Reality Check

Paul Bremer, who between May 2003 and June 2004 was in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, took to the pages of the Washington Post last Sunday to tell the American public “What We Got right in Iraq.” Today, journalist and NAF fellow Nir Rosen, who was in Iraq before, during, and after Bremer’s tenure, responds:

[T]he former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority argues that he “was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny,” including the Baath Party and the Iraqi army. He complains about “critics who’ve never spent time in Iraq” and “don’t understand its complexities.” But Bremer himself never understood Iraq, knew no Arabic, had no experience in the Middle East and made no effort to educate himself — as his statements clearly show.

Time and again, he refers to “the formerly ruling Sunnis,” “rank-and-file Sunnis,” “the old Sunni regime,” “responsible Sunnis.” This obsession with sects informed the U.S. approach to Iraq from day one of the occupation, but it was not how Iraqis saw themselves — at least, not until very recently. Iraqis were not primarily Sunnis or Shiites; they were Iraqis first, and their sectarian identities did not become politicized until the Americans occupied their country, treating Sunnis as the bad guys and Shiites as the good guys. There were no blocs of “Sunni Iraqis” or “Shiite Iraqis” before the war, just like there was no “Sunni Triangle” or “Shiite South” until the Americans imposed ethnic and sectarian identities onto Iraq’s regions.

You can read the article in full here.

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