Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Iraqi leaders sidestep all-out civil war | csmonitor.com

BAGHDAD – After a weekend of sleepless nights, emergency meetings, and an unprecedented three-day curfew, Iraq has managed to stave off its worst fear after last week's destruction of a major Shiite shrine: That the country's small-scale civil conflict was about to bloom into a bloody and wide-ranging war between its sects.

But disturbing signs are emerging that Iraq's sectarian powder-keg is still highly volatile.

I understand the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front says that it has a list of 24 demands which it insists must be met before they will rejoin talks to form the government which is supposed to be formed by March 15 or else the parliament is dissolved and new elections will have to be done in order to form a new assembly.

A list of 24 demands is pretty much a death knell for the formation of a government. Any time anyone puts out that many demands they are expecting that not all of them will be met. Often it's a form of negotiation: start with the highest demands and work down to acceptable demands, but, in the face of the current situation, it seems more like "mission impossible" in order to insist that the others, the Shia parties, are to blame for any disaster because they would not negotiate.

We'll see which one it is within the next week.

Iraq's dominant Shiite parties, led by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Dawa, as well as clerics like Ayatollah Sistani have long nurtured a vision of a unified Iraq dominated by its Shiite majority, replacing the Sunni-minority governments that have dominated Iraq throughout its history. Sunni Arabs, adrift in a country in which sectarian death squads have operated against them out of the Shiite-controlled interior ministry and hoping to regain their past position, are unlikely to stand down.

"All these things are necessary and none of them are likely,'' says Pat Lang, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Middle East bureau and a retired colonel with a counter insurgency background. Shiites and Sunnis "are contestants for the loot.... it's not about being Iraqis in an idealized Iraq but the real one. These are groups that are contesting power and they'll continue to do so."

I think that sums up the situation precisely. The Shia have been extremely patient with the Sunni insurgent situation. They have been attacked the most with bombs and bullets. For the most part, they turned the other cheek. I believe that the Sunni insurgents and political parties may have taken too long to decide to play politics instead of bullets. There is a delicate balance between guerrilla warfare and guerrilla politics. Too much of one or the other can weaken a groups position and that is what we've seen here.

Even if these groups had little to do with the shrine bombing, the fact that they harbored and assisted AQAM (Al Qaida Affiliated Movements) in Iraq, makes them partly responsible for the disaster.

Which may be why certain people are being given up. This morning on Fox, reports indicated that Abu al-Farouq, an AQAM financier related to Zarqawi's group AQI (Al Qaida in Iraq), and at least four other members of the group were captured about 100 miles west of Baghdad. We may see more of this in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Al Sadr tries to consolidate his position of power from the center, believe it or not, as he prays with Sunni members of the Muslim Clerics Association. This is interesting since it it widely known that the MCA has ties to the Sunni insurgency and has been known to be the middle men in negotiating release of kidnap victims. Al Sadr is associated with the Shia militias who have also been implicated in sectarian murders of Sunnis.

It would behoove us to keep a watch on that situation as well as keep pushing for AQAM info in the midst of a very poorly decided attack on a religious symbol that may as yet prove to be the final reversal for AQI.

Iraqi leaders sidestep all-out civil war | csmonitor.com

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