Theater of Cruelty

New round of bitter contention

Sunnis are preparing for the Iraqi elections. They want to change the constitution that the Shia and Kurds agree on.


Next Thursday, it is time again for elections in Iraq. This is the third time the Iraqis have gone to the polls in less than a year, but also the last – according to plan. The parliament elected on December 15 will sit for four years, and have the full mandate and power to put behind it. During that period, perhaps as early as next year, Americans will begin to retreat.

The elaborate process towards "democracy" and Iraqi self-government began already last year, when the country got its first interim government under the leadership of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. In January this year, the Iraqis elected a Constituent Assembly and an Interim Government, under Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. In October, it was time for a vote on the constitution the parties had hammered out. It received overwhelming support from the people, and thus laid the foundation for the election that is being held now.

All in all, the construction of political institutions in Iraq has gone so beautifully on time that even the Americans could not have wished for it. Unfortunately for the United States, there is little indication that Iraq will be any more peaceful place for that reason.

Another plan

President George W. Bush has a plan. He has, rather, one ny plan. It bears the title National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. The plan is divided into three phases:

In the first phase, reference will be made to "progress" in the fight against the Iraqi uprising. The work of training national security forces and establishing political institutions will continue.

In the second phase, Iraqi forces will take over the war against the Sunni-based guerrilla groups. Responsibility for the operation of both the war and the country will lie with a fully constitutional government, which will also provide economic development in Iraq.

In the third phase, the uprising will be crushed and Iraq will develop into a "peaceful, united, stable, secure and democratic state, fully integrated into the international community."

As it is called.

In other words, the process towards such a state follows three parallel tracks, with the words economy, security and democratic institutions. If one leg of this triangle fails, the entire structure will collapse. It is in this context it is interesting to look at the choice that is currently underway. Without sustainable political institutions, Iraq will collapse at least. So what is the chance that the elites will at least cooperate in the nation-building that is a continuous process right now?

Some development features are positive. It is said that the Sunnis will this time participate in the upcoming election. Two out of three major Sunni parties – the Iraqi Islamist Party and the Iraqi National Front – have asked their supporters to vote. This is done in recognition of the fact that the boycott of the elections in January left the ground open for the Kurdish / Shia-Arab dominance that has characterized the political choices and the content of the constitution until now.

This means that the Sunnis have put the boycott line dead, even though the hardliners in the organization for Muslim scholars still say no. If the support in the October referendum is something to go by – where Sunnis went from house to house to express their opinion on the constitution – the political process will henceforth involve all three ethnic groups.

But will this participation be a political capital that can be turned into power and influence over the shaping of future Iraq? Probably not. And this is where the Americans again fail with their analyzes. For them, the participation of the Sunnis is a goal in itself. For the Sunnis, the election will be a means to achieve other goals. These goals will sit politically deep in the meeting with the majority alliance in the current government. The Kurds and Shiites will be particularly skeptical – outright hostile – to the demands that the dethroned Sunni Arabs will make when the election is over, the government is to be formed and the country's constitution is decided.

Voted against

Some facts underlie what the Sunnis can achieve. First of all: even if they take part in the elections, they will only hold one fifth of the seats in parliament. Or maybe a little more, because some of the more secular parties have both Sunnis and Shias on the list. In any case, they will be a small minority in the meeting with the Kurds and Shia, who agree most of the time. The Iraqis vote predominantly along ethnic-religious divisions, which means that the various groups are given a number of seats in parliament that correspond to the size of their people group.

Secondly, the Sunnis voted against the constitution. In the almost pure Sunni province of Anbar, 97 percent of the population voted against. In Salaheddin, which has a large Sunni majority, 82 percent voted against. In a third Sunni-majority province – Nineveh – 55 percent voted no. In only one of four Sunni provinces – Diyala – did the constitution receive the support of a majority of the people.

As a result, the Constitution was almost broken. If two-thirds of the population in at least three provinces had voted it down, the constitution would have been nullified. With a little too little no margin in Nineveh, the Constitution passed with 79 percent of the vote. This corresponds to the 80 percent that the Shia and Kurds make up.

