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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That's exactly the frame of mind that fed both sides of the Iraqi civil war, which claimed at least 100,000 killed in Iraq since 2003. Politics was seen as a zero-sum game, and if you didn't fight, you could only lose. While horrific suicide attacks were carried out by Sunni jihadis well outside the Iraqi mainstream, they were enabled by a broader Sunni community willing to look the other way as attacks were plotted against their confessional enemies. On the Shiite side, death squads targeting former Baathists and Sunnis operated with near impunity, with many Shiites tolerating the killing as justifiable payback for decades of abuse under Saddam.Skip to next paragraph
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While the war mostly wound down after 2008, after the US surged in additional troops and adopted a strategy of cash payments to former Sunni fighters while promising to smooth the way for a political transition in which their position in Iraqi society would be protected, no meaningful sectarian reconciliation ever took place. The fact that Maliki was able to outmaneuver Allawi's Iraqiyya after the last parliamentary election – the mostly Sunni bloc won a plurality of the vote, but Maliki was able to form a larger Shiite coalition to take the premiership – has helped set the stage for the current trouble.
After months of wrangling over cabinet posts, in which the terms of Iraq's Constitution appeared to have been breached, a compromise was reached in which Maliki promised to distribute power fairly to other groups, and also said that major security posts would be distributed to his confessional opponents in order to ease mistrust and tensions. But now, more than a year later, no distribution of power has taken place. The Defense Ministry and the powerful Interior Ministry, which controls the police, remain in Maliki's hands alone.
Mr. Vissar wrote Sunday: "Perhaps the most troubling aspect in all of this is that Maliki is targeting people with a record for compromise. Both Mutlak and Hashemi have at times taken chances with their own constituencies for the sake of cooperating within the Iraqi political system. Back in 2009, Mutlak led a rapprochement attempt toward Maliki, whereas Hashemi was vice-president in the previous parliamentary cycle despite opposition from many Sunni Muslims. When Hashemi was labelled “Baathist” by the Sadrist Bahaa al-Aaraaji in autumn 2009, the revulsion against Aaraji in parliament included many Shiite Islamists and Kurds."
Neither Hashemi or Mutlak are angels – nor is Maliki. Iraq's post-Saddam politics have been as violent and corrupt as they were under him. The former two men certainly had a sort of fellow-traveler status with Sunni insurgents during the height of Iraq's sectarian civil war, and elements of Maliki's Shiite Islamist Dawa Party were running death squads at the time. That strong evidence exists against any of these men can't be discounted.
But as a practical political matter, the timing of the move so close to the US withdrawal can't be ignored. Nor can the fact that targeting of political rivals for prosecution or ouster will be taken – however fairly or unfairly – as a sectarian move that will bring Iraq further, not closer, to the often promised and not yet reached reconciliation.
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