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The Americans: Talking to the Sunnis PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 27 February 2005 12:38
In my introduction to The Hanoudi Letter, I said I will be talking about various topics which are of special interest to me like history, geopolitics and the current situation in Iraq, but for the last few weeks apart from a very short essay on the history of Iraq itself, I was unable to write about anything else.  The current situation here is so murky and unpredictable it is not leaving time for anything else.  This week, I was contemplating a short exposition on the relations between America and Europe, both Mr. Rumsfield's old Europe and the new one which is emerging after the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  Suddenly, an article in TIME Magazine's February 21st issue was describing direct contacts between American diplomats and intelligence officers with some important representatives of the Iraqi Sunni community in an effort to heal the rift between them, which has been to a great extent the cause of the great mess we and the Americans are currently in now.  I am going to discuss the magazine’s article in a slightly more detail later on in this letter, because I think that it was very timely and encouraging which forced me to forget about the Americans and their problems with the Europeans and climb down to the more familiar topic of the homeland and its problems.

In my last letter, I have emphasized that the real measure of success of the just concluded general elections and to what extent is it going to influence the future development of this country.  In my view, the yardstick to its success would be the extent to which it would bring about a reconciliation with the other main pillar of Iraqi society, the Sunnis and involving them in the current efforts to build the much needed political structure in this country after the collapse of the previous regime.  As it must be very clear to everybody, Iraq is an extremely diverse place religiously, ethnically, culturally and geographically.  There are Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen’s, there are Muslims, Christians and Yezidis, there are indisputable cultural difference in Iraq and the geography is even more complicated; it is mountainous and snowy in the north, a gradually receding elevation in the middle of the country towards a flat dry and a very hot south.

The most important element in this diversity are the three major groups inside the dizzying mosaic of the Iraqi society which is the Arabs who are divided religiously into two sects the Shiites and the Sunnis, and the Kurds who are a different ethnicity but are also mainly Sunnis.  These three groups make up more than 90% of the population, the remainder comprises all the other religious and ethnic groups, the Shiite are the predominant group amongst the population with something like 50% of the total and the Sunnis with about 25% and the Kurds at a bit less than 20%.  I would like to stress that these figures are the result of my own research, there is no proper census or any other reliable demographic studies to go by, in fact there has not been a census for a very long time.

During the recent elections the Sunnis have boycotted the electoral process in which 58% percent of those eligible did vote, that level of participation in a classical election would have been very convincing, but this one was very different in lieu of the jobs the national assembly which will be created as a result of these elections will have only two important jobs to complete, the first is the election by a two thirds majority of a presidential council which is going to be composed of a president and two vice-presidents who are to nominate unanimously someone for the Prime Minister’s job who in his turn should assemble a cabinet and present it to the assembly for a simple majority vote of confidence.  The other more important and very critical job of the assembly is to oversee the writing of a draft for a permanent constitution to the country by a committee or more than one committee from amongst its members and others from outside its membership and possibly from experts from outside the country, the draft of the constitution which should be completed in the Fall would be presented by the assembly to the Iraqi people in a referendum for ratification.

All these nation building procedures have been conducted under a decree which was formulated by Mr. Paul Bremer III, who headed the civilian affairs of the country after its invasion, an organization called the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which was in fact nothing but a purely American club which lasted for about 14 months and functioning under very ambiguous rules and following the whims of its powerful director which resulted later on in some unbelievably monstrous scandals like the disappearance of almost ten billion dollars of Iraqi money which has never been accounted for, like the billions of Iraqi money which should have gone to raise the standards of the place and its people, but have been plundered, embezzled and spent in futile wars, but this is not the issue now.

The Iraqi administration law stipulates that even if the proposed constitution is accepted by a majority of the voters 3 governorates out the 18 which make up modern Iraq can veto the draft and bring the crumbling down to the starting point.  This is what makes the TIME's article so important, because it signifies a change in the attitude of the Americans towards the Sunnis which has been wrong and counter productive, an attitude which was characterized by neglect and serious attempts at marginalizing them.  On the other hand  recent events especially the elections have convinced the Sunnis that their attitude was similarly futile and non productive so both sides seem to be appreciating the need for a dialogue, which will ensure the participation of the Sunnis in the attempts to build the necessary political structure if the dream of a free, federal, prosperous and democratic Iraq is to be realized.  Otherwise, the future might be even worse and messier than the present.
Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi
Baghdad, Feb., 26, 2005
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