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Sunnis ask why US drones seem to target them only

It remains in America's best interest to present a coherent, logical policy about who gets droned and who does not, and why.

Does America's Middle East policy tilt against Sunni Muslims and in favour of the Shia? That is certainly how many Sunnis perceive events, and especially the way the US uses its drone weapons.

America toppled Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan's Taliban, both brutal Sunni regimes, and in the process empowered, though unintentionally, an equally notorious regime in Shia Iran.

More recently, President Barack Obama's policies have deepened the Sunni sense of American bias: US drones hunt down Sunni militants while the Shia - in Iran and Syria - receive invitations to talks and grand bargains, instead.

To be sure, few in Iran would say they are getting preferential treatment from the US. But when it comes to deadly drones, the difference is clear.

The explanations for the discrepancy offered by Mr Obama's officials are unconvincing, at least to Sunni ears.

American policymakers justify Washington's non-intervention in Syria by arguing that the president is working to wind down, not increase, American engagement in the Middle East, as measured in the number of US troops deployed.

But "disengagement" is certainly not the right word for America's expanding map of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and probably soon Libya, all predominantly Sunni nations.

The US administration's choice of which countries and terrorists are hit by drones has been whimsical at best, like other elements of Mr Obama's foreign policy.

Now Washington is reportedly eager to use drones in Libya, to get back at last September's Benghazi attackers who killed four Americans including an ambassador.

But consider what happened to another man with US blood on his hands, Hizbollah Shia operative Ali Musa Daqduq. The US arrested him in 2007 and accused him of involvement in killing at least five US soldiers in Iraq.

But instead of "getting droned", Mr Daqduq was released from prison last November by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, a US ally.

One Obama official has argued that Sunni terrorists are more dangerous than others; after all some of them found their way to the American homeland, while their Shia peers have been less successful, or maybe never planned such attacks. But that was before US lawmen reported that they had foiled a Tehran-fomented scheme to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Last month's news of Hizbollah's possible involvement in a terrorist bombing against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria leaves no room to believe that Shia militancy is confined to the Middle East.

Like their Sunni counterparts and their secular ancestors before them, Shia terrorists try to project power around the world, and have sometimes succeeded.

And yet Washington's double standard in its "war on terror" has led it to target mainly Sunni militants, sparing the Shia. In some Sunni minds, America's image as an unfair power thus becomes engraved more deeply.

Supporters of Shia militancy have noticed. Their media outlets and pundits have jumped to scare the region and the world about Sunni militancy, in line with US rhetoric, slapping a terrorist tag on their Sunni rivals, extreme or moderate.

In Lebanon, Bashar Al Assad's supporters and Hizbollah media have propagated the line that every Sunni, such as their rival Saad Hariri, is a sympathiser with, and funder of, radical Sunni and militant Salafi networks.

Before accusing Mr Hariri of terrorism, the Iranian-Syrian machine had insisted that it was Sunni terrorists who had killed his father Rafiq Hariri in 2005.

Two years later, when Syrian intelligence agents founded the Sunni terrorist group Fatah Islam in north Lebanon, the same propaganda machine suggested that Saad Hariri was funding and arming the group - that Mr Hariri was payrolling the terrorists said to have killed his father.

And since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, Damascus and Tehran have insisted that every Al Assad opponent is a Sunni terrorist.

Unfortunately, Washington has walked into that trap, echoing the claims and also exaggerating the danger posed by the radical Islamist militants fighting alongside Syria's rebels.

And while warning about the terrorism of Jabhat Al Nusra, Washington seems to forget that fighters from Hizbollah - a group that made it to America's list of terrorist organisations long before most Jabhat Al Nusra fighters were born - are also engaged in Syria.

If America expands its drone war to Syria - as recent reports have suggested it is considering - Sunnis expect that it will target Jabhat Al Nusra terrorists, while leaving alone Hizbollah militants and their Iranian Republican Guard Corps mentors, most of whom are also designated terrorists.

Violence is an unfortunate occurrence in life. Civilisations have taken great pains to differentiate between honourable and cowardly killing. Declaring the intention to kill and bearing responsibility for the act is more acceptable than phantom killings whose perpetrators remain in hiding and rarely even acknowledge their acts.

Since September 11, 2001, the world has correctly come out against terrorist killing-without-taking-responsibility, and has supported the United States in serving terrorists with justice.

But when justice becomes flimsy, so does the image of the US. It remains in America's best interest to present a coherent, logical policy about who gets droned, and who does not, and why.

It is time for America to start either hunting down all terrorists, or talking to all of them.

 

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of the Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai

On Twitter: @hahussain

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