Friday, March 25, 2005

The Usual Suspects

In the month's leading up to the Iraq election, many analysts were justifiably concerned with the potential for a large scale Sunni boycott on election day. It was noted that if the Sunnis were not adequately represented in the Iraqi legislature, and more importantly on the committees drafting the permanent constitution, that they would be less likely to become partners in the new Iraq and opt instead for a revanchist posture as a disgruntled outsider.

"You do the math," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a former adviser to the American occupation in Baghdad. "Iraq's population is about 60 percent Shiite, 20 percent Sunni and 20 percent Kurds. But if Sunnis don't vote, they could become only 5 percent of the electorate"....

If Sunnis are marginalized in that fashion, Mr. Diamond said, it could lead to further alienation, an increased insurgency and possibly a civil war, especially if the Kurdish and Shiite victors try to write a constitution that favors their interests over the Sunnis'.
Some of Bush's supporters, such as Greg Djerejian tried to downplay these concerns by assuring the "pessimists" that the Sunnis would realize the folly of being excluded from the political process and turn out in numbers as high as "30%" and above on election day, and thus the problems would correct themselves to some degree. The truth of the matter is that Sunni participation in the election hovered in the low single digits, and their voice in the legislature is more or less non-existent. The problems remain.

In anticipation of what eventually turned out to be widespread Sunni abstention,
I tried to examine and recommend a pair of options that were being considered in serious foreign policy circles, including the State Department, which could remedy, or at least mitigate, the damage done by the lack of adequate Sunni representation gained through the ballot box.

The first corrective suggested was to grant a one-time set aside of seats in the 275 seat parliament to the Sunnis based on their proportion of the population despite expected low turnout on election day. The second was to instead, or possibly in conjunction with the first, insure adequate proportional representation for Sunnis on the constitution drafting committee - as well as to inject some minority protecting hurdles for gaining consensus in that body.

There was a third option, though it was the least favorable of the three and I did not endorse it. This was to apportion a number of ministries and cabinet positions to the Sunnis in a higher proportion than their elected numbers, or coalition building leverage, would dictate. This is the route that has been taken, at least up till now. These minor concessions will not be adequate on their own though, and as can be seen by the spirited horse trading going on between the Shiites and the Kurds, the cabinet posts and ministries given to the Sunnis will be the least sought after and advantageous. If an ethnic bloc that was the ruling class for decades is left with scraps from the table of negotiations, it is hard to imagine a peaceful outcome. This
article, via Juan Cole, sheds light on the process:

Iraq's Shiites will take 16 to 17 ministries in the next government, the Kurds will hold seven to eight ministries and the country's Sunni minority will be awarded four to six ministries, a Shiite negotiator said Tuesday....

The Shiites will take the interior and finance ministries, along with the cabinet post of national security advisor, said Maryam Rayes, a negotiator with the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which won 146 seats in the new 275-member parliament.

The Kurds, with 77 seats, the second largest bloc in parliament, will receive seven to eight ministries, including the foreign ministry and probably oil, Rayes said.
The divvying up of prime political real estate only confirms the fears of those that warned that if the Sunnis are excluded from the process, their interests will not be tended to. The interior, finance, petroleum and foreign ministries will hold the effective power and patronage capacity in the new Iraq, yet the Sunnis will not control any of those. In addition, they could receive as few as 4 ministries to the Kurds' 8 which does not even adequately reflect the relative size of the two groups' populations (in numbers, they are roughly equivalent).

In terms of cabinet posts the Sunnis are being offered the Vice Presidency and the relatively symbolic post of Speaker of the House - a position of new real power. Once again, the Shiites and the Kurds will split the prize posts between the two leaving the Sunnis to make due with the left overs. On top of that, the actual Sunni candidates being considered for these lesser posts are not widely popular or considered to have a mandate from the Sunni population at large - some names floating about are actually Sunni members of the Sistani blessed UIA slate of predominately religious Shiite candidates which holds the majority in parliament.

