Sunni Arabs Pull out of Talks with al-Maliki; Bush Benchmark in Doubt; Marines Proselytize Sunnis with Gospel

On Wednesday, the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front (IAF, Tawafuq) withdrew from talks on rejoining the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of the Shiite fundamentalist Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa).

Despite the confidence of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, that his bloc would eventually rejoin the government, the development was a blow to al-Maliki. Al-Sharqiya television had reported on Tuesday (via USG Open Source Center and BBC Monitoring):

“The United Nations has committed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to present the names of the new ministers to his government before the beginning of the International Compact Conference on Iraq that will be held in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. Informed sources said that Al-Maliki held a meeting with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi after Al-Tawafuq Front MPs suddenly escalated their tone against the Iraqi Government, accusing it of impeding a settlement and of humiliating the Front, as was said by Al-Tawafuq Front MP Zafir al-Ani. Umar Abd-al-Sattar, key leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party, expected the collapse of the negotiations. The sources added that the meeting between Al-Maliki and Al-Hashimi tried to salvage the negotiations, and anticipated the announcement of the new names of Al-Tawafuq ministers before the beginning of the Stockholm conference so as to give a boost to the prime minister in front of the participants, namely, that his government is a unity government.”

As it happened, al-Maliki had to show up in Stockholm without his Sunni Arabs in tow.

The collapse of these talks and the failure of al-Maliki to achieve substantial reconciliation with Sunni Arabs are blows to the success of the US troop escalation (“surge”), which was advertised as necessary to move Iraq toward communal peace. This Sunni-Shiite reconciliation was one of four major benchmarks announced by George W. Bush in January of 2007, which he said should be achieved by June, 2007. In the subsequent year and a half, al-Maliki’s national unity government collapsed, the Sunnis have remained in the opposition, and hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs have been ethnically cleansed from Baghdad in the meantime. Many of them are sweltering in Syria as refugees, their life savings dwindling, their former homes occupied by Shiite squatters.

Iraqi Sunnis have just gotten the bad news that they will need visas for Jordan. There are between 500,000 and 750,000 Iraqis in Jordan, almost all of them Sunnis, with some 360,000 being there illegally. (Jordan’s population is only a little over 6 million).

Many Sunni Arab Iraqis, once the country’s ruling elite, now feel oppressed by Shiite, Kurdish and American Christian dominance. The story that Marines are passing coins to Sunnis in Falluja with Christian messages on them is felt as a further humiliation, especially coming after the incident of the US soldier using the Qur’an for target practice. The coins passed in Fallujah had John 3:16 inscribed on one side, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This verse is not a good place to begin a Christian-Muslim dialogue. The Qur’an explicitly rejects the idea that the One God can have a “son” as polytheistic. Some Islamic theologians have argued that the phrase “Son of God” is a metaphor, which cannot be translated literally into Arabic. In any case, there are lots of Gospel verses that Muslims might find interesting, but they would generally take this one as a clear signal that Bush’s Christian Soldiers consider Iraqi Muslims to be supine and abject.

The USG Open Source Center translates an Aljazeera report on the withdrawal of the IAF or Tawafuq from negotiations about rejoining the al-Maliki government. The report says that the negotiations collapsed because al-Maliki rejected a cabinet nominee of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), one of three components of the IAF. The IIP, an Iraqi offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, is headed by Tariq al-Hashemi, one of Iraq’s two vice presidents. Apparently IIP’s coalition partners did not agree on that slate of candidates for inclusion in the cabinet. The report says that the collapse of the negotiations may reinforce a Sunni conviction that al-Maliki’s government is biased against them.

‘May 28, 2008 Wednesday

IRAQI AL-TAWAFUQ FRONT WITHDRAWAL MAY HAVE “SERIOUS” EFFECTS – AL-JAZEERA

LENGTH: 580 words

Doha Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television in Arabic at 0507 gmt on 28 May carries the following announcer-read report over video: “Iraqi Al-Tawafuq Front has decided to suspend its talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki regarding its return to the government. Dr Salim al-Juburi, official spokesman for the Al-Tawafuq Front said that the decision to withdraw the candidates was taken following Al-Maliki’s objection to a candidate who was proposed by the front to occupy cabinet posts.”

The channel then carries a three-minute video report by its correspondent Aziz al-Mirnisi, who speaks about “a new crisis on the horizon of the Iraqi political scene.” He says: “After long talks with the government on some cabinet posts, the Sunni bloc, represented by the Iraqi Al-Tawafuq Front, decided to stop its talks seeking to return to Nuri al-Maliki’s government. The front, which has five ministers and one deputy prime minister in the current government, said that Al-Maliki’s government, which is dominated by Shi’is and Kurds, did not respond to the front’s demands regarding a list of nominees that it proposed to occupy cabinet posts. The front justified this decision as being a result of Al-Maliki’s objection to one of the nominees to the post of deputy prime minister for security affairs.”

Speaking about repercussions of the withdrawal decision, Al-Mirnisi says: “The withdrawal decision may provoke once again accusations against Al-Maliki’s government of bias against the Sunnis in Iraq, which may have serious political and security effects on the political process as a whole if the matter is not addressed by the government. Convincing the front to rejoin the government’s makeup is a main US policy objective, and a step that many consider necessary to realize national reconciliation among Iraqis.”

Immediately afterwards, the channel’s anchorwoman Fayruz Zayyani interviews Khalaf al-Ulayyan, National Dialogue Council chairman and Al-Tawafuq Front MP, via telephone from Baghdad on the front’s suspension decision.

Al-Ulayyan says: “We were not aware of such a list, neither the first nor the second. This matter was only limited to the Iraqi Islamic Party [IIP], who nominated a number of figures from within the IIP and others close to the IIP to occupy these positions without consulting other members in Al-Tawafuq Front. We did not know anything regarding this list; we expressed our objections to the prime minister and nominated a number of independent technocratic ministers and asked the prime minister to choose whom he deems suitable to occupy cabinet positions.”

When asked if he could confirm leaked news by the Iraqi Government on disagreements within the Al-Tawafug Front, Al-Ulayyan says: “This is true; there are disagreements. Our brothers at the IIP want to dominate the entire [Al-Tawafuq] Front in addition to the nominated ministers as happened in the past, not leaving the chance for others to participate in decisionmaking or nominating any figure for any cabinet positions.”

Speaking on possible consultations with the front on the current disagreement with the IIP, Al-Ulayyan says: “We tried, for several times, to sit with the IIP leaders to discuss these issues; however, the IIP obstinacy made this matter almost impossible. Moreover, Dr Adnan al-Dulaymi, who is head of the [Al-Tawafuq] Front, is extremely biased towards the IIP and does not care about others.”

Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 0507 gmt 28 May 08 ‘

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