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Iraq: The Deadly Cost Of Excluding The Sunnis


In Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone, committees drawn from Iraq's major political parties and ethnic groups are trying to hammer out a constitution before the Aug. 15 deadline. But outside the U.S.-controlled area, violence and insecurity rule. Some 220 people were killed in suicide bombings and other violent incidents in Iraq from July 11 to July 17 alone. And those statistics don't capture the countless robberies and kidnappings that may be having an even more destructive effect on Iraqi society. "I worry about the long-term damage to Iraq," says Phebe Marr, an Iraq specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. "Some of the professional and middle classes are leaving."

How to reverse the deteriorating situation is becoming a contentious matter between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government, in office since May. Many top Iraqi leaders believe the only solution is force, while the White House is coming around to the need for a hybrid political/military approach. One sign of this view came from a comment in Jordan on July 11 by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. "If one looks at the history of insurgencies in different countries," he said, "one learns the lesson that military means alone are not capable of defeating the insurgency."

Zoellick and other officials have been cajoling the Iraqi leadership, which is dominated by Shiites, to bring a significant number of Sunni Muslims back into the fold. But Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his colleagues are resisting. Many of these politicians had relatives murdered in the long struggle with Saddam Hussein. They have included Sunnis in the effort to draft the constitution and are willing to let a few into the government, but are wary of giving power to anyone linked to the former regime. Sunnis suspended their participation in the writing of the constitution following the assassination of two of their colleagues on July 19.

"Jihadi Tourists"

Until recently it has been almost pointless to try to negotiate with the insurgents, who are fragmented into dozens of groups. But that may be changing. One group that is emerging and gaining influence is the Iraqi National Foundation Congress, an anti-occupation organization that includes secular, Shiite, and Sunni groups. The Congress, which has lines into the insurgency, plans to hold a conference in Beirut soon with the aim of establishing a broad front against the American occupation. Such activity may sound ominous, but analysts say the formation of a political wing that can speak for the insurgency is vital for any peace process.

Such talks, says Toby Dodge, an Iraq watcher at Queen Mary College in London, should aim to drive a wedge between those who are genuinely fighting as Iraqi nationalists and what he calls "jihadi tourists" -- foreign fighters who have come to Iraq for the opportunity to kill Americans. But he isn't confident the Iraqi government is up to executing this strategy. "This government isn't working," he says. "You need to negotiate power-sharing with those who have been excluded. Until then there will be no solution to anarchy."

How hard will the U.S. push the Shiite-dominated government to make a deal with its rivals? Analysts think it will respect the fact that Jaafari & Co. were duly elected and let them run their own affairs -- another reason why turning Iraq around will be a long, bloody process.

By Stanley Reed in London


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