Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Putting The "Dis" In "Unity"

As I have been pointing out, ad nauseam I'm sure, the most recent "turning point" in Iraq was/is supposed to have been the December 15th elections. The optimistic interpretation holds that these elections marked the beginning of the Sunni population's pursuit of political involvement and that this would lead to a winding down in insurgent activity. This sanguine reading relies on primarily two underlying premises: (i) the Shiites and Kurds would involve the Sunnis in a national unity government; and (ii) the Shiites and Kurds would be amenable to significant, if targeted, changes in the Iraqi Constitution designed to assuage certain Sunni concerns - the result of recommendations from a post-election panel slated to include Sunni participants.

If those two preconditions are met, it is argued, conditions would be conducive to the success of efforts designed to splinter the insurgencies - making it easier to separate, alienate and neutralize insurgents (bringing nationalist and even ex-Baathist types into the fold, while separating out and targeting jihadists and hard-core rejectionists). This cause would be especially aided by the cooperation, even tacity, of the newly "political" Sunnis who would (it is hoped) have the credibility and insider's knowledge to provide valuable intelligence and other forms of indigenous support so vital to counterinsurgency missions. These political developments could presage the beginning of a national pact, a new Iraqi unity able to overcome the centrifugal force of ethnic/sectarian violence.

Unfortunately, early rumblings from the Shiite camp, particularly from SCIRI head Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, seem to indicate that the Shiites will not be as accommodating as earlier predicted in terms of amending the Iraqi Constitution. This could be a serious impediment going forward to say the least. Via Juan Cole, the UPI is reporting that the Shiite bloc is also scaling back its earlier indications of altruism with regard to the inclusion of Sunni politicians in the ruling coalition government:

The new government in Iraq reportedly will offer the Sunni Arabs six cabinet posts or the same number they held in the 36-member interim government.[...]

Inclusion of the Sunnis in the new government is seen as crucial to quelling the Sunni-led insurgency plaguing the country.

Al-Rubaie said it had not been decided whether the Sunnis would be allocated one of the two crucial security positions -- interior minister or defense minister. The Sunnis are not likely to be satisfied with six cabinet posts, the Times said. [emphasis added]
Cole notes, as does the UPI article, that the Sunnis are not going to view the offer of only six posts as some genuine indication of the Shiites' intention to form a government of inclusion. After all, the Sunnis had 17 seats in the assembly after the prior election, and got six cabinet posts. Now they will likely have 51 seats in the assembly, but the same number of cabinet posts. Further, they may be shut out of the most coveted and influential cabinet positions altogether. The last go around, a Sunni politician was given the Ministry of Defense. It remains to be seen whether a Sunni will be given as prominent a cabinet position in the new government. Cole relates some reaction from Sunni quarters:

The London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East] reports that Husain al-Falluji, a candidate for parliament on the Iraqi Accord Front list [Sunni fundamentalist] objected strenuously to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's comments a few days ago. He said al-Hakim had backed away from an earlier commitment to have a government of national unity, proposing instead an inclusive government that would recognize the victory of the Shiite fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance in the election. He said al-Hakim's remarks were an "ominous sign."
I'm not sure that this would constitute an "outreach" or a good faith attempt to form a government of national unity. More relevant, I don't expect the Sunni population to view it this way either. None of these decisions are carved in stone (yet), surely some of this rhetoric would be part of the negotiation process regardless of the ultimate intent of the parties involved, and there is still time to broach a more conciliatory accord. Still, I pity Zal Khalilzad and his overworked unicycle. Nation building is hard work.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

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