Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rage still rampant among Sunni Arabs in Iraq, says Sunni Arab leader

NYT: 'Sheik Abdul-Rahman Munshid al-Assi has been making up for the time he lost in an American prison, aggressively diving into Iraqi politics after being held nearly a year on charges of aiding the insurgency.

After his release last year, he formed the Arab Political Council to represent Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk. He recruited Sunni candidates to run in the coming national elections. He is forging a political bloc with Arab nationalists, other tribal leaders and former members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party as a counterweight to Kurds in the province.

At first glance, the fact that a vehement opponent of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and Kurdish leaders next door is embracing democratic politics may seem to be a purely positive sign. After all, much of the American security effort of the past few years has been to channel Sunnis into just such a course.

But for Sheik Abdul-Rahman the political action is far from a concession. Rather, it is an attempt to tap into the simmering
rage he says is still rampant among Sunni Arabs in Iraq. And he and many of his peers are far from becoming fully reformed democrats: he has yet to renounce the insurgency, though he denies directly supporting it, and warns that more violence could come.

“Sunni Arabs are still not reconciled to the fact that they lost power in Iraq,” said the trim 57-year-old sheik in an interview at his home in Kirkuk. “This will never leave their mind, even if they are engaged in the political process.”

The Sunni Arabs’ sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement was one of the factors in the political impasse that stalled Iraq’s new elections for months before intense pressure from the United States, 
United Nations and Turkey recently forced Iraqi leaders into an 11th-hour deal. The distrust remains one of the biggest obstacles to political progress and security; one senior American diplomat who recently departed Iraq said that it was what kept “the embers of the insurgency” burning. And the hostility fuels longer-term fears, too, that Iraq could fall back into sectarian war after American troops leave.

The grievances between Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who have aggressively pursued territorial claims, have grown particularly tense.

Barham Salih, the current prime minister of Iraq’s 
Kurdistan region, said the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq still needed to come to terms with the idea that it could not rule Iraq alone, as it did under Mr. Hussein, and must instead share power with Shiites, Kurds and other groups. He said Kurds would never again accept “second citizen” status in Iraq.

“If Iraq cannot come to terms with these realities, then Iraq is condemned to this perpetual cycle of violence, no doubt,” said Mr. Salih, who previously held the post of deputy prime minister in the central government, in an interview in the Kurdish region’s capital, Erbil.


Aton said...

"Iraq accuses Iran of seizing oil well near border"

Iraqi Mojo said...

'More than six years into this war, many Sunni Arabs here have yet to reconcile themselves to the loss of power and privileges they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein.

Around the country, Sunni parties have engaged deeply in the nation’s political life, and Sunni tribe members in this region formed the first Awakening groups responsible in good measure for the calm in most of Iraq now. But many Sunnis around the country and in places like Abu Ghraib, on the western edge of Baghdad, say they do not feel that they are true stakeholders in a political process that they still perceive to be dominated by Shiites and Kurds. To them, the insurgency remains legitimate, in order to regain their rightful place in the new Iraq.

Earlier this month visits to tribal leaders took me to villages on the outskirts of Ramadi and to Abu Ghraib itself, home to the infamous prison bearing the same name.

During a tribal gathering in the village of Hamdhiya outside Ramadi one man questioned aloud the logic of having a Kurd, Jalal Talabani, as Iraq’s president.

“How could we ever be accepted by other Arab states?” he asked.

Tensions between the central government and the Sunni Arab tribes were highest in Abu Ghraib itself. Indeed one district is nicknamed “Kandahar” because it was until recently a base for Al Qaeda, including foreign fighters.

It was in Abu Ghraib last month that 13 members of one tribe were rounded up and executed by men dressed in Iraqi Army uniforms.

The victims belonged to the al-Saadan tribe, which is part of the Zuba’a tribal confederation. Almost everyone in the Zuba’a is now convinced that the killings were the work of the Iraqi Army unit stationed in Abu Ghraib. They accuse the brigade, which has had a very tense and problematic relationship with residents since 2007, of being Shiite-dominated and of operating according to a sectarian agenda.'