

    April 10, 2008 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  6. Retired Professional w/woman for obama

    Yeah, Wolf, we better leave, Now.

    April 10, 2008 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  7. Joelle Racine, WI

    We, Americans will NEVER learn!

    There has hardly been a war or conflict where we have not paid and armed BOTH SIDES in the conflict... in time, our own money and weapons are eventually used against us.


    This is a really enlightened US Policy!

    April 10, 2008 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  8. J.Onofre -CA

    We are being had by the Sunnis and the taxpayer gets the short end of the stick. None of the Iraqi oil has contributed eventhough they are selling billions a year. Why should they be on our payroll if they can be on their own payroll.

    April 10, 2008 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  9. Retired Professional w/woman for obama

    Yes Wolf, I am afraid we have awoken a sleeping giant. WE need
    to get our Soldies out of there and bring them home to Super
    Secure our Country. And "know" which Nations are are friends.
    The Iraqs big wigs have billions in the bank that they are not willing
    to secure their own country. They used us. Thank you Mr. Bush for
    your great service to our Country. We will be forever grateful.

    April 10, 2008 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  10. Retired Professional w/woman for obama

    If we leave today or 2 years from now, Wolf, we will never win that
    war because they don't play by civil war rules.

    April 10, 2008 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  11. M.S. Indiana

    Looks like history is repeating itself again... pay, arm and train people, to fight and in the end they are 'terrorists'.. just like Bin Laden and Saddam was created by us in the past...

    If we stay they will all have reasons to hate us, if wee leave they will to too.. not just the sunni, but also the other groups in and outside iraq.

    April 10, 2008 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  12. Robert Wooller

    Iraq is now a terrorist breeding ground which it wasn't before and I think the whole country will turn against the US and the rest of the Western world if we don't scarper soon.

    April 10, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  13. Andrew

    Everybody knows about them except for Mccain.

    April 10, 2008 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  14. Is that question rhetorical?

    Of course they could. Of course they will, if we don't do things their way. We Americans have a very short memory when it comes to international politics. Remember that Saddam was once a CIA insider, and a "friend" of the US. Remember that Egypt was once considered an unbreakable ally with the US, how they're only nodding acquaintances. Remember that Iran was once an ally of the US.
    All it takes is a tiff, or a regiem change, and the Mid-Eastern chessboard completely reorganizes itself. Hopefully someone in the State Department is planning for the day that the Sunnis turn on us.

    April 10, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  15. Chi-Boro

    Wolf, stop adding fuel to the fire!!! You over-emphasize this issue and maybe giving them ideas. CNN too.

    April 10, 2008 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  16. Sharon Minnesota

    The mideast has long been a hot bed of fanaticism so anything is possible. We are newcomeres to this age old phenomenon so what makes us so special that we think we would be able to trust shiites, sunnis or kurds.

    Their brand of religeon has created eons of constant warfare between themselves and with others. The lynchpin of their faith has been the submission of women which is extremely unpopular here in the USA.

    The answer is yes. No matter what the tribe or how you name it they WILL turn against us sooner or later.

    April 10, 2008 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  17. stag

    The Iraq's are just like the USA congress...they will do anything for the right price. Only question is who is their pimp. There is no loyality here or there.

    April 10, 2008 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  18. spencer

    After Bush Feed us (the American People) those lies today. I think he needs to be fired or impeached, Leave office now Mr. Lying Bush. The sooner the better. I call for Bush to leave office now.

    April 10, 2008 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  19. David T., Toronto, Canada

    Any Sunni allegiances to the US forces are born of convenience, and are fleeting at best. As a very enlightenened commentator said recently, Iraq doesn't really exist now. The government commands no authority. There is sectarianism first, second, and last.

    The Kurds have their own space and intend to keep it. The Sunni have been displaced from a position of power, however tenuous it had been, thanks to the Bush Administration. The Shia have a new-found power courtesy of a foreign occupation, and have consistently sought revenge against the Sunni for all the past sins of Saddam Hussein and his ilk.

