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Iraq’s Sunnis are angry

February 2, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Indeed, the Sunnis of Iraq are angry. This is the reality of the situation and the signs were clarified by the statements made by Saudi Ambassador Thamer Al-Subhan during his interview with an Iraqi news channel. The truth is that Sunni Arabs are angry at the rest of the Arab populations, with a few exceptions. Al-Subhan’s statements came as a response to a series of accusations waged by Iranian affiliated Iraqi elites towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who believe that the kingdom is guilty of interfering in the affairs of Iraq’s Sunni population. These statements are contrary to the reality of events although many things have occurred that have angered the Sunnis but no interferences have taken place. Instead, Saudi Arabia continues to stand at a distance from all social developments regardless of the circumstances.

The ambassador did not indicate through his statements whether he believed this anger was misplaced or not. However, I would argue that this anger is in its right place and that it is a forgone conclusion about a general public opinion which does not correctly describe the current situation under any circumstances.

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And yet, the kingdom, like other countries, has its own view of the situation and its own interests and it has been acting according to these factors and not based on demands that would otherwise require a different stance.

With a few exceptions of a country or two, the majority of Arab countries would prefer to take their spot on the hill and monitor the saddening scene in Iraq from a distance and this includes the countries which exchanged diplomatic representation work with Iraq after 2003. Despite the biases of the current ruling elites, many members of this elite supported diplomatic exchanges with western countries. This did little to alter the suspicions and animosity of many Arab countries. All of us remember the abduction and murder of the Egyptian Ambassador Ihab Al-Sharif in 2005, for example. More recently, the Iraqi elite, which is clearly affiliated with Iran, reacted negatively towards the Saudi ambassador’s comments, although King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has often stated that he views all Iraqis as one people who have the same mind, outlook and heart. Similarly, the late King Abdullah said during a 2010 interview: “The kingdom has a role; however, we do not have any interest in working in favour of one group over another. It must be considered that the kingdom has worked in a neutral manner and if ever there was a situation that favoured Sunni Arabs exclusively, we have chosen not to intervene.”

I replied: “We do not wish to embarrass you or to put you in a position that you cannot handle; however, we look forward to your help in deterring and preventing others from interfering.” It is worth noting that Saudi Arabia has previously worked on cushioning blows to Iraq and an example of this is during the Iraqi invasion when the kingdom sent many mobile hospitals to regions like Anbar. It has also previously allocated billions of dollars to the country, which have yet to be invested properly to this day. Saudi Arabia’s recent donation of half a billion dollars was meant to go towards providing services and supplies via the United Nations in 2013. What happened instead was that the Sunni sector of Iraqi society grew angry at the lack of international intervention. In addition, the Iranian affiliated elite failed to recognise that the situation angered both sides.

There were two lost chances for clear and defined Arab intervention. The first was during the Cairo Conference of 2005 and the second was during the Makkah Conference of 2006 both of which never came to fruition due to both the challenges at home as well as the lack of follow-up by the Arab League. Other than these two instances, the Arabs have been largely ignoring the Iraqi scene. This is the truth that left an enormous vacuum, which Iran than used to its advantage. Whether this weak Arab position came from understandings of international pressure, short-sightedness and poor judgement or for economic reasons related to Iraq’s crude oil supply, the result is the same. The outcome has been disastrous for Arab interests and that includes all Iraqis, not just Sunnis.

The situation is complicated but what are more important than the past are the present and the future. If the Ummah had many shortcomings when it comes to Iraq in the past, will it now learn the lesson and work to change all that has happened? Personally, I don’t see a light at the end of tunnel. All that I fear is that when we do make changes for the better, these changes will not work in our favour as one Arab community. We recently discovered that we did not offer an alternative and that we failed this time to improve our situation for the future.

Translated from Arabi21, 28 January 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.