- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

BAGHDAD — Sunni leaders are shaking off their failure to defeat the new constitution in a nationwide referendum and are gearing up to win political influence in the Dec. 15 National Assembly elections.

With the deadline for registering political parties ending tomorrow, the Sunnis — who refused to participate when the present National Assembly was elected — are drawing up new political alliances with an eye to win as many seats as possible in the 275-seat assembly.

Three Sunni groups — the Iraqi National Dialogue, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi People’s Gathering — plan to form an alliance for upcoming elections.

“We have very intense discussion with the Sunnis daily, explaining to them the advantage of participating, and point them in the direction of people who can help them,” one Western official in Baghdad said.

Sunnis turned out in high numbers for the Oct. 15 referendum to vote against the constitution, which they felt favored Shi’ite and Kurd interests, but failed to gather enough votes to scuttle the charter.

Thanks to a last-minute amendment to the document, if they win enough seats in the new, four-year assembly, they will be able to change the constitution.

Few here think Sunni political participation will end the violent insurgency that has killed more than 2,000 American troops. At least 10 times that many Iraqis, probably more, are thought to have died.

“I don’t think that Sunni Arab unification or rallying to the political process will offer a quick fix,” said the Western official on the condition of anonymity.

He added, however, that “if a strong Sunni Arab interest in the political process stays strong, and if it is visibly shown to protect some key Sunni Arab concerns, over time it will weaken some of the public support for the insurgency.”

Those concerns, said the official, included Shi’ite death squads combing through neighborhoods and executing Sunnis.

Another alliance appears to be developing that would emphasize Sunni secularists, some of whom are joining a secular grouping headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, is generally seen in Iraq as a “strongman.”

But charges of corruption and his decision to bring Ba’athists back into the government last year to try and break the insurgency and get the country running again was ill-received by fellow Shi’ites.

Mr. Allawi’s group includes Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds, Arab socialists, communists and what the official termed as “modern democrats.”

Former Interior Minister Faleh al-Naqib, who has joined Mr. Allawi’s group, explained how this alliance would most likely approach the campaign trail.

“Many Islamic Shi’ite parties are almost belonging to Iran, and that is totally unacceptable for the Iraqi people,” Mr. al-Naqib said in an interview, while sitting comfortably on a couch in his house.

The current government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari — who spent many years in Iran — includes the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution of Iraq, perceived by many as heavily under Iran’s influence.

“The people have tried this government … and they will not have the same support of the people,” Mr. al-Naqib said.

“The majority have changed their mind because the performance of this government: assassinations, killings, kidnappings, bad services.” Mr. al-Naqib said.

Mr. Allawi’s coalition would consider joining forces with the Sunni lists once the election is over and political blocs start forming within the assembly.

If the Sunnis win enough political clout, the Western official said, they would most likely try to roll back constitutional provisions on federalism, try to put the central government back in control of Iraq’s natural resources, chiefly oil, and focus on security issues.

The official told reporters that Shi’ite leaders were trying to decide whether to present a unified list similar to that which won a majority of seats in January elections for the present assembly. Another possibility would be for the Shi’ites to give in to the divisions within their group and present three lists.

“It is not a finished deal,” he said. “They are working on it tonight. Maybe they will be successful, maybe not.”

The two main Kurdish parties are expected to join forces, much as they did in the last election, in which they won enough seats in the assembly to make them the key to any political decision.

Another major alliance forming appears to be a group of political independents that would include tribal sheiks, technocrats, businessmen and professionals.

“The political spectrum will cover everything from Islamist Shi’ites and Sunnis to more modern business-technical orientation and will include … cross-sectarian groups,” the official said in a telephone conference call.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide