by Charles Gordon
July 13, 2007

When we deposed Saddam in 2003, we assumed that 80% of Iraqis (65% Shi’ia, 15% Kurds) would cheer.

We were right.

We also assumed that the problem of the remaining 20% — Saddam’s fellow Sunnis — would resolve itself.

We were wrong.

Under Saddam, the Sunnis had a monopoly on power. When we deposed him, they were not happy campers. At first they were terrified of us, but when we failed to move into the Sunni Triangle and establish a presence, they became emboldened.

By failing to move into the Triangle, we not only emboldened the Sunnis, we dismayed the Shi’ia, causing some to believe that having deposed Saddam, we would still keep the Sunnis in power.

The Sunnis’ strategy was to keep Iraq from having elections and going democratic. Their first move was to come against our soldiers in the hope that we’d leave. When that failed, they started attacking the Shi’ia in order to provoke retaliation that would lead to a full-blown civil war. That strategy foundered when the Shi’ia leader, the Ayatollah Sistani wisely convinced the Shi’ia not to take the bait and retaliate. His reasoning was that patience would pay off in the form of the majority Shi’ia achieving dominance once elections were held.

The Sunnis then responded by essentially inviting al Qaeda into the country and harboring its fighters. Al Qaeda successfully goaded the Shi’ia into fighting back by doing such things as blowing up the Grand Mosque, a holy site for the Shi’ia.

But once the Sunnis invited al Qaeda in, they were stuck with them. Their brutality shocked even the most jaded Sunni and many Sunnis came to fear and loathe these terrorists more than they did America or even the Shi’ia.

Further, some Sunnis began to realize that if they got what they wished — an American withdrawal — the majority Shi’ia would have free rein to take frightful revenge for years and decades of oppression by the Sunnis.

Result? The beginning of a sea change in the Triangle and the emergence of real hope that President Bush’s troop surge will work.

Put simply, if a critical mass of Sunnis swings over to the American side against al Qaeda and for a full coalition with the Shi’ia, we win.

The Sunnis deserve a swift kick in the derriere for being the main instigators of what hasn’t gone right in Iraq. But finally, they seem to be wising up. Time will tell if it’s in time — or too late.