Which means that the Sunnis will now – in theory – participate in a state whose structure and content they are opposed to. And one of the reasons they are participating is the promise from the Shiites and Kurds – according to American pressure – that the constitution will be changed and edited again when this election is over. One can therefore expect pressure from the Sunnis to change the federal structure that the Kurds and Shiites agree on. With full autonomy for the Kurds in the north, and potential autonomy for the Shiites in nine provinces in the south, the Sunnis are terrified – rightly – of being left in a war-torn swamp in the middle that is neither politically nor economically viable.

And who, too, has no oil.

In other words, the part of the constitution that defines the form, structure and revenue of the state is disputed. So what can you expect the Sunnis to ask for?

Oil and federation

No requirements are formulated other than in general terms. But the Sunnis will probably demand a more unified state that distributes oil revenues and power equally across the country.

That is the overriding political requirement. In support of this, they would do well to demand the post of Minister of Petroleum, since the issue of federalism is so closely intertwined with the distribution of revenues from the black gold. They will also want to keep the post of defense minister – in the hope that a Sunni Muslim in this ministry will neutralize parts of the Sunni-based uprising.

Nor would it surprise anyone if the Sunnis stood hard to get the Interior Ministry, since the incumbent Shia minister is accused of leading an organization that both kidnaps, tortures and liquidates Sunnis under the cover of the war.

And why not the Foreign Minister as well, to counter the Shia Muslims orientering east – towards Iran?

All of this will fuel the growing controversy over state form, autonomy and positions. It's a new game. After all, for the Kurds and Shia, with some Sunni Muslims, these things have already been decided. For them, the change of power in Iraq is both historically just and politically legitimate. Eight out of ten Iraqis are with them. And six out of ten Iraqis are Shi'ites.

The Shia therefore hate the idea of ​​new concessions. They want no amnesty for the rebels, no investigation of human rights violations and abuses against the Sunnis, no rehabilitation of former Baathists, and no reconstruction of the old army.

The Shia are running for election under the umbrella of the United Iraqi Alliance, which includes both the SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq), the Dawa Party and eventually the Moktada al-Sadr group. It is they who dominate the government today and who will dominate it after the election. The prime minister is certainly going to be a Shia, though speculation suggests that a more secular-nationalist alliance outside the UIA might run out of this post. In that case, Ibrahim al-Jaafari could be replaced with the more moderate Iyad Allawi from the interim government last year. He wants his old job back, and may find support among Iraqis who are tired of the eternal kiwis along ethnic-religious divides.

In that case, it will be a compromise. For the powerful force of Iraqi politics today, the Muslim parties are in the shadow of the great Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who together form the United Iraqi Alliance.

And the strong power of the UIA, SCIRIS Abdelaziz al-Hakim, will run the store without external interference, which he is increasingly making clear.

Recruits internally

For the Kurds, things are not so dangerous. They can always go home to Kurdistan and form their own state there. But the killer fight over the ethnically divided oil town of Kirkuk is not over yet. The Kurds want it into their autonomous state, and work hard to change the demographic facts on the ground.

Kurdistan is per. today an oasis of peace and stability; relatively speaking. The Shia areas in the south also have a reasonable absence of war. It is in the Sunni areas that the uprising continues and intensifies. The United States has a plan here as well; namely, breaking the national resistance from the foreign jihadist groups. But it can be difficult. Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is increasingly recruiting guerrilla soldiers internally in Iraq, according to experts. The longer it goes, the stronger the guerrilla groups.

Today, the United States, aided by Iraqi security forces, is on a march in Anbar and elsewhere to "exterminate" its opponents before the election. The Iraqi military forces are now in excess of one hundred thousand, approaching the target of 135.000 men. Including the police forces, the number is over 200.000 men.

If one takes for granted that the United States and Iraqi soldiers are fighting a legitimate war against terrorists and jihadists, this force must be able to take over the war – and fight it effectively – when the Americans withdraw. But this strength; not least the police forces, today consist of the individual parties' militia forces on the one hand, and old Ba'athists on the other. If the state is to survive, this army must be loyal to the central government, and not to its respective groups. If the army is split into ethnic-religious clan groups with conflicting loyalties, the great civil war will be a fact.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that some US generals fear that the army is now being built so strongly, and the state so weak, that it will lay the foundations for a military coup as the United States withdraws.

All in all, neither the security, the economic infrastructure nor the political institutions are in place in this war-torn country. The choice will only determine the degree of success in terms of the last point. And even here it can all end in disaster…

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