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Iraqis Seek to Stem Sectarian Violence | The Nation

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Iraqis Seek to Stem Sectarian Violence

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AMMAN, Jordan -- Though Iraqis complained that the November 30 meeting here between President Bush and Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to provide any real results, it didn't stop people here from holding out hope. Even talks between Iraqi insurgent representatives and members of the US-backed government were postponed to see whether Bush would announce a change of course, as some had expected.

About the Author

David Enders
David Enders is the author of Baghdad Bulletin, an account of his reporting on the American occupation of Iraq. He has...

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"There were supposed to be negotiations on November 9 after the US elections but they were postponed after the failure of the Republicans," said Moayed Abu Subieh, a local journalist who has written about ongoing meetings between Iraqi factions and US representatives. "People were waiting for Bush's visit to clarify his positions of the Iraqi situation his support for Maliki's government."

But even as Bush renewed his support for Maliki's government and met December 4 in Washington with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a US-backed party with close links to Tehran, other Iraqis are actively planning the demise of the current administration through the creation of a political front intended to help stem sectarian violence while mainstreaming some of the demands being made by militants.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, the leader of the Iraqi Dialogue Front, a secular political party whose critics accuse him of links to the insurgency and former government, recently announced the creation of the National Salvation Front, a grouping of parties that spans sects and is calling for regional and international meetings to reach an agreement between Iraqis.

On December 6, as headlines in the US were dominated by the Iraq Study Group's suggestions about how the Bush administration should proceed in Iraq, Maliki made his own headlines, by reversing his initial opposition to holding such meetings.

The new front includes the Tayyera Sadriyyin, the political party led by anti-occupation cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia, number of seats in parliament rival and cabinet posts rival those of Hakim's party.

Sadr's party allied with Hakim's and other Shiite parties in elections in late 2005, but has since broken with Hakim over power-sharing and Hakim's continued calls to partition Iraq. If the new front holds, it would be a serious challenge to the current government, as Sadr has already withdrawn his support for Maliki over the latter's meeting with Bush and refusal to allow the Iraqi parliament to discuss the issue of allowing US troops to remain in the country, an issue Sadriyyin members of parliament have spearheaded.

In 2004, before widespread sectarian violence broke out, Sadr's militia coordinated to some extent with Sunni guerillas to battle US troops before Sadr was convinced to participate in the political process and a government that is now seen as a joke.

A Sadr spokesman said that he was hopeful Sadr's supporters would move away from sectarian politics and ally with Sunnis.

"We need to have an alliance with secular and religious Sunnis," said Ghaith al-Tamimi, a member of the Sadriyyin media department in Baghdad. "The Sadriyyin should stand up because we are running out of time on this issue."

Mustafa al-Hiti, a member of Mutlaq's party who spends much of his time in Amman, said the only parties not participating were Maliki's Dawa, the country's two main Kurdish parties, and Hakim's SCIRI--essentially, the Bush administration's only allies in Iraq.

Hiti said that discussions over the formation of the bloc had begun before Bush's meeting with Maliki, but that the group had decided to announce itself now to capitalize in part on US support for the sort of regional talks Maliki had initially rejected.

"It is like a shadow government. And it is not easy for any country to allow this to move from their ground without a visa from the United States," Hiti said. "But it seems a green light has been given, and that is why we are starting to make things more obvious to the public."

The real test will be whether Sadr's followers and the Jaish al-Mehdi, his increasingly fragmented militia, are willing to follow him down a path of national reconciliation that may include alliances with natural enemies such as members of the former government and Sunni clerics who he has accused of not working hard enough to stop massive attacks on Shiite civilians that created the necessary conditions for sectarian cleansing and retributive violence. But just ask Bush and Hakim--Iraq is full of odd couples..

Meanwhile, understanding that they are facing an ever-growing insurgency, the current Iraqi leaders have continued to reach out to those they are fighting, especially members of the former government.

Iraq's ambassador to Jordan, Saad al-Hayani, said that meetings have taken place in the Iraqi embassy here between US representatives, including two US senators, and insurgent representatives in the last few months, as well as between Iraqis who have accepted and rejected the political process under US occupation, some of whom were directly involved with the insurgency.

"Two large meetings happened here in the embassy," Hayani said. "They included leaders from the last government, the Baathists and the old army. They were offered the opportunity to participate in the political situation if their hands were clean. The meetings were successful and necessary and beneficial."

The current Iraqi government has floated trial balloons regarding amnesties for fighters, though the US government has frequently come out against reconciliation with anyone who has attacked US troops.

But in Amman, as in Damascus, members of the former government appear to move freely. Among those waiting to meet with Hayani earlier this week was the last Iraqi ambassador to Jordan under Hussein's government.

But others discount the talks, saying the time for negotiation, at least with the US, is over, and that the US was never serious about negotiations anyway.

"As far as we know, America has not spoken with any of the really active resistance," said Bashar al-Faili, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni political party. The AMS, though it is now participating in the political process and has elected members in the Iraqi parliament, has frequently made demands similar to those of insurgent groups and many Iraqis accuse its leaders of having direct links to insurgents, especially the Islamic Army of Iraq, which is believed to be one of the largest groups, made up mostly of members of Saddam Hussein's military. The Iraqi government recently issued an arrest warrant for AMS spokesman Harith al-Dhari, accusing him of "supporting terrorism." Dhari is presently spending time in Jordan and other countries in the region.

"Maybe they are talking to small entities, and the reason for that is that the active resistance won't negotiate, because they want America to withdraw from Iraq," al-Faili said. "This is a huge mistake--Americans have to be logical. They have to be realistic and to know one thing--that they are not going to stay in Iraq. That they are not going to have bases in Iraq."

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