Two possible futures for Iraq's struggle
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Iraq's Sunnis "are accustomed to controlling this fabulous source of income, and now suddenly they lose it all," Mr. Baram says. "The money has to be addressed, and the Sunnis have to be assured that they are not going to be excluded from sharing in oil revenues."Skip to next paragraph
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Other experts say that Iraq is similar to Colombia in the key role that criminal gangs play in Iraq and the profits they are amassing from such activities as kidnapping and smuggling - often in conjunction with the insurgency.
One reason that addressing the concerns of the "fence-sitter" Sunnis is so important is the role they play in keeping the Islamist extremists going. Experts point out, for example, that Iraq suffered 135 bombings in April - and they add that the logistics to accomplish that could not be provided by foreigners alone.
"We know the Jihadis are receiving some logistical support from the Sunni Arab population because of the common religiosity," says Patrick Lang, a Middle East specialist formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Bombings that continue to hit civilian targets could loosen that bond, he says, but the government also has to reach out to the more "nationalistic" elements of the Sunni population.
"Many of these Sunnis that can still be swayed one way or the other are waiting to see how the government reacts to them raising the stakes," Mr. Lang says. He notes, however, that most of the Sunnis included in the government so far were longtime exiles and that only two Sunnis have been included in the 55-member constitution-writing committee. "So far the response is not too impressive," he says.
The Central American conflicts are instructive, Lang says, in that they were resolved through "political compromise" and elections accepted as legitimate.
That's why drawing in the Sunni population now is so important. Not only are new national elections set for December, but the new constitution, which is supposed to be completed by August, also must pass a national referendum. If three provinces vote "no," the constitution fails - and Sunnis predominate in three provinces, experts note.
Experts also point out that outside forces were instrumental in pressuring Central Americans to compromise and end their conflicts. The US role in Iraq is delicate - especially with the Sunnis, since US action ended their long reign.
A desire to see Iraq's government more widely accepted as sovereign is one reason the United States adopted a hands-off approach as Iraqi leaders struggled to form a government. But such worries have been replaced by an overriding need to have the government take steps to address the insurgency, experts say.
"The US hasn't wanted to look like we're running the show, especially when that perception has fired up the insurgency, but we also don't want the government taking actions that deepen the cleavages," says O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. "Right now the greater need is to see the government taking steps that can quell the insurgency and not incite it."