With the Sunni insurgency collapsing, Iraq's political map is being redrawn. A new class of Sunni leaders is emerging, willing to act as junior partners to the ascendant Shiasby Nibras Kazimi / August 1, 2007 / Leave a comment
Losing the battle for Baghdad
Iraq’s Sunni political map is undergoing a tectonic shift that is smothering the radicals and empowering those few “moderates,” in the Iraqi sense of the word, who have acquiesced to the historic—and now fully established—political ascendancy of the Shias.
Three Sunni slates made it to the Iraqi parliament in the December 2005 elections: the Consensus Front (44 seats), the National Dialogue Front (11) and the Reconciliation and Liberation bloc (three). Several leading figures in these blocs have now been pushed from the political scene. From the Consensus bloc, Adnan al-Duleimi was voted out of his chairmanship of the parliamentary faction early in June. He spends his time in Amman, along with Khalaf al-Alayan, head of the National Dialogue Front, who stands accused of collusion in a suicide bombing of parliament in April. The chemical imprint of the explosives worn by the parliament bomber matched the explosives stash found in al-Alayan’s home during a recent American raid. Meanwhile, the head of the Reconciliation and Liberation bloc, Mishaan al-Jubouri, lost his parliamentary immunity back in October and in July was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison on corruption charges. He is now hiding out in Damascus.
The speaker of parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, another Consensus figure, was initially put in the top legislative post in the new Iraq as part of the power-sharing arrangement that brought in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now Mashhadani is also on his way out, ostensibly for a pattern of crude and brutish behaviour during his one-year tenure. The incident that precipitated his removal was a savage beating administered by his security staff to a fellow MP.
All these names are associated with Sunni hardline rhetoric against the new Shia domination of the government, economy and security services. Naturally, they are crying foul. They see their collapsing fortunes as the direct result of a Shia plot to undermine the Sunni leadership that was voted into power. What’s missing from this picture is that it’s often the hardliners’ own allies and underlings who have plotted their demise. Moderate Sunnis seem to have concluded that their future lies in reconciling themselves to the huge changes that took place when an interim government finally replaced the Saddam Hussein regime, 15 months after the invasion.The new faces on the scene, such as Duleimi’s replacement as head of the Consensus bloc, Ayad al-Samarrae, are content with being junior partners in running the country, and as such are considered team players by the Shia leadership.
The Sunni insurgency collapses
These changes are not happening in a vacuum: they come from the realisation that the most valuable card in the Sunni bargaining position—the tenacity of the Sunni insurgency—is about to expire.
The Sunni political leadership was supposed to play a role in government as negotiators on behalf of the insurgents. In return, they would secure for their community a slice of the political pie disproportionate to their 15-20 per cent of the population. Having monopolised the state and much of the economy since the days of the Ottomans, the monarchy and all through the Saddam years, the shock of losing all that power to the Shias—the historical underclass—was too bitter to swallow. The Sunnis reasoned that if they could take advantage of America’s short attention span, they might be able to turn back the clock to a time when Sunni violence mattered more than Shia numbers.
For all the current talk in Washington of a quick troop reduction, the Sunnis have finally figured out that Iraq’s American allies are not going to leave such a crucial country to the Wahhabis and Baathists any time soon, and that the Shia primacy is here to stay. Meanwhile, Sunni violence, having failed to force the Americans to the negotiating table in any substantive way for four years, seems increasingly unlikely to do so. These are the reasons for the recent outbreak of jihadist-on-jihadist and jihadist-on-Baathist violence: with real victory out of sight, the divergence of ideologies and the competition over shrinking resources and turf come to the fore. Meanwhile, there is a general sense of battle fatigue among lay Sunnis, who have borne the brunt of the insurgency’s disruption to daily life. What we are seeing now at the elite level is the sobering effect of all this upon the Sunni political class, which is voting with its feet to make an accommodation with the new reality.
The Sunni kiss-ups
The new cast of Sunni players, and the sense that the insurgency is stumbling, have brought comfort to the Shias. Maliki is about to radically reshape his government, and in doing so will offer the Sunnis of the moderate Islamic party (a key component of the Consensus bloc), a “take it or leave it” chance to stay within the Shia-Kurdish coalition that he intends to put together. Several Shia politicians snicker at how the tables have turned, and have adopted an old Baghdadi term to describe the eager-to-please Sunnis they now encounter: loogiyet alsunnah, or the “Sunni kiss-ups.”