The Sunnis’ Cards

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.

Also Read:

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • Justin B says:

    There will certainly be a percentage of people that will continue to want to become Martyrs for Allah. The morale has to be decreasing because it is becoming more and more apparent that Martyrdom is all that they are fighting for. The cannot change the course of things and they are not being particullarly effective. Sure, they can kill civilians and an occasional soldier, but the bombs and the techniques are becoming less and less planned and more crude.

    I do not discount that the Martyrs can keep the problems going for months and years, but we are crippling the infrastructure that allows coordinated and deadly attacks. It is not the nut job Martyrs that we need to worry about, but rather, seperating off those that are less willing to die for a lost cause. And that is what the Taliban is seeing as are some Iraqi insurgents. They are seeing that life in the New Iraq might not be that bad, even if the US is the Great Satan. It certainly challenges their will when they know if they continue to fight, all they will get is a quick death.

    But there will always be those that want to become Martyrs. What we have to do is ensure that their deaths are completely in vain and that the community and the area does not honor those that kill civilian women and children. As public sentiment changes against these guys, they will be less emboldened to get to their Virgins waiting in Heaven. I wish that we could bring a couple of them back from the dead and ask them if they really got the Virgins or not. It would be a damn good thing to know for sure. I suspect that if they told the would be Martyrs what they really got, not too many folks would be lining up to strap a bomb to their chest.

  • USMC_Vet says:

    If I were a Shi’ite or Kurd in Iraq, I would tell them to knock on another door.
    There was a big sale on Government Seats 3 weeks ago. You boycotted the store. The seats all sold out. Now you come in here demanding a discount on the very sold-out seats you willingly boycotted? This ain’t Huffman-Koos.
    Go sell crazy somwhere else.
    We’re all stocked up here.

  • USMC_Vet says:

    I mean, it’s really that simple isn’t it?
    I laugh out loud at anyone who tries to sell me on the failed logic that without Sunni ‘proportionate representation’ that the election, and therefor the new government, is illegitimate.
    The Sunni’s indeed do have ‘proportionate representation’…’proportionate’ to their level of participation.
    The next thing I hear is that the general Sunni population was intimidated by a small number of Sunni ‘insurgents’ and that it is unfair because they never really had a resonable opportunity to vote.
    They then, as a society, have reaped the rewards, as a society, of permitting madness to be rewarded.
    In the event my apologist adversaires have forgotten, here’s a refresher course called Wake Up 101:
    Yup…all those out there were the very few among them, right?
    Note the children posing with the smoldering bodies, cheering with their fathers, uncles or big brothers.
    The society reaps what the society sews.

  • GK says:

    Off topic to this thread, but I thought you may want to see this. It is Easongate related.
    This editor is not a big fish, but insists that Eason Jordan’s statements were truthful.

  • Enigma says:

    I understand where USMC_Vet is coming from. The Sunnis made their own bed, so now they must lie in it. But I think the Iraqi government needs to be careful not to overplay their hand. Doing so might ignite the Sunni-Shiite civil war that the jihadists want.
    Even so, whatever concessions the Iraqi government makes should be few in number, and should be carefully measured to the anticipated benefit. And a high price must be extracted from the Sunni leaders. Weakness on the part of the Iraqi government will be exploited by the insurgents.

  • Justin B says:

    Our real concern now is the drafting of the Constitution and the election at the end of the year. This election was important in the process of defeating the insurgents and displaying the resolve of the Iraqi people and their will to vote, but in all honesty, this election’s actual results (ie who won the vote) has minimal impact. Both major candidates for PM are pro-US, so we are in good shape.

    The major concern is that for the elections this coming year and for the future that we get the problems cleaned up with the Insurgents. I am OK with some bargaining between the Shiites, the Kurds and the Sunnis to demonstrate good faith and good will. But two messages have to be clear–1. Stop the insurgents and 2. You were clearly on the wrong side here and it is up to the Sunnis to stop the violence before they get anything in return. A few honorary members to assist in the drafting is not a big deal, but they need to have no say on the PM, Pres, etc. Let them help write the thing, but have no voting authority on issues. Something like that.


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