Friday, April 25, 2008

[some] Sunnis [might] Rejoin the Maliki Government!

The big news coming out of Iraq, or at least the news getting the most play, is that the Sunni political bloc that had withdrawn from its ministerial positions in the Maliki government back in August 2007 is coming back. Maybe. That is, the details still have to be worked out, but there don't appear to be too many insurmountable obstacles that would make such a rapprochement impossible.

However, should this political detente unfold, its impact on larger issues of reconciliation should not be overestimated (which it undoubtedly will by all the usual suspects). First of all, the Sunni bloc that is pondering its return to the Maliki government (the Accordance Front) is not exactly representative of a wide swathe of Iraqi Sunnis.

Like the Sadrist current, many Iraqi Sunni groups boycotted the regional elections in 2005, so the Accordance Front is overrepresented due to lack of prior competition. In recent months, other Sunni groups have begun to enter the political fray. In particular, the Awakenings groups (especially the Anbar Salvation Council tribal elements) have been demanding a share of the local and national pie from the Accordance Front (which is viewed with some level of animosity and mistrust by outsider Sunni groups due to the Front's collaborative efforts with Maliki and the occupation forces).

In pursuit of this, the Awakenings groups have been busy forming political parties to compete in the next round of elections tentatively slated for October. In fact, some of the Awakenings constituents have threatened violence if they are not given a share of political power via elections or some other means. That's one of the reasons that the Bush administration has been pushing for regional elections (despite the fact that the Sadrists will make a dent in ISCI/Dawa's mandate through those same elections - unless they are weakened. Hmmm.).

So in a sense, the Accordance Front is facing a similar challenge from previously uninvolved parties that ISCI/Dawa is facing from the Sadrist current. With that in mind, the Accordance Front has at least a few incentives to rejoin Maliki's government. For one, its members will be able to take advantage of their insider positions, and access to government machinery, in order to improve performance at the polls come this fall (in both legitimate and less than legitimate ways ).

The stated reasons for re-entry into the government also offer insight into some of the potential motives:

“Our conditions were very clear, and the government achieved some of them,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Tawafiq, the largest Sunni bloc in the government. Mr. Duleimi said the achievements included “the general amnesty, chasing down the militias and disbanding them and curbing the outlaws.”

The recently passed amnesty law has already led to the release of many Sunni prisoners, encouraging Sunni parties that the government is serious about enforcing it. And the attacks on Shiite militias have apparently begun to assuage longstanding complaints that only Sunni groups blamed for the insurgency have been the targets of American and Iraqi security forces.

There is at least some truth to this. While possibly exaggerated, the amnesty law has produced positive results. In addition, many Sunnis - having faced the brunt of sectarian cleansing at the hands of the Mahdi Army - likely applaud the recent anti-Sadrist operations. By touting these achievements, the Accordance Front can make the case that they have delivered tangible gains to their constituents. Not a bad thing in an election season, though the incentive to hype these developments is something to consider.

In addition, there could be some behind the scenes quid-pro-quo with Bush administration officials whereby the Accordance Front is given preferential treatment with respect to the elections, or otherwise, in exchange for this PR gift that the Bush team will be touting as a sign of political progress on the reconciliation front. That's purely speculative, but not exaclty outlandish or beyond the pale.

With respect to reconciliation, though, it's important to remember that the return of the Accordance Front is not a new development, just a reset of the status quo ante in place before their withdrawal. So, just as the Surge might have succeeded in returning violence to the already horrific 2005 levels, so this move might restore the Green Zone political apparatus to the dysfunctional dynamic in place prior to August 2007.

Large scale reconciliation will only be possible (eventually) after truly representative elections that produce leaders that speak for, and address the concerns of, large majorities in the various segments Iraqi society. Ironically, the return of the Accordance Front could portend the opposite in terms of the Sunni electorate, just as Maliki's crackdown of the Sadrist current threatens to mute the electoral voice of large chunks of the Shiite population.

One step forward, two steps back. The Iraq shuffle.

(hat tip to Cernig for the link above, and some of the ideas expressed herein)

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