    In a nutshell, here is the overall picture of the past several years:

    US Invades Iraq
    -> Sunni displaced; Saddam's army disbanded
    -> short-term Anarchy takes root
    -> Shia gain power by overt and covert means
    -> Sunni boycott US lead effort at establishing democracy
    -> Shia seek revenge against Sunni for past
    -> Al Qaeda sees widespread chaos & takes advantage of situation to create hell for the US under the guise of Jihad. A porous border makes this a fairly easy thing to achieve.
    -> Sectarian violence reaches alarming proportions
    -> Baghdad and many areas suffer 'sectarian cleansing'
    -> Millions of Iraqis (largely Sunni) flee the country
    -> Over time, after much violence but little Sunni progress realize they're better off dealing with US
    -> In certain areas they accept money and weapons in exchange for fighting against Al Qaeda and other sympathizers
    -> Sadr's Mahdi militia are an on-going threat to stability, but government are loathe to attack them (being Shia as well).

    All of the above results in a powder-keg of a situation, the limited progress following the so-called surge having been largely 'purchased' with US taxpayer money. Obviously, US forces are acting primarily as glorified peace-keepers, and there is no 'war' to be won here.

    The Sunni and Shia don't see eye-to-eye, and Iran (again, Shia) represents the greatest threat to their future. Of course, they will resist any attempt toward subjugation at the hands of a government they inherently don't trust, and also see as the agent of an occupying force.

    To make a short story long, yes, it could happen in a heartbeat.

    April 10, 2008 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  20. Heather

    Actually these differences go way back to WWII. There was a special on The History Channel "Saddam Hussein and The Third Reich". The BAATH Party is based on the NAZI party. Saddam Hussein Uncle helped take out the King of Iraq . He knew a Syrian born french man who idolized Hitler. Saddam Hussein was brought up by his uncle and directly influenced by Hitler. Theres a lot more. All I will say is that is helps to know the complete history of a region and the history of the culture of the various groups before you go and attack based on satelite technology and not actual physical intelligence. Yes there is no question in my mind Saddam needed to be taken out . However, when we came in we made a big mess out of a country that we truly didn't undertstand. These tribal and cultural differences go back many decades. Iraq despite what the British think has never had real stability. We basically went in and did more than stew the pot. I don't know what is going to happen. I do know that I even as a Democrat I am a reasonable logical person. There is no doubt in my mind we did this all wrong and we are literally paying the price for it now on multiple levels. However, we can't leave. We just can't. Someone needs to say enough, all of you have to be reasonable. You all have things in common. Iraq is your home. Your country. You have to fight for it. We believe in you. Show the world that for the first time in the history of the country you have the responsibility to make your government and where you live civilized. They have to put the time from the British backed Iraqi King to the Fall of Saddam in the past. They can have stability. We can help them help themselves. I have no problem with us paying them. Heck the CIA does it all the time. These people need to make a living. I hope someday soon they all have jobs and are doing something to help build their society back.

    April 10, 2008 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  21. Johnson in MN

    One day the war will come to our soil and I know that I will have my guns ready. If we do anything in this election please remember that the government can't help all of us or very many of us for that matter, just look at Katrina stats. PROTECT THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS. Both democratic nominees are against our gun ownership. For the love of God do the right thing.

    April 10, 2008 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  22. NickNas

    They will for SURE If we elect an President who can't seem to tell the difference between them and the Enemy.

    For those who missed it McCain ON CAMERA on 3 DIFFERENT occasions in less than a few weeks did just that. ON CAMERA DUREING SPEECHS.

    April 10, 2008 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Thank you for changing the Sunni thing!!!!!!!!!

    April 10, 2008 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  24. joyce

    just like kids, correct you elders shame on you

    April 10, 2008 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  25. Bridgette

    The answer to your question is they already did. That is why we started paying them.

    April 10, 2008 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
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