As reported yesterday, the Sunnis are frightened over the prospects of being frozen out of the new Iraqi government, and now wish to participate in drafting the new Iraqi Constitution, which is one of the main tasks of the newly elected Iraqi Assembly. Control of the Assembly and the appointment of the Presidency Council requires a supermajority of two-thirds of the Assembly, and the passage of the Constitution requires the approval of the Iraqi people. The Shiite factions (which should not be looked at as a homogenous voting block) took about 50% of the vote, and the Kurdish factions about 25% of the vote, with the rest distributed amongst various independent groups. If a united block of Sunnis, which makes up about 20% of the population, was represented in the January election, they would have wielded some influence in the Assembly and could have steered the Constitution to favor their interests.
Boycotting the election and the support or indifference of insurgents and terrorists has marginalized the Sunnis; however they still do have the power to influence the future of Iraq. The card they hold is their ability to cripple the insurgency and turn in known terrorists operating in their regions. As Iraq is a tribal society, the tribal leaders exercise great power in their local areas, and the insurgency would not last long without their support. The meeting of 70 Sunni tribal leaders demonstrates they are weighing their options. No doubt some are now viewing the insurgency as a liability.
The newly elected Assembly should not consider setting aside seats for the Sunnis, as this would undermine the legitimacy of the elections, punish Iraqis who braved election-day violence to vote, and reward the cowardice and non-participation of segments of the population. However, the Iraqi Assembly does have options to include the Sunnis in the process. A Sunni can be appointed as a Vice President, Sunnis can be included in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, and the political parties of the Assembly can enter into active consultations with Sunni representatives to gauge the issues most important to the Sunni minority. As an election for the permanent Iraqi Parliment will be held in December, the Sunnis should receive the needed assistance to participate, including a promise of security.
The Iraqi government must be willing to negotiate with the tribal leaders to bring them into the political process, but results should be required prior to making any concessions. Foreign terrorists should be killed, handed over or driven out and the worst of the violent offenders should be turned over to the Iraqi government. The most wanted Baathists must be surrendered as well.
The potential for all Sunni tribal leaders to cooperate with the government is small, however even a few defections could have an enormous impact on the insurgency. Defections would sow the seeds of distrust. Insurgents and terrorists would distrust the tribal leaders (as well as each other) and worry about their phyiscal security, and may be willing to cut deals to protect themselves and their interests. Any intelligence gained from defections will have a cascading effect on the insurgency – exposing cells, organization, supply lines and financial support.
The impact of the January election cannot be underestimated. The insurgency has been dealt a blow to its morale, and a deft Iraqi government can exploit the inherent weaknesses of the insurgency: a lack of popular support; the recognition of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government by the people; and the desire of Sunni tribal leaders and politicians to enter the political process. It is far too soon to declare victory in the rebuilding of Iraq, but it is difficult to argue that the election has not had a significant effect on marginalizing the insurgents and moving Iraq closer to a democratic society. Constant pressure, both military and diplomatic, must be maintained by the Iraqi government and the Coalition to move Iraq closer to a stable and secure nation.
Captain’s Quarters reports the Taliban appears to be giving up the fight in Afghanistan after successful elections last fall. Legitimate elections are a powerful tool against terrorist insurgencies.
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