I’ve avoided the story of Marines handing out coins with Christian evangelical verse on them, largely out of hoping it’ll blow over, but a significant new development has taken place. Now a prominent leader of the famed “Sunni Awakening” has taken umbrage, stating in no uncertain terms that America could suffer a major backlash if this kind of behavior isn’t quashed, and for good.
“This event did not happen by chance, but it was planned and done intentionally,” [Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Zubaie, an influential tribal leader in Fallujah] said. “The Sunni population cannot accept and endure such a thing. I might not be able to control people’s reactions if such incidents keep happening.”
We need the Sunni on our side. Before Petraeus breathed new life into talking with our most ardent terrorist enemies – the Sunni militias – and wouldn’t back down from political pressure, the majority of our casualties were being dealt by them. This map of casualties, by province, shows that it was in largely Sunni areas that we suffered worst.
Petraeus’ persistence in talking with the illegal, non-state actors that were responsible for the main part of our losses was revolutionary. It flies in the face of McCain’s babble about “preconditions”; the only precondition in this case was that they were killing more Americans than anyone else and promising to do it until we left. It goes far further than anything Obama’s said, as it wasn’t even talking to another government leader, but to the people who define the term “terrorist.” And it has done wonders for our cause in this war.
The possibility of them turning against us is chilling. With their prodigious influence turned against our enemies, we’ve been able to corner al-Qaeda and isolate the Shia militias, playing them against one another. It isn’t the Surge that’s holding Iraq together. The increased troop presence has allowed us to be effective as an offensive force against al-Q and the Shia. The Sunni were the ones who allowed us to go on the offensive in the first place. This is still the case.
Fortunately, the Sunni want to be on our side. Promise of funding and political power is still real and sweet for them. This incident with the coins – and the other recent controversy of a Marine sniper using the Koran for target practice – are real causes for vexation, but the US military still has plenty of opportunity to correct this kind of behavior.
They have apologized, and they’ve punished. What the Marine did was, of course, against the regulations. What needs to be done now is for commanders to send a clear message to the troops that these kinds of shenanigans are not just illegal, but inexcusably dangerous.
With the command we now have in place – one that has never flinched from what has to be done, no matter how politically unpopular – I am certain that message will be sent.