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. '