Al-Mutumar, the newspaper of secular Shiite politician Ahmed Chalabi, said outgoing Sunni president Ghazi al-Yawar would be the parliament's new speaker and fellow Sunni politician Hajem al-Hassani would serve as vice president.
These choices would be problematic, at least in the case of Yawar, as this Christian Science Monitor article shows.

Some Sunnis have previously tried to assert themselves as representatives of the diverse minority. Returned exile Adnan Pachachi, current vice president Ghazi Yawar, and some members of the Islamic Party formed a coalition a few weeks ago.

But their group has little, if any, credibility because it does not share the strong anti-occupation sentiments of most Sunnis or hold sway over the insurgency.
That same article does contain a grain of hope, however, as it tells of a recent meeting of Sunni groups convening with the intention of forming a unified political front to assert their demands through the political process. Although some, such as Cole, are skeptical of the credibility this group enjoys with the broad Sunni population in Iraq, the attendee list does cut a wide swathe of Sunni constituencies.

The significance of the conference was underscored by its attendees. Participants included members of the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of Sunni religious leaders, among them some of the most extreme figures who have influence with the insurgency.

Also present were leaders from cities in the "Sunni Triangle," including Mosul, Haditha, and Salam Pak, which is bubbling with insurgent activity. Representatives of Waqaf Sunna, the powerful administrating body of Sunni religious affairs, attended as well.
Contributing to the new found sense of hope, there are signs that the Shiites will embrace this new Sunni leadership that seeks to fill the post-Baath vacuum.

Shiites are taking note of the shift in Sunni willingness to participate and are taking the emerging group seriously as the first real representatives of the Sunnis.

"The most important thing is that they create a [leadership] for Sunnis," says Humam Hamoudi, a candidate from the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a group of Shiite religious leaders that won the majority of national assembly seats.

The UIA has struggled to find Sunnis willing to negotiate who also have clout in the Sunni community. But Mr. Hamoudi says those efforts were renewed after the top Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, instructed them to do so.

"He appealed to us to take more care of Sunnis' rights. He said, 'Sunnis are not only our brothers but they are yourselves,' so treat them accordingly," Hamoudi says.
While this rhetoric is encouraging, real progress will be stymied if the Sunnis are not given a larger share of the power in some meaningful combination of the legislature, constitutional committee, cabinet, and ministries. This would require a certain degree of selflessness on the part of the Kurds and Shiites which might be difficult to actualize in the midst of the self interested bartering for better and more power in the new government. In addition, it is not clear to what extent the platform of this new Sunni group will lend itself to integration in the new Iraqi state.

The list produced by the meeting includes demands that Sunni interests are provided for in Iraq's permanent constitution, which the national assembly is charged with writing this year.

But it also includes thornier demands such as recognition that Iraqis have a right to oppose US occupation, a schedule be developed for US forces to leave Iraq, reversal of US de-Baathification policy in the military, and the release of all detainees for whom there is no solid evidence they committed a crime. They also want a Sunni in a top job in the country's security apparatus, particularly the Ministry of Interior.
All signals indicate that Sistani realizes the importance of Sunni inclusion if Iraq is to make real progress toward the implementation of stability, peace, and law and order. Now is the time to seize this opening by the Sunnis and show generosity in action not just words. Although we should refrain from too closely interfering with the process, we should apply what pressure we can in the direction of Sunni inclusion, even if this would require accomodating some level of political beliefs that run counter to our interests. As Nadezhda pointed out, "the guiding principle for US policy should be what's effective for Iraq's "success." That is the most important outcome for both America's domestic tranquility and its geostrategic position, as well as for the world's general well-being."

Sunni involvement in Iraq's government, despite some of the unsavory elements that might give shelter to, would be one step toward success for Iraqis if we define success as a peaceful, stable Iraq.

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