Is Iraq’s Arab League Summit being Overshadowed by Sectarian Violence?

Iraq is planning to host the summit of the Arab League in Baghdad next week, in a bid to underscore its reemergence as an independent Arab state and an integral member of the League.

But, you couldn’t say things have gone well for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the run-up to the historic conference.

First, the Shiite clerical leader Muqtada al-Sadr staged a strike on Monday, and his supporters came out to demonstrate in the hundreds of thousands (they claimed a million) in the southern oil city of Basra. The date was March 19, the anniversary of the Bush administration’s invasion of their country, which they were in part protesting. But they were also demanding that al-Maliki supply people with services– electricity, water, etc. They had earlier demonstrated against the idea of the Sunni king of Bahrain coming to Baghdad, given his harsh crackdown on the majority Shiites of Bahrain. But Monday’s rallies focused on domestic issues. Sadr is taking advantage of Iraq being in the spotlight in order to press his demands.

Then on Tuesday we heard from the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq,” which is called “al-Qaeda” both by al-Maliki and by the US, when it set off a coordinated set of bombings that left 45 people dead. These Sunni radicals are not reconciled to the rise of a Shiite-dominated government, and they wanted to spoil the summit, perhaps derail it. They view most of the Arab leaders as tyrants and say they don’t want them in Iraq.

Aljazeera English has video

Al-Maliki had charged one of his vice presidents, a Sunni named Tariq al-Hashemi, of himselve being linked to terrorism, and chased him off to Iraqi Kurdistan. But his bodyguards were detained in Baghdad. One of them just died under suspicious circumestances, casting another pall over the summit. Many assume that the Shiite al-Maliki had the Sunni guards tortured.

Then, al-Maliki’s sudden support for the Allawite Shiite president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is often attributed to his fear that Sunni fundamentalists might come to power there and make trouble in Sunni Iraq just across the border. The US believes that al-Maliki is allowing Iran to send arms to al-Assad and his Baath Party through Iraq, and is pressuring him to stop it.

So on the eve of a conference that was intended to emphasize the Arabness of Iraq and its reemergence onto the world stage, it is being roiled by sectarian demonstrations and bombings, embroiled in regional Sunni-Shiite strife, and slammed for still not being able to deliver basic services.

4 Responses

  1. My late friend and fellow sailor, Herb Weichmann, an engineer, inveterate optimist, and good guy, had this to say about corrosion, and corruption: “Rust always wins.” It’s a good thing that biological critters can sometimes reverse the flow of entropy in smaller domains. It’s a bad thing that biological critters can also accelerate the oxidation process, both locally and globally.

  2. I have the impression that Sunni resistance to Iraq’s government is fuelled by a deep belief that Shia rule is illegitimate (in much the same way that C17 France could not tolerate a Protestant ruler, or England a Catholic one), and that this is more ort less true across the Arab Sunni world.

  3. I’m not entirely comfortable with the inclusion of the Sadrist protests in this list.

    Public protests and even strikes are how politics are supposed to work in a democratic system. Their presence is quite a bit different from the al Qaeda bombings.

  4. Yes Peter, we have the same thing in the USA. The republican base does not believe that our president is legitimate, but that is caused by their outrage, which is encouraged by the GOP, because President Obama is an intelligent black man.

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