Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Watching a Really Good Sunni Curveball

In baseball, when a hitter has a really good night at the plate, it is common for him to describe it later by saying something like that the 85 mph curve ball he was slapping silly all night looked like a grapefruit tossed at half that speed. He could see the spin and the threads from the moment it left the pitcher's hand.

It kind of feels that way watching the Sunni legislators today, making noises and manipulating the situation to try and get concessions from the Iraqi government. It's quite impressive, actually:

The largest bloc of Sunni Arabs in the Iraqi Parliament threatened to withdraw its ministers from the Shiite-dominated cabinet on Monday in frustration over the government’s failure to deal with Sunni concerns.

President Bush stepped in to forestall the move, calling one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, and inviting him to Washington, according to a statement issued by Mr. Hashimi’s office and the White House.

The bloc, known as the Iraqi Consensus Front and made up of three Sunni Arab parties, “has lost hope in rectifying the situation despite all of its sincere and serious efforts to do so,” the statement said.

If the Sunni group followed through on its threat, it would further weaken a government already damaged by the pullout two weeks ago of six cabinet ministers aligned with the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and further erode American efforts to promote reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites.

. . . In his phone call with President Bush, Mr. Hashimi “talked frankly about the faltering political process,” the statement from his office said.

The White House, in a statement from the National Security Council, added that the two leaders “focused on the importance of additional steps in the reconciliation process and the need for all Iraqi parties to come together to overcome common challenges they face.”

Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Bush invited Mr. Hashimi to the White House for what would be their second meeting there as part of a continuing dialogue with Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni official.

If the Sunni bloc pulled its five ministers from the cabinet, it would be a stark reflection of the difficulty Mr. Maliki’s government has had in mustering support from a broad spectrum of Iraqis. The Shiite ministers who walked out two weeks ago have yet to be replaced.

Such a move would also undo some of the work of Zalmay Khalilzad, the former United States ambassador, who spent much of his tenure here persuading Sunnis to participate in the government.

Neither Mr. Sadr’s bloc nor Mr. Hashimi’s has threatened to pull out of Parliament, so technically the government would remain standing, but further cabinet resignations would seriously undermine efforts to move forward on legislation needed to ensure that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds all feel they have a stake in the government.

Members of the Sunni bloc said that they had not yet decided to pull out their ministers but that they were divided between those who wanted to pull out immediately and those who worried that pulling out would diminish the bloc’s influence on government policy even further.

“The first group is enraged by what is going on and is pushing for withdrawal, saying that there is no use in staying in the government,” said Nasir al-Ani, one of the bloc’s 44 representatives in the 275-member Parliament. “The second group takes a rational approach and is not in favor of withdrawing, but prefers to try to work within the government to deal with the problems.”

The crisis was set off by what Sunnis describe as a continued lack of services to Sunni areas of Baghdad. For months, those areas have been deprived of adequate food rations and hospital supplies.

But the latest problem takes place against a backdrop of broader, longstanding Sunni concerns. Sunni leaders say the government has failed to move forward on an array of issues including legislation to ensure a fair distribution of oil revenue, bringing Sunnis into all levels of government and weeding out Shiite militias within government security forces.

. . . “The problem is not just with the sectarian practices, but with the government’s ineffectiveness,” said Mr. Ani, who emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not for the bloc.

“We see a lot of problems in Karkh on the western side of Baghdad, where the government is invisible,” he said. “People are suffering and the government cannot solve the problems.”

A cabinet minister who is not from the Sunni bloc said that Mr. Maliki had failed to make an effort to get the government to work. “He said he was going to appoint new ministers; he needs to do that,” said the minister, who asked not to be identified because of the delicacy of the situation. “What is he waiting for?”

Read the entire article here. The Sunnis are displaying some very sophisticated political acumen. on this one. Their rattling the cage does not occur in a vacum. The Sunnis know exactly what is transpiring in America, they know the intense pressure the U.S. is putting on the Iraqi legislators at the moment, and they just upped the anti with an incredibly well crafted bluff that the Bush administration cannot possibly call.

The Sunnis are in bad shape politically because they largely ignored the political process in 2005. Consequently, their numbers in parliament do not reflect their percentage of the population. As General Barry McAffery said after his last visit to Iraq:
There is now unmistakable evidence that the western Sunni tribes are increasingly convinced that they blundered badly by sitting out the political process. They are also keenly aware of the fragility of the continued US military presence that stands between them and a vengeful and overwhelming Shia-Kurdish majority class--- which was brutally treated by Saddam and his cruel regime.
That support for the government has changed drastically for the better in a matter of just a few months. With a majority of Sunnis now in active support of the government and investing in the political process, what better time for the Sunni legislators to push hard for what they want in government, holding out the spectre that this sudden turn towards a united Iraq under the current political system may not hold.

This threat to take their ministers out appears to be pure bluff. The Sunnis are trying to get into the government, not out of it. They would do nothing to weaken their position at the moment. They are just trying to get Bush to lean harder on the Iraqi government to get concessions.

Maliki, to his credit, appears to be doing all that he can to lead his country through this morras for the benefit of all Iraqis. He gets the blame for all ills because he is the PM. He does not have a majority in parliament, and thirty members of his support comes from the Sadr block, who he has turned on. The only reason they are still in the government is because that is really the last vestige of power that Sadr seems to have now in Iraqi government.

Maliki has gotten legislation to the cabinet on some of the major issues - oil, debaathification - and he is trying his best to put out fires in all directions. But Maliki alone cannot address the Sunni concerns. A fractuous Parliament has to ultimately do so. And what better way in the current climate to try to make sure they do then to enlist the full power of the Bush administration on your side.

The only problem with all of this is that it will be played up in the American press as a great weakening of the Maliki government and yet another portent of the failure of the surge. It's not. It's good, hardball politics.

We all hope that Iraq is given the time and security for democracy to take hold. If this sophistacated political maneuvering by the Sunnis is any indication, it will be a very robust democracy indeed.

1 comment:

HillbillyPolitics said...

Any progress is better than none and it looks like they are learning quickly... that counts... with us... not so sure about our own Congress though.

 

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