Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Iraqi Axis Saves Malki, Sidelines Sunnis

By Cernig

Various outlets are reporting a new political alliance in Iraq which will strengthen Shiite and Kurdish co-operation but doesn't include any Sunnis. Reuters reports:
Iraqi Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders formed an alliance on Thursday to support Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, but failed to bring in Sunni leaders who are crucial to national reconciliation.

Maliki is facing a political crisis after the main Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, pulled its six ministers out of his Shi'ite-led national unity government saying he had ignored their demands.

The new alliance includes the two main Kurdish parties in the government, the powerful Shi'ite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and Maliki's Shi'ite Dawa party.

But it failed to include the Islamic Party, the biggest single Sunni Arab party in parliament.

U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the alliance would not be able to solve the country's problems on its own.

"The major problems confronting the country, the reasons that brought the leadership together are the kinds of thing that are going to have to be solved by Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurds," Crocker told Reuters. "This is a Kurdish-Shi'ite grouping.

"It certainly seems to me that by itself it is not going to be able to get at some of these core difficulties."
At least Crocker isn't trying to fool us all on that score, which is an improvement on all the clap-harder wishful thinking we've seen from the Bush administration over the last few years and which was instrumental in creating the current political mess in the first place.

However, Maliki does seem willing to fool himself. Gulfnews, which had previously reported that the new axis had been ordered by the US in any case, reports:
President Jalal Talabani and Al Maliki were flanked by the leader of the northern autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, and Shiite Vice President Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi at a news conference.

The four men signed a three-page agreement that they said ensures them a majority in the 275-member parliament that would allow movement of critical US-demanded legislation.

..."We have relegated efforts to topple the government to the past. We are now in a new stage," said Al Maliki's adviser, Yassin Majeed. "We will keep working to bring the Accordance Front back, but if they insist we will have a majority in parliament and bring in new ministers."
There's little doubt in my mind that Maliki's deal with Talibani, a Kurd, and Barzani will involve further cleansing of Sunni Arabs from around the key city of Kirkuk - which will in turn widen the rift between Maliki and al-Sadr as well as making Turkey very nervous.

Most news outlets are being cicumspectly optimistic about the new alliance's chances of moving forward legislation the US wants more than iraqis do, such as the oil bill. Most also focus on Maliki's claims that it will continue working to draw in Sunni participants. However, the BBC reveals Maliki's words to be no more than window dressing.
The main Sunni Arab party - the Islamic Party of Iraq - declined to join....[The] leader of the party, Sunni Vice-President Tariq Hashemi, told the BBC that the current political situation was "not conducive to creating new political blocs".

"There are many differences over how to manage the security situation and deal with those in power committing flagrant human rights violations. They can't be deemed moderates," he said. "The government's performance vis-a-vis human rights must be improved."

...Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish politician, says the new alliance would try to fill the vacant posts. He said the idea of holding a summit was still alive, but said that drawing in the Sunnis - who have denounced a government they say is indifferent to their demands - would be difficult.
Barzani is so vehemently Kurdish nationalist that he won't even allow the Iraqi flag to be waved in support of the national soccer team. Talibani is likewise a Kurdish nationalist and his son is the main PR frontman for the Kurdish cause in Washington. Maliki, meanwhile, has shown he has no intention of acceeding to Sunni demands for constitutional reform, the neutering of Shiite militia power and penetration of government ministries or even trying to root out corruption within these ministries. The Sunnis have nothing to gain from co-operation with an uncooperative axis which sees little virtue in including them on a real basis, rather than as figureheads for overseas consumption.

My prediction is that this new alliance may well be able to control enough votes to force through US-mandated legislation, but that such votes will not actually impact on the underlying political fracture lines, which will go from bad to worse.

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