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July 3, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 285

Iraq: A New Plan for National Reconciliation

July 3, 2006 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 285

Introduction

In a speech before Parliament on June 25, 2006 the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki outlined his plan for "national reconciliation and dialogue." The plan, designed to bring peace to the country, comprises 24 articles headed by a preamble which calls for strengthening national unity, addressing the effects of terrorism and corruption, and restoring Iraq to its regional and international leadership role.

Highlights of the Initiative [1]

The plan consists of two parts - "the required instruments" and "the required principles and policies." The "instruments" section envisages creation of "the National Committee for Reconciliation and National Dialogue," comprising the three branches of government, the minister of state for national dialogue, representatives from the various parliamentary groups, independent personalities, and clerics from religious establishments [marja'iyyat] and of tribes. Among other instruments are the convening of local conferences, including one of major clerics, and the issuance of fatwas (religious edicts) in support of the plan.

The section on instruments is short on details. For example, the plan provides no details regarding the size of the National Committee, how its members will be selected or appointed, how it shall function, and who will chair it. Neither is there any indication about a deadline by which the Committee is required to complete its work.

The section on principles and policies takes a number of key stands:

  • Totally rejecting terrorists and Saddamists
  • Offering amnesty to those who did not commit war crimes, terrorism or crimes against humanity (this list later amplified to include crimes against Iraqi or multinational personnel)
  • Reconsidering the earlier policy of de-Ba'thification [ijtithath al-B'ath] as it affects former employees, including army officers, and their re-integration into government service
  • Initiating international and regional discussions with neighboring countries which either support terrorism or turn a blind eye toward it
  • Building national defense forces to replace the multinational forces
  • Paying compensation to victims of violence and terrorism
  • Resolving "the problem" of the militias and the illegal armed groups
  • Addressing unemployment.

The Reactions to the Initiative

The key political parties in parliament supported the plan as a courageous, timely and constructive step on the road to eagerly-awaited national reconciliation, the end of terrorism and violence, the restoration of vital services, and the start of economic reconstruction. But it was only two members of parliament, Sayyed Ayad Jamal al-Din and Dr. Mahdi al-Hafidth, who challenged the government to address the issue of violence in the Iraqi society "not through perfunctory ideas such as those voiced by al-Maliki but with courage, given the legacy of 35 years of dictatorship and the social legacy of three years of sectarian and racist policies practiced by the two previous provisional governments." [2]

The Shi'ite and Kurdish Reaction

The Iraqi Shi'a have given their support to the plan but they, and, to a lesser extent, the Kurds, object to the watering down of the de-Ba'thification policy as they see in this element the potential for government agencies to restore the Ba'thists to their previous positions of dominance. And it is striking that al-Maliki drew a line between Saddamists, who are to be excluded, and the Ba'thists, who are to be given a second chance. For the Shi'a and the Kurds, the Saddamists and the Ba'thists are two sides of the same coin. It is perhaps possible that, in making this distinction between Saddamists and Ba'thists, Prime Minister al-Maliki sought to allay the fears of his own supporters, and the Kurds as well, about a wholesale restoration of hardcore Ba'thists to positions of power.

Moving forward in his effort for reconciliation, the prime minister has ordered that all the political prisoners released in recent days as part of his peace-making initiative return to their old jobs, including their teaching jobs in government schools. [3]

The Position of the Sunnis

The two most senior Sunni politicians have supported the initiative but with serious qualification. The more senior of the two, Tariq al-Hashimi, Iraq's vice president and the secretary-general of the Islamic Party (the largest Sunni political party) has described the initiative "as an important first step with a purpose" that can be built upon. However, he asserted that "it is not sufficient to attract the resistance groups to the political process." He would like to see the initiative complemented by two measures: a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces and a recognition of the legitimate right of the insurgency or, as the Iraqis refer to as the resistance, "to fight the occupation forces." At the same time, al-Hashimi has called on the various elements of the insurgency to reconsider their position, given that "the rules of the game have changed because of the failure of the Americans in Iraq and because they are seeking an honorable exit from the Iraqi predicament." [4]

These sentiments have been shared by Adnan al-Duleimi, who is a member of parliament and president of the Iraqi Accord Party, another Sunni party which has chosen to remain the main opposition party to the government. Al-Duleimi has welcomed the initiative as "a truthful and national message" provided it is respected by the Shi'ite militias and the Shi'ite religious hierarchy [al-Marja'iya.]

In addition to the two demands about a timetable and the recognition of the legitimate rights of the resistance, Al-Duleimi has asked that the prime minister put an end to the violence against the Sunni population by the Shi'ite militias, often disguised as army or police personnel.

The Sunni's two key demands which they found lacking in Al-Maliki's initiative, namely recognizing the legitimate right of the resistance against the occupation and establishing a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces are not of the same magnitude.

It is commonly recognized that the "resistance" is nurtured by the Sunni population which feels marginalized following the fall of the Saddam regime. However, the Sunnis are supported financially by political elements in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries which are uneasy with the prospect of having on their border a Shi'ite state in Iraq with links to Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon. [5] Jordanian King Abdullah's warning about "the Shi'ite crescent" that would extend from Iran across Iraq to Syria and Lebanon has become part of the political discourse in the region. Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia has always viewed the Shi'a as apostates - an attitude that clearly guided abu-Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qa'ida in Iraq.

