Sistani Calls for Government of National Unity
According to AFP, Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie met Saturday with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and then conveyed the latter’s hope that a national unity government will be formed. Rubaie (al-Sharq al-Awsat/ AFP, Cole trans.:) quoted Sistani as saying, “I urge you to maintain the unity of the Iraqi people, and urge the parties that won to deal with those issues over which there is dispute, with wisdom and nonviolently.” He further conveyed the ayatollah’s words, “I also counsel the the United Iraqi Alliance, which won the elections, to work with other components of the people of Iraq to form a government of national unity that will represent all the chief currents in the country.” Sistani is said to have stressed the need for calm, so that the country could be rebuilt.
Sistani is in essence supporting the plan of President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd). The grand ayatollah had pressed for much more Sunni representation in the cabinet last spring than the Shiite religious parties and the Kurds were willing to accept, and this sectarian selfishness on their part appears to be one of the things that soured him on the United Iraqi Alliance.
The call comes in the wake of huge demonstrations in Iraq by Sunni Arabs on Friday against what they called election fraud on Dec. 15, and after about 100 prominent Sunni candidates were excluded on the grounds that they had been high officials in the Baath Party– reinforcing the Sunni Arab conviction that they were targeted for marginalization by the new regime.
The Debaathification Committee is de facto an arm of corrupt financier and current vice premier Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, and it is widely rumored that Chalabi has deployed it to intimidate and blackmail possible opponents. Chalabi and the INC are close to the Pentagon and the Neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute. The Committee had forwarded to the High Electoral Commission the 100 or so names of candidates who had been high in the Baath establishment. The High Electoral Commission concluded that the Debaathfication Committee had not presented sufficient proof, and so allowed these 100 candidates to run. This policy reflects the conviction of Iyad Allawi, the CIA and the State Department that incorporating the ex-Baathists into the government would both dampen the guerrilla war and offset the power of the Shiite fundamentalists with close ties to Iran, who had come to power in the Jan. 30 elections. The Chalabi group took the Electoral Commission to court, and the 3-judge Supreme Judicial Court sided with the Chalabi faction (i.e. Rumsfeld and the Neocons won this one, and the CIA and the State Department lost.) It would be interesting to know who appointed the Supreme Judicial Council.
The exclusion of these 90-odd prominent Sunni Arabs from the election, even after many had won seats in parliament, can only exacerbate ethnic tensions in Iraq.
I have repeatedly said that the standard for who is excluded from public life should be whether they could be proven to have committed crimes. Mere membership in a party should not be the criterion. As one canny reader wrote me, moreover, the threat of using former Baath Party membership to remove persons from civic life could easily be used to intimidate and coerce Sunni Arabs, most of whom had those connections.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat [Ar.] reports that the Shiite fundamentalist list, the United Iraqi Alliance, has begun to explore political alliances that will allow it to form the next government. Jawad al-Maliki of the Dawa Party (a component of the UIA) said that a prime ministerial candidate will be chosen by the coalition as soon as the final results of the election are known. He also castigated protesters against the election results, saying that they must accept the will of the people. He added, “Many of them are led by gangs of the remnants for the former regime and by excommunicators (radical Salafi Muslims who declare Shiites and moderate Muslims to actually be “infidels.”).
Iran’s Interior Minister said that what is happening in Iraq today is an echo of the Khomeinist ideals of the 1979 revolution in Iran.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said that Iraq wants to strengthen relations with Iran along a whole range of dimensions. Zebari is a Sunni Kurd, but many Kurds view Tehran fondly because it supported the Kurds against Saddam.
In Hilla, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Fallujah on Saturday, the guerrillas set off bombs, set afire pipelines, tried to assassinate the minister of justice, killed or wounded Iraqi soldiers and police, murdered civilians, and killed another GI. Fourteen persons were killed in Baghdad alone, and six corpses showed up in the streets of the capital. Hostage crises with regard to Jordanian and Sudanese continued.
A report in the Washington Post suggests that aggressive US use of air power in Anbar province to combat the Sunni Arab guerrillas may be killing twice as many innocent civilians as guerrillas. Air power as an element in aggressive counter-insurgency is an overly blunt instrument, and is certainly producing more enemies for the US than it kills. All along, the US has relentlessly bombed civilian neighborhoods in Iraq, helping to produce the horrible security situation than now obtains. Air power is especially useless insofar as it affords the political wing of the guerrillas no opportunity to negotiate. Successful counter-insurgency must have a political track.
Pepe Escobar has a canny run-down of the political situation in Iraq after the elections.