Wreckage after the storm

Editorial Comment
December 03 2004

One of the enduring mysteries of the American attack on Falluja concerns the fate and whereabouts of the civilian population. Some feared that when aid agencies were finally allowed into the shattered city, they would find the streets piled high with the bloated corpses of women and children, but this did not materialise.

It has now emerged that around 35,000 families – more than 200,000 people – had fled the city in advance of the offensive on November 8 and sought shelter in surrounding towns and villages. Now they face new enemies: hunger and cold. Many fled with only the clothes they were wearing at a time of year when the typical daytime temperature was 30ÂșC (85°F). Now it sinks below zero at night. Some are under canvas and many are desperately short of food. They cannot return to Falluja, which remains without power, water and sewage services and where hundreds of buildings have been destroyed.

Without urgent help, the casualties so far avoided could be claimed by cold and starvation. However, this is more than a humanitarian crisis. Iraq's Sunni Muslims, politically dominant under Saddam, make up only 20% of the population. A further 20% are Kurds and the remaining 60% are Shia Muslims. In the past six months the Sunnis have become increasingly isolated politically.

In April, Sunni and Shia militants put aside their differences and found common cause. During the first siege of Falluja, Shia mosques launched relief efforts and Sunni clerics supported Shias when their holy city of Najaf was besieged. Now that Moqtada al Sadr's followers have disarmed, the fragile alliance is broken and the country is dividing along increasingly sectarian lines.

While the Shia are being drawn into the political process, and hope to dominate the new legislative assembly after next month's elections, the Sunni feel more and more alienated politically. Indeed, it is hard to see how the Americans believed they were winning Sunni hearts and minds and advancing the cause of democracy while dropping 500lb bombs on their homes and public buildings and blowing holes in their mosques.

The net political result of the destruction of Falluja is that elections may not be possible in Sunni areas. Several Sunni groups have already announced a boycott. This could provoke a wider insurgency across the Sunni areas of central and northern Iraq.

The best the new body may be able to do is hold some seats vacant for districts where a vote is not possible. Polling registration forms can wait for the moment. They have more need of pullovers and food parcels.( '?

© 2004 Newsquest (Herald & Times) Limited.

( '? note
well, yea. If they are your teenaged son in college. But these are a people who need us to get the hell out of their country and please, could we quit the racist assumption that they cannot govern themselves? end ( '? note

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