Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Conversation With Sa'ad

Sa'ad is an Iraqi Shia born in Baghdad and a refugee who fled to America within the past decade. He still has family in Iraq and has asked that I not use his last name. He recently spent fourteen months in Iraq as a private contractor acting as an interpreter for a SEAL team and, later, an SF team in Anbar and Diyala. He was present in Anbar and Diyala before and then throughout the surge. I have been fortunate to have him as a houseguest for the past few days. Here are some of his observations.

1. In Iraq, prior to 2003, there was not a major Shia / Sunni divide at the local level. There was intermarriage, and indeed, several of his siblings have married Sunnis. The religious schism we see being played out in Iraq today has several parts. One is the foreign fighters - al Qaeda and the like - who have swept into Iraq and whose raison d'etre is religion. Another is the former Baathist officers who are secular but are now using religion as a cover for their activities. Third, and the least successful, has been agitation by Iran within Iraq. Al Qaeda and the ex-Baathists are spreading much of their violence by offering bounties to the Sunni. For example, return to al Qaeda with the head of a Shia, and you get $3,000.

2. Suicide bombers are inevitably steeped in Wahhabism and often drugged before being sent out on their missions.

3. He has witnessed incredible bravery of the Iraqis. He saw an Iraqi policeman in Anbar who observed an overly dressed man approaching a group of women. Suspecting a suicide bomber, he ordered him to stop, and when the bomber did not, he tried to shoot him in the head (anywhere else and the bomber will still retain muscle control long enough to detonate). His gun jammed, and the policeman tossed down his weapon, charged the bomber, and wrestled him a few yards away. When the two fell to the ground, the bomber detonated his vest, killing them both.

4. Sadr is not popular among the Shia, almost all of whom look to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for guidance. I argued that we should have killed Sadr when we had him cornered in 2004 at the Mosque of the Golden Dome. Sa'ad thinks that the Americans did the right thing by not entering the mosque and that Sadr irreprably harmed his cause by turning the mosque into a war zone. He believe Sadr is poorly spoken, not too smart, and that he does not enjoy wide support among Iraqis today, though he is concerned that Sadr will attempt to replace the aging Ali Sistani when he passes away.

5. Sa'ad has a bit of a love hate relationship with America. He is upset that in 1991, America did not finish the job of removing Saddam. According to him, had the US done then what it did in 2003, the U.S. would have had a much easier time of it. In the interim, Saddam slaughted countless Shia and Kurds who rose up against him in the aftermath of the '91 war. He is bitter about that. He is happy that we finally did invade in 2003, but he looks at that as a gift horse. He says he does not know why America invaded his native country then, but he is just happy they did so.

More to follow later on his perceptions of the current Iraqi government.


MathewK said...

"He is upset that in 1991, America did not finish the job of removing Saddam."

Unfinished business eh, eventually it'll come back and haunt you, look at Iran now, Russia after world war II, putting it off only delays the inevitable. Thanks for posting this.

Dinah Lord said...

Fascinating, GW.

I second mk's thanks for posting this. It's insight we would otherwise never have.

Best wishes to your guest.