Sunnis Threaten to Pull out of al-Maliki Government,
Demand a Unitary Iraq;
65 Killed in Civil War Violence
In an interview with Nic Robertson of CNN, Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, has laid down an ultimatum. He said that he would pull the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni fundamentalists) out of the al-Maliki “national unity” government if [Shiite] militias are not disarmed and revisions to the constitution aren’t begun by May 15. He said he was ready to admit that he had “made the mistake of a lifetime” in agreeing to participate in the government if no progress were made by that date on these issues.
The Iraqi Accord Front has 44 seats in parliament, but altogether the Sunni Arabs have 58, and if all of them boycott al-Maliki, he would be in a difficult position. He has already lost the 32 Sadrist MPs, as well as the 15 of the Islamic Virtue Party. The remaining 85 MPs from the United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite fundamentalists) depend on the 58 deputies of the Kurdistan Alliance to form a majority of 143 in the 275-member parliament. A majority requires at least 138. If any further deputies were to desert him, it is hard to see how al-Maliki could win a vote of no confidence. (The Iraqi constitution allows 50 deputies to call a vote of no confidence; but the Iraqi government is so dysfunctional it is not clear anyone would bother to do so.)
Al-Hashimi is also demanding provisions guaranteeing the national unity of Iraq. That is, he is making a counter-strike against Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Last October, al-Hakim pushed through parliament procedures for setting up a Shiite super-province in the south, melding several existing provinces together. The model for this move is the way that Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniya provinces were merged into the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Sunni Arabs mostly say that the KRG is water under the bridge and they can accept it, but thus far and no farther. In short, the major Sunni Arab political group willing to cooperate with the al-Maliki government and the US occupation is saying it is deeply afraid that the Biden/Gelb plan for Iraq’s devolution into three ethnic super-provinces with a weak central government may actually be implemented. And it is deadset against it. (See the guest posting below). Sunni Arab Iraqis have demonstrated that when they are deadset against something, they can effectively act as spoilers.
It seems clear that the American public is unlikely to put up with things like political infighting within the Iraqi government very much longer. The sending of National Guardsmen and lots of equipment from Kansas to Iraq has gotten in the way of tornado relief work, just as it impeded relief work at New Orleans after Katrina.
Meanwhile, some 68 Iraqis were killed in political violence on Monday. 30 bodies were found in the streets of Baghdad, mostly in Sunni Arab areas, and Sunni leaders voiced fears that Shiite death squads are being reactivated after having lain low during the first weeks of the new security plan (the “surge.”)
Two suicide bombings at Ramadi killed 25 and wounded dozens. Some are saying this violence is part of a general struggle between the Salafi Jihadis (which the press calls “al-Qaeda”) and local tribal sheikhs in al-Anbar. Despite these bombings on Monday, the internal division has made al-Anbar a more permissive environment for US troops than it was a year ago. See Marc Lynch’s postings on this issue (scroll down) over the past few weeks.
The problems with taking heart from a Sunni tribal alliance against the Salafis (revivalist Sunnis) include
a) that the tribes are notoriously disorganized and
b) that they are perfectly capable of turning on one another and on other Sunni Arabs, and
c) that most Iraqis are now urban and organized by political parties, not tribes; and
d) that these same Sunni tribal leaders also say they are die-hard opposed to the al-Maliki government and that they want to kill Shiites. Nic Robertson let this bombshell drop on CNN’s Sunday edition of This Week at War: “the tribal leaders I talked to who are the guys behind the support right now for defeating al Qaeda, are telling me that they still expect to fight with the Shias and they expect these tribal members to be the vanguard of that part of the force.”
So even if the tribes defeat “al-Qaeda” in al-Anbar, it would just be so they could kill Shiites rather than allowing the Salafi Jihadis to do it. It wouldn’t end the civil war.