Is this the MPLA?
Is this the UDA?
Is this the IRA?
I thought it was the UK
Or just another country
– The Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK, 1977
Sunni guerrilla attacks in Iraq remain as devastating as ever, while 40-odd days after the elections the country remains adrift, in chaos, without a government, with more than 60% of the workforce “liberated” from any hope of finding any jobs.
The election-winning, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani-blessed United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) seems to be paralyzed on two separate fronts by the Kurds and the Sunnis. It still has not decided which Sunnis it wants to participate in governing the new Iraq. The bulk of the Iraqi resistance is secular, not Islamist; it is powered by Iraqi national fervor and will do anything to expel the occupying power. The military kernel of the resistance is composed of disgruntled former Ba’athists and/or Republican Guard officials. And then there are a few hundred Salafist jihadis from neighboring Arab countries – powered by Arab nationalism. The interests of these three strands overlap – not least the fact that Sunnis overall view with extreme suspicion what could be the dawn of Shi’ite Iraq.
The Shi’ite reaching-out operation is in shambles. The UIA at least has made it clear it won’t negotiate anything with the Salafists – but they are an absolute (although deadly) minority anyway. A simplistic caricature of the guerrillas portrays them as nihilists with no viable political agenda. That’s not the case. Sources in Baghdad confirm that influential echelons of the resistance are actively engaged in the political unification of an array of disparate groups and in concentrating their message to solidify their support from the bulk of the Sunni population. These are not the car-bombing, civilian-slaughtering gangs talking: this is more like the Iraqi version of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) polishing up a Mesopotamian Sinn Fein.
Even though the Sunni guerrillas are substantially united against a new Iraqi government monopolized by exiles who lived in luxury in Iran or the West during the Saddam Hussein era – which is the exact profile of the UIA leaders, this Sinn Fein strand of the resistance would be willing to negotiate with the new Shi’ite government. As a common objective is crystal clear – the complete withdrawal of the Americans, with a clear timetable – there should be no beef, at least in theory, with the Shi’ite leadership. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told Le Monde this week that no one in Iraq wanted permanent US military bases in the country: “It will be up to the elected Iraqi government, when the time comes, to give those forces a specific departure date. As soon as possible.”
Prime minister-in-waiting Ibrahim Jaafari, for the moment, remains a prisoner of his own rhetoric. In his view, the guerrillas are composed of a “minority of Sunnis” (this may be true as far as the military-trained core is concerned; but they may number as many as 40,000). Around them, he sees a larger group of “mostly young people” who support the resistance but “are good people” (they may be hundreds of thousands). Jaafari all but admits the new government won’t convince the hard, militarized resistance core, but it can seduce the “good people” around it by offering “good representation” of Sunnis. It won’t be enough – as it did not work even with Sunni tribal chief Ghazi al-Yawer installed as interim president.
The only way out for the UIA is to reach out and offer the Sunnis something really substantial. But it can’t – for the moment – because it’s paralyzed by the Kurds.
Several key Sunni tribal leaders have been involved in meetings leading them to be engaged in the political process. Many are connected to the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), which still has not been approached by the UIA, although the AMS is more the willing to talk. On the other had, the AMS remains in close contact with the Sadrist movement of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. They are united on the basics: Americans out, with a fixed timetable. Muqtada is exceptionally well positioned: he is just waiting to publicly call the bluff of the Najaf religious Valhalla – which has propelled the UIA and Jaafari to the limelight – if there is no pressure from the new government for a US withdrawal.
Sources in Baghdad insist on rising, very dangerous popular frustration with the political stalemate. A crucial development is that most Shi’ites – and not a few Sunnis – are blaming the Kurds for it. The Kurds want Kirkuk – their Jerusalem – at all costs. They are bent on stalling the formation of a new Iraqi government until kingdom come – and the Shi’ites deliver them the promised land. It cannot happen. If the Shi’ites agree to give Kirkuk to the Kurds, that’s the end of any possibility of entente cordiale with Sunni Arabs. It would be a certified road to civil war.
The UIA simply cannot promise anything involving Kirkuk without Sunni approval. The only feasible solution to the current impasse would be a real reaching out move by the UIA, encouraging something like a grand reunion of Kirkuk Arab powerbrokers, plus the AMS, reaching a consensus, and then offering the Kurds the outline of a deal involving Kirkuk. The Shi’ites need the Sunnis more than ever to solve the first immediate crisis of Shi’ite Iraq. A breakthrough will ensure that the Sunni resistance will continue to develop its Sinn Fein alongside the IRA.