Iraq: new threats of sectarian war

Submitted by martin on 22 April, 2009 - 10:26

A new spate of suicide bombings in Iraq could signal a new descent into sectarian civil war. The suicide bombings followed clashes between Iraqi government troops — aided by US forces — and groups from the Awakening Councils (Sahwa), a Sunni-Arab movement.

By assiduous negotiation, the US split the Sahwa groups away from Al Qaeda in late 2006, and brought them onto the US payroll. Evidently the Sahwa leaders decided that there was no hope of restoring full Sunni hegemony in Iraq, and their best hope was to lean on the USA to lean on the Shia-Kurdish coalition government for concessions.

In October 2008 the Sahwa people, about 100,000 of them, were transferred from the US payroll to the Iraqi government's. Baghdad promised to integrate some Sahwa people into the Iraqi army, and find public sector jobs for the rest. But it has moved slowly on that promise; and arrested some Sahwa chiefs on charges of sectarian terrorism.

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Nearly four months after Iraq’s provincial elections at the end of January, negotiations are grinding along for new administrations in the provinces.

Although Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Da’wa party did surprisingly well in the polls, on a national-unity and law-and-order ticket donwplaying religious issues and opposing schemes (long mooted by some Shia groups) for federalising Arab Iraq, there were few clear majorities and lots of small parties winning seats.

According to an analysis by researcher Reidar Visser, several provinces have seen cross-sectarian coalitions of pro-national-unity parties (Maliki, Sadrists, Fadila, some Sunni soft-Islamists, and some secular groups) against federalists (ISCI, Kurds, other Sunni soft-Islamists). But in some the fault-lines have been sectarian.

Visser reckons that the Iranian regime, generally supportive of Maliki, favours federalist options that would give large autonomy to a heavily-Shia regional government in southern Iraq.


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