Sunnis Join Talks On National Unity

Sunnis Join Talks on National Unity Government;
Guerrillas kill 19

AP correspondent Sinan Salaheddin reports that the Sunni fundamentalist National Accord Front [Accordance is not an English adjective] broke ranks on Monday with its partners in the Rejection Bloc. The NAF had earlier joined the National Dialogue Council of Salih Mutlak (Neobaathist) and the National Iraqiyah List of Iyad Allawi (ex-Baathist) in rejecting the results of the December 15 elections, which had reaffirmed the dominance of the fundamentalist Shiite parties in Iraqi politics. The three parties had said that they would not enter into negotiations on the formation of a new government until after election fraud had been investigated and redressed. On Monday, Adnan Dulaimi and Tariq Hashimi of the NAF, however, met with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and announced their willingness to join a national unity government.

The Sunni Iraqi Accord Front is also looking at a possible parliamentary alliance with the Muqtada al-Sadr bloc in parliament.

The most likely explanation is that the the religious Shiites and the Kurds have managed to detach the National Accord Front from its former partners, who are anyway unacceptable to important Shiite and Kurdish constituencies. It is the religious Sunni parties with which the others feel they can do business, probably especially the Iraqi Islamic Party, which had a history of dissidence in the Baath period. Jalal Talabani is still arguing for including all 4 major parties in the national unity government, according to Al-Hayat– the Shiite fundamentalist UIA, the Kurdistan Alliance, the National Accord Front, and the secular National Iraqiyah list of Allawi. But Talabani may not be able to convince the Sadrists to let Allawi’s people into the cabinet. One follower of the nationalist young Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, said that the Allawi list’s inclusion was a “red line” that must not be crossed.

Dulaimi said, Al-Hayat [Ar.]according to al-Hayat, “We are optimistic about setting up a government that is suited to resolve Iraq’s problems and to restore security and stability.” He said his Front would talk “with all concerned parties . . . to form a balanced Iraqi government through reaching agreement and staying far away from factional claims on resources.” Asked about the continued wave of terrorism, Dulaimi replied, “The terrorism will stop when a strong and balanced Iraqi government is formed in which all sections of Iraq participate.”

Tariq al-Hashimi, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party (a coalition element of the NAF), said “The questions about the probity of the election results have priority,” despite the participation of the Front in these talks. He expressed some optimism, he said, because it appeared that the political elite had agreed on the desirability of a government of national unity.

Dulaimi made an important statement at this news conference, which I saw on Arabic satellite television but which al-Hayat did not transcribe in detail. He vehemently rejected the principle of loose federalism for Arab Iraq. He accepted that the Kurdistan regional confederacy is legitimate, with understandable historical and ethnic roots. But he ruled out any further provincial confederacies in the Middle Euphrates and the deep south. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading Shiite party in the United Iraqi Alliance, has begun seriously thinking about forming Shiite provincial confederacies on the Kurdish model. At one point there was talk of a nine-province confederacy, but more recently two are referred to, that of the “middle” and that of the “south.” The constitution approved on Oct. 15 permits such provincial confederacies to be formed, but the Sunni Arab provinces all rejected this paragraph and it was one of the reasons all three voted down the constitution.

Dulaimi will want to stop this march toward the devolution of power in Iraq on powerful and wealthy “Regions.” Part of his reason is principle; the Sunni Arabs of Iraq have a centralized tradition of politics like that of the French. But part is also interest. The Shiite confederacies would own all future petroleum finds in their territories, which are rich with oil, whereas the Sunni Arabs have no petroleum and would be left without a share in the national patrimony.

Dulaimi has Shiite allies in this regard. The Dawa Party, the Sadr movement and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani all disapprove of SCIRI’s fascination with the Kurdistan model for south Iraq.

Ironically (very ironically) a coalition of Dulaimi with Muqtada al-Sadr and Sistani might actually save Arab Iraq from breaking up.

Muqtada al-Sadr and his factions declined to participate in the talks in Kurdistan, saying they were merely “personal” and did not represent the entirety of the United Iraqi Alliance list. Sadrist representative Baha’ al-Din al-A`raji said that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim would brief the rest of the party on his consultations at a big meeting that would be convened soon. Al-A`raji said that of the candidates for prime minister within the UIA, “Jaafari is closer to us and we consider his chances better.” He said that the Sadr bloc was conducting talks with the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party, “Which do not touch on the formation of a government, but focus chiefly on defining the characteristics of the Republic and of the government.” He added, “We have not reached final conclusions. We are still in an early stage, and we will follow up.” He again rejected absolutely the participation of Iyad Allawi in the government, though he allowed for consultations with “some members of his list.”

Guerrilla attacks in Iraq killed 19 on Monday, including 7 police recruits on a bus near Baqubah headed for a training camp in Kurdistan who were attacked by a car bomb. (This sounds like an inside job– someone in the Baqubah police had to have tipped off the guerrillas which bus to hit). A lot of police recruits are Shiites, and are a special target of the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Eight corpses turned up in south Baghdad. The Turkish ambassador in Baghdad was also attacked, and some reports say he was slightly wounded. The Sudanese embassy has pulled out its personnel because of the poor security. There are actually about 100 attacks a day in Iraq, but we don’t hear about most of them. I was on Chris Lydon’s radio show, Open Source, Monday evening with Nir Rosen, and he pointed out that the average of 100 or so attacks a day has not changed during the past year. Only about ten percent produce significant casualties. But it is nervous-making to have that kind of violence going on around one, and disrupts normal life.

Iraq only exported 1.1 million barrels a day during December, the worst performance since the fall of the Baath government in April of 2003. Guerrilla sabotage in the north and bad weather in the south, interfering with exports from the port of Umm Qasr, explained the situation. The crisis continues to produce severe gasoline shortages in Baghdad (I can’t believe I am typing these words).

Remember when Ahmad Chalabi came on 60 Minutes for that fluff piece last fall and he made a big deal out of how he had established an effective special guard for the pipelines in the north? No sign of it. It would be a good idea. >Knight Ridder reports that he is likely to remain an important figure in the government despite the possibility that he will not win a seat in parliament.

Bruce Jentleson analyzes an Army Times poll of experienced US military personnel in Iraq. Only 54 percent now say that Bush is doing a good job handling Iraq policy, down 9 points from last year, and a quarter thought he is doing badly (or that many would say so; a lot declined to answer). More than half of the respondents said they had deployed precisely to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some 26 percent think the US should not have gone to war against Iraq, though a majority, 56 percent, think it should have. Only 31 percent think the US “very likely to succeed” in Iraq. Slightly more thought it “somewhat” likely to succeed. A fifth, 20%, thought it doomed to failure. I suspect that the 6 percent who declined to answer also weren’t the gung-ho types. The approval ratings for Bush are 20 percent higher than the general population, and the reason is simple. Only 13% of the respondents are Democrats. Quck, someone alert David Horowitz! He wants party “balance” in higher education, but there clearly isn’t any in the US military (or in the US business world, or among the professional upper middle classes, or in entire suburbs, probably including Horowitz’s own . . .) Remember that US taxpayers pay the salaries of all those Republicans in the military. I say we insist that half of the senior officers are Democrats at all times, and for real balance at least one must be a Socialist. And, I say just to check up on them, we do data-mining of the officers’ cable television just to see how much Fox Cable News they are watching. More that 50%? Fire’m and promote Dems.

Alexander Cockburn’s uncompromisingly honest contemplation of both Iraq and newspaper op-eds is fun reading for its polished prose and worldly-wise cynicism. If his scenario, a worst-case one, does play out, it isn’t going to be pleasant for anyone, Iraqis or Americans.

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