The Sunnis consider the resistance against the occupation as a legitimate pursuit, and argue that the government should recognize it as such. However, the Iraqi government cannot accept this demand for two reasons: The first reason, articulated by the Iraqi liberal commentator Dr. Abdulkhaliq Hussein, is that the presence in Iraq of the multinational forces was in response to the demand of the legitimate opposition in exile to bring down the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein. [6] Al-Maliki himself confirmed this position during his meeting with the foreign press in Baghdad on May 28.The second, and even more problematic, reason is that to recognize the right of the "resistance" to continue its military operation under whatever guise would eventually give these fighters the right to march into Baghdad as "liberators" and hence as the legitimate rulers of Iraq.

The second demand - that there be a timetable - is used primarily for propaganda purposes and cannot be taken at face value. In fact, the Sunnis would like the multinational forces to remain in Iraq to prevent a full-scale Iranian penetration into the country or a major assault on them by the Shi'ite militias. The Sunnis need more time to enter into alliances with the Kurds and with elements of the Shi'a, such as the Allawi group, or other political groups opposed to bringing Iraq under Iranian domination.

"The Problem" of the Militias

In his speech to Parliament, al-Maliki referred to "the problem of the militias": There are two important Shi'a militias associated with political parties currently in government. One is the "Badr Brigade," associated with the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI); the other is Jeish al-Mahdi [the Mahdi Army] under the command of the radical, mercurial, xenophobic and often unpredictable Muqtada al-Sadr. By all accounts, these two militias receive financial, arms, and logistical support from Iran. In reality, these two militias can only be dissolved as part of an agreement with Iran - an agreement linked, in turn, to the ongoing discussions between Iran and Europe about Iran's nuclear program.

A third Shi'a militia, which is much smaller than the other two, is known as harakat Tha'r-Allah [the Movement of Allah's revenge] and is headed by Yusuf al-Mousawi. This militia serves as the military arm of the Fadhila [Virtue] Party which is part of the United Alliance Party [the main Shi'a coalition]. This militia is active mainly in Basra, the second largest city in Iraq. Available information suggests that it is very much involved in smuggling oil to Iran by small boats often protected by Iranian naval vessels. While the oil is sold by the Iraqi smugglers below market price, the Iranian intermediaries, connected with senior Iranian politicians and Mullahs, sell it at market price, keeping the differential in their pockets.

Another militia is the Pesh Merga, the Kurdish militia. The Kurds maintain that their militia is essentially a national guard whose sole duty is to protect the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Pesh Merga is not involved in any military activity outside the Kurdish autonomous region and it has kept the region the safest in Iraq with hardly any act of terror or violence. It is this safety that is allowing the Kurds to build a prosperous economy and a thriving business, and they are not likely to risk the enormous economic progress they have made since 1990 by disbanding the Pesh Merga.

Al-Maliki himself recognizes that it is difficult for him to disband the militias by fiat. He told the media that the government will engage the militias with "concentrated and thick dialogue to avoid resorting to disbanding them with force." [7] In any event, to disband the militias by force would mean the breakup of his government.

Identifying the Militias

Unlike the liberation movement in Algeria in the 1950 and 1960s (the FLN), the "resistance" movement in Iraq has many factions, some of which are nothing more than criminal gangs, liberated by Saddam Hussein before his fall and committed to acts of thievery, kidnapping, murder, and extortion. According to al-Maliki, seven insurgent groups have established contract with him or with other members of the governments in an effort to be incorporated into the political process. It remains a matter of guess as to how many others are still operating and who may not wish to be identified for fear of being liquidated.

Personal and Institutional Protection

In addition to militias, there are a variety of groups which provide protection to individuals and entities, both official and private. According to one study, there are 50, primarily foreign companies, which provide such protection. [8] Many of the guards are mercenaries who came to Iraq for adventure and money. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh pointed to the danger of these groups, which represent a major "security loophole" in the government plan to disarm the militias. [9]

Conclusion

As to be expected, particularly in light of the fragmentation of the political culture in Iraq, the support for the plan was quickly complicated by a set of reservations about various elements of the plan, that threaten to derail it. It is also to be expected that a lot of bargaining will take place, both publicly and secretly, between the government and the various political parties and the numerous armed groups. The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is an active partner in the process.

For the initiative to succeed, it is important for al-Maliki to convince the skeptics in his backyard that reconciliation will not serve as the entry visa for the Ba'thists en masse to their old positions of power and for reverting Iraq to Saddam's style of oppressive dictatorship.

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.


[1] The full text of the initiative was published in most Iraqi papers, for example, Al-Zaman (Baghdad) and Al-Sabah (Baghdad) of June 26, 2006.

[2] Al-Ahali Weekly (Baghdad), June 28, 2006.

[3] Al-Zaman (Baghdad), June 28, 2006.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 27, 2006.

[5] While Prime Minister al-Maliki has embarked on a visit to the Gulf countries, starting with Saudi Arabia, his minister for national dialogue, Akram al-Hakim, announced that an unnamed "Gulf country" has ceased its support for "armed groups." Al-Mada (Iraq), July 2, 2006.

[6] http://www.sotaliraq.com/abdulkhaliqhussein.php?id=327

[7] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), June 29, 2006.

[8] Al-Zaman (Baghdad), June 29, 2006.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 27, 2006.

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