Controversy over Allegations that Al-Maliki Negotiates with Sunni Guerrillas in Wake of Provincial Elections

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Da`wa Party official Hasan Sunayd said the al-Maliki government has been conducting secret behind-the-scenes negotiations with armed guerrilla groups active in the Sunni Arab provinces, as well as with ex-Baathist officers in exile in Dyria. The government wants to use the recent provincial elections in the Sunni Arab provinces as an argument to the remaining guerrilla groups to lay down their arms and work for their aims through the political system. Da`wa Party activists maintain that they have had some success in getting the militants to lay down their arms. With regard to the ex-officers, al-Maliki is reported to be attempting to convince them to return to active duty in the new Iraqi army or to come back to Iraq and retire, accepting a government pension.

Some of the parties that came to power in the Sunni Arab provinces have links to the guerrilla groups. Since Sunni Arabs had boycotted the 2005 provincial elections, they had largely lacked representative institutions at that level, which helped to fuel the discontents that led to the guerrilla war.

Al-Maliki, as a Shiite leader of the Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa) is known to be hostile to Sunni Arab officers. If he is in fact trying to bring ex-Baathist officers in from the cold, it may be that he prefers to have them inside Iraq instead of in exile in Syria or Jordan where they could be coopted by Iraq’s neighbors and used against Baghdad.

The idea that Al-Maliki is conducting negotiations with the militants will be controversial among Kurds and Shiites in Iraq, who most often consider the guerrillas mere terrorists, and who have suffered mightily at their hands. For that reason, another Da`wa Party official Haydar al-`Ibadi repudiated Sunaid’s remarks in the pan-Arab London daily, The Middle East [al-Sharq al-Awsat]. He denied that there were any guerrilla groups left in Iraq anymore, anyway, save for a handful of what he called “al-Qaeda.” And as for bringing the ex-Baathist officers back into the system, he maintained that any revival of Baathist activity would be unconstitutional.

Al-`Ibadi denied that the provincial elections witnessed a swing toward secular parties, pointing out that the religious parties garnered the most votes [in the Shiite south]. He said that the Da`wa Party coalition with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in the form of the United Iraqi Alliance would continue, at least for this legislative session.

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