Nationalists Stirring in Iraq


Richard Moore

Nationalists Stirring in Iraq
[posted online on January 16, 2008]

On January 13 an emerging Sunni-Shiite nationalist bloc in Iraq signed a 
groundbreaking agreement aimed at ending Iraq's civil war, blocking the 
privatization of Iraq's oil industry and checkmating the breakaway Kurdish 
state. It's a big step forward, and it could change the face of Iraqi politics 
in 2008.

For the past two years, Iraqi nationalists--opposed to the US occupation, 
opposed to Al Qaeda and opposed to Iran's heavyhanded influence in Iraqi 
affairs--have struggled to assert themselves. The nascent coalition contains the
seeds of true national reconciliation in Iraq, but it has emerged independently 
of the United States. Unrelated to the constant American pressure on the 
government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to meet various reconciliation 
"benchmarks," the new coalition is designed either to sweep Maliki out of office
or force him to join it.

Enormous obstacles stand in the way of the Sunni-Shiite coalition, and Iraq is 
just as likely to descend into a new round of intense civil war as it is to 
stabilize under a new ruling bloc. Still, it could work, but there's a big 
if--if the United States steps back and gets out of the way.

Since the rigged Iraqi elections of 2005, the United States has supported a 
shaky and now utterly discredited four-party coalition in Iraq. Two of those 
parties are the ultra-religious Shiite parties, the Islamic Dawa Party and the 
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), both strongly supported by Iran. The 
other two are the Kurdish warlord parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) 
and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). During that time, Iraq's two prime 
ministers, Ibrahim Jaafari (2005-06) and Maliki (2006-2008)--both from 
Dawa--have staunchly refused to open the door to increased Sunni Arab 
participation in the government. But now that coalition is falling apart, and 
its partners are increasingly at odds with one another.

The potential collapse of the Shiite-Kurdish pact that has ruled Iraq under the 
American occupation has created a freewheeling search for competing alliances 
among the myriad political factions that have emerged since Saddam Hussein's 

Partners in the new, twelve-party alliance include nearly all of the Sunni Arab 
parties, including the Sunni religious parties and the secular National Dialogue
Front; the secular Iraqi National List of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a 
secular Shiite; two big Shiite parties, including Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc and the
Fadhila (Virtue) Party; a faction of the Dawa Party; and assorted smaller 
groups, including independents in Iraq's Parliament. Among its goals, say its 
leaders, are to ensure that Iraq's "oil, natural gas, and other treasures 
[remain the] property of all the Iraqi people," opposing both the proposed new 
oil law that would open the door to privatization of the oil industry and the 
illegal oil deals signed by the Kurdish regional government. Another goal, they 
say, is to block the Kurdish takeover of the oil-rich region around Kirkuk in 
Iraq's north. And, they say, the new coalition will "overcome the narrow circle 
of sectarianism" by uniting Sunnis and Shiites.

What's more, there are reports of talks involving the remaining Sunni resistance
groups--those that have not joined the American-sponsored Awakening movement and
the so-called Concerned Local Citizens groups--in a broad-based national 
reconciliation effort. According to the Arab press, six Sunni resistance 
factions have been meeting in England in preparation for a proposed conference 
in Cairo with representatives of the Iraqi government and political parties. A 
parallel effort is under way at meetings in Beirut. And French President Nicolas
Sarkozy, currently touring the Middle East, has renewed his country's offer to 
bring Iraq's warring political factions together. Sarkozy suggested "hosting in 
France, far from the heat of passions and on neutral ground, inter-Iraqi 
roundtable talks that are as large as possible." It's unclear whether Sarkozy's 
proposed conference would include representatives of the armed resistance, but 
it's possible. (An earlier offer by France to host similar talks got the cold 
shoulder from Maliki and no encouragement from the United States.)

The fact that Sadr's bloc opted to join the opposition bloc is critical. Not 
only does Sadr command thirty-two seats in Iraq's Parliament but on the ground 
in Baghdad and in the south his Mahdi Army militia is a formidable force. The 
Fadhila Party, too, has great power in and around Basra, Iraq's second-largest 
city, which controls the bulk of the oil industry and Iraq's exports.

A wild card in any political realignment in Iraq is the attitude of the powerful
new Sahwa (Awakening) movement, the 100,000-strong paramilitary force whose 
backbone is Iraq's tribal leaders. Currently, the Sahwa movement is strong in 
Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces to the west and north of the 
capital, as well as in Baghdad itself and in the suburban belt south of Baghdad.
Though Sahwa is not a party (and thus has no seats in Parliament), it is a power
to be reckoned with, and it is being courted assiduously both by the new 
nationalist coalition and by Dawa and ISCI. If forced to choose, the Sahwa 
movement would be far more likely to align with nationalists than with Shiite 
sectarian parties, since the tribal leaders regard ISCI, in particular, as an 
agent of Iran.

So far, the United States has continued to prop up Maliki's shaky regime, 
despite its growing unpopularity. US officials fear that if Maliki were to fall,
the results would be unpredictable--especially in an election year. Besides, the
nationalists would be far less likely than Maliki to sign the proposed long-term
extension of the American presence in Iraq that Maliki and President Bush intend
to ink by July.

A hint of how entrenched the American presence in Iraq might be came this week, 
when Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim, came to the United 
States for an extended visit, during which he met with long-range planning staff
at the Pentagon. During his visit, Jasim declared that a significant number of 
troops would have to remain in Iraq for another ten years, until 2018.

The passage, on Saturday, of the so-called Accountability and Justice Act by 
Parliament was widely hailed by US officials, including President Bush, as a 
sign that at least one of the benchmarks laid out at the start of the surge a 
year ago had been met. That act was supposed to have eased the draconian 
anti-Baath party rules that excluded hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from 
government service and jobs.

The act was passed by a half-empty Parliament, with only 140 of the 275 elected 
members of the body in attendance. It was widely condemned by the very people it
was designed to help, including several Sunni and secular parties and former 
Baathists, and it appears that the new law could trigger a purge of Iraq's 
defense ministry, interior ministry, army and police, forcing many thousands of 
former Baathists out of the security services--in other words, precisely the 
opposite of its ostensible purpose. Indeed, because Sadr's bloc is so bitterly 
anti-Baathist, it is possible that Maliki chose this moment to force passage of 
the law in an attempt to use the divisive issue as a wedge to split Sadr away 
from potential partners in the new alliance.

In the end, Iraq is still a shattered nation. Its economy is a shambles. The 
sectarian civil war has eased, but violence is everywhere. In the past week, two
major US military actions--a sweeping offensive just north of Baghdad and one of
the heaviest aerial bombardments of an area south of the capital--killed scores.
The situation around Kirkuk is explosive. And intra-Shiite violence in Basra and
other cities in the south simmers just below civil war levels. Even without US 
interference, it might still take a miracle for a stable Iraqi coalition to take

newslog archives:

Escaping the Matrix:

The Phoenix Project:

rkm blog: "How We the People can change the world":

The Post-Bush Regime: A Prognosis

Community Democracy Framework:

Moderator: •••@••.•••  (comments welcome)