Could Iraq descend into a civil war again? (VIDEO)
The scars of Iraq's painful bloodletting are deep, and a powerful disincentive against a return to open warfare. But Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is moving against Sunni Arabs, his political enemies.
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The irony that the independence-minded Kurds like Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, repeatedly victimized by Saddam Hussein's Sunni Arab-dominated Iraq, are now being asked to shore up Sunni Arabs, should be lost on no one. But it's just one measure of how dangerous the situation has become, with the minority parties growing increasingly alarmed at the power Maliki is accruing for himself and the failure of Iraq's putative political institutions to rein him in. While the Kurds put group interests in front of national ones, they'd prefer a balancing of powers in the rest of Iraq, rather than the emergence of a single, strong Shiite Arab leader who might make their prerogatives his next target.Skip to next paragraph
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Sunnis have also been testing the promise of federalism – greater autonomy within Iraq – in the federal Constitution. The local legislatures of three majority Sunni Arab provinces – Salahuddin, Anbar, and Diyala – have said they want a referendum on greater independence, though Maliki's central government has taken no steps to allow that yet. After a slim majority of local legislators in Diyala supported increased autonomy earlier this month, the central government mobilized the Army and police inside the province. Diyala Governor Abd al-Nasir al-Mahdawi, a Sunni supporter of increased autonomy, and a number of legislators have since fled to the relative safety of Kurdistan.
Governor Mahdawi has repeatedly complained of increased Iranian influence and Shiite militias in the province in recent years. In December 2009, he privately told US officials that the province's security forces were overwhelmingly Shiite and alleged that most detainees were held under false pretenses and that Iran was exercising direct influence over the police.
To be sure, the Kurds may not be reliable friends to Sunni Arabs. As Reidar Vissar, a scholar of the region and a keen observer of Iraqi politics, writes: "So far the Kurds have a track record of hosting Iraqiyya in a friendly manner and then ultimately betraying them in bilateral deals with Maliki."
What we're witnessing is an effort by Maliki to consolidate power for his own confessional group against two of the major representatives of Sunni Arabs in Parliament, something that rank and file Sunnis, frightened and angry about what they see as Maliki's growing power and alliance with Iran, are watching with horror. "Who's next?" will be the question on the mind of almost any official who has past ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party or Sunni interests more generally.