Saturday, December 16, 2006

Reconciliation: Mission Impossible?

Maliki Presses Reconciliation

'BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's army has "opened its doors" to all former members of Saddam Hussein's army, the prime minister said Saturday at a national reconciliation conference boycotted by one of his main Shiite allies, a major Sunni group and Iraq's exiled opposition.

Despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's effort to reach out to Iraq's Sunni Arabs and some former members of Saddam's outlawed Baath Party, the gathering was overshadowed by rising sectarian tensions and political divisions.

The radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of al-Maliki's key political backers _ refused to attend the meeting, as did a major Sunni group and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite.'

This effort towards reconciliation is good of Maliki, and it shows how hard he his trying to pull Sunni Arabs into the Iraqi government and military, especially since the conference was boycotted by some of his key allies. The boycott of the conference by Sadr's bloc, a major Sunni group and Iraq's exiled opposition highlights the difficulties in uniting Iraq. I do not believe that this conference will have any significant effect in reducing violence, unfortunately, because the leaders of the insurgency are not only interested in allowing former member of Saddam's army to be reinstated - the Sunni Arab insurgency will not stop fighting until they are in full control of Iraq. One of the primary aims of the insurgency is to free Saddam and reinstate him as President of Iraq.

From the same article:

'The government had previously invited former officers up to the rank of major to join the new army. The outreach and pension offer were apparent concessions to a long-standing demand by Sunni Arab politicians who argue that the neglect of former army soldiers was pushing them into the arms of the insurgency.'

I doubt that Maliki's government would allow such Saddamists as Izzat al Douri to join Iraq's military, and that will be problematic for Maliki's reconciliation efforts. Those who join Iraq's army would be branded as traitors and will become targets of the insurgency, as has been the case since 2003. The Iraqi military must hunt down the leaders of the insurgency - whether they hide in Anbar, Amman, or Damascus - and arrest them or kill them.

Disarming the Shia militias that attack Sunni Arab civilians and arresting or killing the leaders of those militias is also a key ingredient of reconciliation. This might be even more difficult than fighting the Sunni Arab insurgency, because the Mehdi army has infiltrated the ranks of the Iraqi police and army.

Maliki's government has some seemingly impossible tasks ahead of them, but they are on the right track.

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