Iraq: The Damned

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October 1, 2006: Is Shia warlord Muqtada al Sadr becoming more radical? For a time Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia leader, who has generally opposed the secular government in Iraq, seemed to be moving to a more moderate position, possibly seeking to turn his large body of adherents into a political bloc. But apparently his efforts to curb the more radical elements among his followers, some of whom are leading anti-Sunni Arab "death squads," has led to rifts in the ranks. Many of Sadr's followers have kin who were victims of Saddam's secret police, and they want revenge. These disputes have been exacerbated by government efforts to crack down on private militias and death squads, which reportedly has included an occasional assassination of some of Sadr's more radical supporters. As a result of this, and out of fear of losing his followers, al Sadr is likely to become more radical. There are rumors that he is preparing a "coup" to secure greater authority over areas where his militia is particularly strong, such as the Sadr City district in northeastern Baghdad and in Basra.
Possibly in an effort to head off such a move, on September 17th the Ministry of the Interior and representatives of al Sadr's militia �" the "Badr Army" �" initialed a "peace" agreement, in which each side agreed to ease up. Whether this hold, remains to be seen
The idea of turning Iraq into a federal state is viewed very suspiciously by the country's Sunni Arab minority, which formerly dominated the country. Sunni Arab areas (mainly in central Iraq) lack oil, and Sunni Arab leaders fear that federalism will lead to the impoverishment of their areas. That their generations of rule led to the impoverishment of the other areas is not something they want to talk about, but something that Kurds and Shia Arabs cannot forget. At present, plans for a federal Iraq revolve around three or four regions, a Kurdish north, a Shia center and south, and a Sunni west, with Baghdad, a very mixed area, as the fourth. Other ideas suggest dividing the country up into its 18 provinces. But these are really inheritances of Ottoman rule (1638-1918), and often bear no relation to ethnic or economic "ground truth." There is a very small group arguing for an even greater division of the country, into 25 or 30 regions, "cantons" rather than "states".
Adopting a cantonal system would allow relatively more Sunni participation in central government affairs. It would also allow for more interaction among the various groups, since smaller "states" might find themselves with similar interests in economic or other matters, that transcend ethnic and sectarian lines. Such a move might also placate Turkey, Syria, and Iran, who view the creation of a Kurdish "state" in northern Iraq as dangerous, given that they have substantial Kurdish minorities; several small Kurdish "cantons" would be less inclined to have expansionist ambitions than one big "state." Although the Iraqi parliament has been debating federalism for some time, the issue remains contentious, and a final decision keeps being put off, most recently just last week.
When it comes to fighting the terrorists, tribal ties still matter. In central Iraq, three Sunni tribes are particularly linked to the Sunni Arab violence; the Bulaym, Janabi, and Shammar Jarba. They were mainstays of the old Saddam Hussein regime, providing many recruits for the secret police and Republican Guard. Tribal politics for these three is all about either regaining control of the government, or getting amnesty. The government has been discussing amnesty deals with many of the tribal leaders. The problem is that the tribes want amnesty for more people than the government believes it can get away with. Attempts to give amnesty to those known to have been involved in killing Americans, blew up when Americans got wind of it. Same thing happened in Iraq when the government proposed giving amnesty to Sunni Arab tribal officials who had participated in attacks on Kurds and Shia Arabs both before, and after, the fall of Saddam in 2003. What it comes down to is that there are thousands of prominent Sunni Arabs who have to be either pardoned, captured or killed, before there can be peace in Iraq. Innocence

 

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