From Rabia, in northern Ninewa province, the New York Times’ Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell write of the re-ascendancy of Sunni Arabs in Ninewa. In earlier years, the group largely shunned politics, giving the American-allied Kurds power “by default, giving them a political and military ascendance out of all proportion to their numbers”. In Iraq’s provincial election of January, Sunnis embraced politics, and their al-Hadba party took a clear majority of votes in Ninewa.
It is an informative and needed article – as much as many who even are up on Iraqi politics know about Ninewa is that al-Hadba won, and that there is some hubbub about the new provincial council. Kurds, who control 12 seats out of the 37 seats, threatened to boycott the council and even refuse to accept government services in areas where they dominate, because al-Hadba, who has 19 seats, has installed only al-Hadba members in all major high-ranking positions.
The dispute has implications far beyond the northern fault line (lands disputed by Arabs and Kurds). Three hundred miles south in Baghdad, the central government led by Iraq’s majority Shiite Arabs must decide which presents the biggest threat: the political ambitions of Mr. Hussein’s once ruling Sunni Arab minority, or the territorial ambitions of the Kurdish minority who claim that some northern areas administered by Baghdad should rightfully be added to their three provinces, two of which border Nineveh.“The old order has returned,” is the message being sent by an influential Sunni Sheikh in Rabia who flies the three-starred flag of the old Iraq government from towers and guard posts. US leaders say it is a welcome development that Iraq’s northern Sunnis are confronting other groups the political arena now, but as far as sectarian harmony is being demonstrated in Ninewa’s provincial council, Robertson and Farrell write, “So far it does not look good.”
...Others, and not only Kurds, are wary of Nineveh’s new rulers. More than one Sunni Arab sheik accused Al Hadba of being in league with violent extremists... In his office in Mosul, Al Hadba’s leader, Atheel al-Nujaifi — just before he was installed as Nineveh’s governor — spoke of a willingness to make overtures to insurgents... The lack of violence on election day, he explained, was not only a result of a security lockdown. His party contacted “influential people,” he said, to ensure that votes would be cast peacefully.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Scott Carpenter at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. and Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute write that there’s more to the story of January’s election than the universal harmony that many often spoke of – that in three provinces that comprise Iraqi Kurdistan, the regional parliament postponed the vote until May 19. It is far from clear how they will proceed, they argue, not least of all because he questions the Kurdish leadership’s commitment to democracy. These are more hard truths about Iraq’s northern politics that need to be looked at.
Before Saddam Hussein was ousted, Iraqi Kurdistan was certainly more democratic than the rest of Iraq. But this is no longer the case. Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, refuse to compete in open elections, choosing instead to divide power equally. While more benign than Hussein's Baath Party, Kurdish authorities have adopted the Baathist model, requiring party membership to guarantee university slots, qualify for the best jobs or win lucrative contracts. Independent candidates report intimidation and threats. ...In contrast to the rest of Iraq, Kurdish parties have already cemented alliances and power-sharing agreements. Voters in Iraqi Kurdistan will not have the benefit of real competition or open lists. Nor will they be able to choose among individuals.The Kurdish-administered regions of Iraq are of utmost importance as an example for the rest of the country and once was a model to it, say Carpenter and Rubin. They call on the Obama administration to “do everything it can to ensure that it is not left behind.”
The Christian Science Monitor has an op-ed called ”The Dictator in Iraq’s Hearts Must be Toppled” by Janessa Gans, president of the Euphrates Institute, a charitable organization “dedicated to improving relations between the Middle East and West” tells of returning to Iraq to make a documentary, after not being there for three years. The contrast between the Baghdad of today and that of hyper-violent 2006 is “nothing short of miraculous.”
The corruption now present, namely her own experience with it, has her less enamored. She writes, “Not only did our fixer have to pay 'tips' to secure even the most basic appointments, but also to secure a police escort on some of our excursions." Yes, gathering information in Iraq is often maddening, but there are many other examples of rampant corruption to choose from which are easily observable and which affect actual Iraqis, not just the amount a foreigner has to pay their fixer to get something - especially when they apparently expect government forces to provide free security for their "excursions". (She also might want to consider a change in fixers)
On points such as reconciliation, she speaks not only of problems, but of some general solutions. Iraqi organizations that promote understanding, tolerance, and peace. the focus of her documentary, are the key, in her view.
Iraqis need outlets and opportunities to come to terms with the traumas and injustices of the past, and to support the groups that help reintegrate the large number of victims back into society. We met many such individuals and organizations who are laying the groundwork for this long-term societal and cultural change. These unsung heroes of Iraq are working against wide-ranging and powerful forces, from a government that distrusts and seeks to control their efforts, to armed groups who directly attack them, to a lack of outside funding and support. Although this type of grass-roots reform is at odds with the quick fixes on which American policy generally focuses, it does present the only road to permanent, lasting change.New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow writes of a recent report by Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis which suggested that current political and economic conditions are energizing right-wing extremist groups, that many of these groups follow extremely conservative ideologies and that some may seek to recruit and “radicalize” veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservatives, he says, reacted to this reports “by throwing a knee-jerk hissy-fit,” and says that they “twisted the report’s meaning to imply that they, and more importantly our war heroes, were being vilified by a partisan document.”
Not so, says Blow. He points to the high levels of PTSD and depression among many veterans (quoting a RAND study) and writes that “these soldiers could prove fertile ground for men hoping to prey on their fear, loneliness and dispossession,” groups that will actively seek them out.
The only debate we should be having is about the best way to protect our newest veterans from falling prey to this handful of military apostates. If they only recruit a few, that is still too many. Terrorists have shown the world time and again that a few well-trained men is all it takes.Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.
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