Could bigger Sunni role stop attacks?

Insurgent violence following the formation of Iraq's new government continued Thursday, killing at least 20 people.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Sunni Arab politicians, increasingly frustrated at being shut out of key cabinet posts, say that a meaningful role in Iraq's new government would help them restrain insurgent violence.

Spectacular bombings and other attacks, mostly directed at Iraqi security forces, have overshadowed hopes of political progress in the week since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari formed his partial cabinet.

Sunni moderates are eager to distance themselves from the "terrorists" behind the bombing campaign, which intensified following the formation of Iraq's new government last Thursday. But they also blame the sustained violence on continual disappointments for their community ever since Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

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Adding to frustrations among Sunnis is the fact that 10 of their nominees for the coveted post of defense minister apparently have been turned down by Shiite leaders.

Mishan al-Jabbouri, a Sunni Arab member of the National Assembly, says that the latest political impasse was "definitely related" to the surge in violence, although those Sunnis who signed on for the political process more than three months ago still remain "fully committed to it."

Prime Minister Jaafari says he wants his government to include the Sunni minority, whose disaffected ranks form the main support base for the insurgency. But three months of haggling between the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and the second-place Kurdistan Alliance has seemingly left a shortage of political capital to throw the Sunnis' way.

Potentially influential Sunnis, meanwhile, are often tainted by association with former ruler Saddam Hussein.

Mindful of bringing middle-class army officers and restive tribes inside the government tent, Jaafari promised to assign the defense ministry to a Sunni.

The defense ministry nearly went to Sadoun Dulaymi, a former Saddam Hussein-era general with roots in western Iraq's tribal Sunni heartland. But last-minute objections from within the Shiite bloc forced Jaafari to instead bring an incomplete cabinet list to the National Assembly, with himself as acting defense minister, while negotiations with a small and loosely organized Sunni faction continued.

Analysts say that the bombs exploding around Baghdad starting the next morning probably came in response to the government's limited progress, rather than its lack of completeness. Nevertheless, repeated rejections of nominees for the defense portfolio have deepened the Sunni's sense of underrepresentation.

A Sunni businessman says that Sunni negotiators have reached the point of saying "take it or leave it."

In the past, the Iraqi military offered a respectable, secure career path, particularly for middle-class Sunnis. Many officers have rejoined Iraq's newly formed army, asserting that their first loyalty is to Iraq rather than to any particular leadership.

But with Shiite parties holding more than half the seats in parliament, some of the new army's most effective officers now face vocal threats of a wide-ranging anti-Baathist purge.

Having one of their own in the defense ministry, the Sunnis say, would provide a reasonable assurance that purges would be kept off the government's agenda.

According to Jabbouri, the Shiite prime minister has been "very cooperative" and is taking Sunni needs into consideration, but "the radicals" within the United Iraqi Alliance "tried to change the situation."

Several Sunni politicians appeared confident that a new deal had been reached just a day before the official swearing in of Jaafari's partial cabinet on Tuesday.

At a meeting earlier this week, Sunni tribal leaders continued to discuss possible strategies for Sunni participation in the drafting of Iraq's permanent constitution.

Amid frustration over their ongoing exclusion from meaningful participation, however, a few tribal sheikhs said they would consider taking up arms. Jabbouri declined to discuss the extent, or the nature, of the leverage that the moderate Sunnis who are on board with the political process can exert over the antigovernment insurgency. Nevertheless, bringing influential Sunnis into the fold may now be more important than ever, says Jabbouri and other observers.

The deadliest attack this week occurred Wednesday in Arbil, 220 miles north of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber detonated himself in a lineup of recruits for the Kurdistan regional police force, killing at least 50.

But most of the violence has been in and around the capital, where another bomber killed 11 people inside an army recruiting office the next day. Other attacks brought the total death toll since last Friday to over 200, including at least 10 US soldiers and numerous Iraqis.

Of Iraq's three main ethnic groups, the Sunni Arabs suffer most from a lack of cohesion.

"Who represents the Sunnis? No one can tell you," a US diplomat says, referring to the perpetual difficulty of negotiations over Sunni inclusion.

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