Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 72° Partly Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Some fear Iraq headed for civil war

Tom Lasseter Knight Ridder

BAGHDAD, Iraq – While American officials point to the bargaining among Shiite Muslim and Kurdish politicians over an interim Iraqi government as evidence that democracy is taking hold in Iraq, some Iraqi analysts and politicians are increasingly worried about the group that’s missing from the equation: Sunni Muslims.

Almost two months after national elections, Iraq’s Sunni minority remains fragmented and largely alienated from the horse-trading. If that continues, the group that’s long dominated Iraq could find itself shut out of December’s prime ministerial election as it was on Jan. 30, when Sunnis won only a few seats in Iraq’s new parliament.

Lawmakers had planned to meet this weekend to form a coalition government that’s expected to be dominated by Shiites and Kurds, but the session was postponed at least until Tuesday.

On Sunday, Shiite and Kurdish leaders said that many of the key decisions about the new government had been made. Both groups stand to receive most of the key positions – prime minister, president and the major cabinet posts – leaving the Sunnis further estranged.

Asked about Kurdish demands for 25 percent of the nation’s oil revenues, Faraj al Haidari, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Party, said that the Kurds are entitled to a considerable stake of the country’s wealth because of their suffering under former dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

“We have to take in consideration that Kurdistan has suffered a lot in the past and it has to get what it deserves now,” he said.

Saad Jawad, a senior Shiite political official, said that Kurdish demands for control of the oil-rich Kirkuk area, a crucial issue for Sunni Arabs, have been scaled back to a referendum to be held there at a later date. Most Iraqis expect the Kurds to bus in as many of their own people as possible to win the vote and make Kirkuk part of an autonomous Kurdistan.

The Kurds have agreed, on paper at least, to absorb their Peshmerga militia into the nation’s security forces, but the militia members will remain in Kurdistan.

Politicians and analysts in Iraq agree that the insurgency could broaden and intensify, and perhaps even threaten civil war, if mainstream Sunnis continue to feel disenfranchised.

“A defiant Sunni population would be dangerous,” said Mazen al Ramadhani, a political science analyst and professor at Baghdad University.

While Sunnis make up some 20 percent of Iraq’s population, they comprise most of its bureaucratic, technological and military elite, largely because of favoritism by Saddam.

“Our presence and representation in the next government is an important and necessary thing to stabilize this country,” said Hassan al Hashimy, an official with the Iraqi Islamic Party, a main Sunni group.

Jawad Talib, a senior adviser to the presumptive Shiite prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, agreed.

“If they don’t participate, it will destabilize the country,” he said. “I hope that the Sunni clerics won’t submit to the terrorists.”

In many predominantly Sunni areas, however, Sunni religious organizations called for a boycott of the Jan. 30 elections, and poor security made voting difficult. In Anbar province, voter turnout was in the single digits.

There have been several attempts to gather the Sunni factions at the table and draft a common platform, but the effort has been plagued by disagreements between Sunnis willing to join the political process and those who dismiss it as a sham.

Now there are signs that some Sunni groups may be digging in their heels.

Leaders of the Muslim Scholars Association, an influential group of hard-line clerics that called for a boycott in January, continue to denounce the bargaining over a new government as an American fabrication.

A conference last week intended to bring major Sunni parties together was poorly attended, and the scholar’s association representative used it to rail against the U.S. presence in Iraq and anything connected to it.

“We held the conference for the Sunni people after we started to feel that the sectarian divide is widening and after we realized that we’re about to be marginalized,” he said before putting in a good word for the Sunni-led insurgency.

Some Sunni leaders have floated the idea of creating a federation of three Sunni provinces, which, under a clause in the nation’s transitional law, could veto any constitution passed by the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated assembly. But even that’s been stymied by infighting among Sunni politicians and tribal sheikhs, some of whom consider any political engagement, even a veto, a tacit acknowledgement of the government’s legitimacy.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.