Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sunnis Join The Fight (?)

The New York Times:

"A group of Sunni Arab clerics, including some hard-line figures who fiercely oppose the American presence here, issued a statement on Friday urging their fellow Sunni Arabs to join the Iraqi Army and police.

"The edict, signed by 64 imams and religious scholars, was a striking turnaround for the clerics, who have often lashed out in sermons at the fledgling army and police force and branded them collaborators.

"Prominently missing from the signers was Harith al-Dari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the most influential Sunni Arab clerics in Iraq, who is said to have close ties to the insurgency.

"Still, the directive, which carried the signature of Ahmed Hassan al-Taha, an imam at an important Baghdad mosque who has been a strong critic of the occupation, seemed to represent a significant step."

Certainly sounds like encouraging news and a continuation of the steady trend of positive developements we've seen in Iraq since the Jan. 30 elections. Of course, there are always qualifiers:

"'The new army and police force are empty of good people, and we need to supply them,' the edict said. 'Because the police and army are a safeguard for the whole nation, not a militia for any special party, we have issued this fatwa calling on our people to join the army and police.'

"The edict contained a condition seemingly aimed at sweetening the pill for resistant Sunni Arabs: that a new police or army recruit must agree 'not to help the occupier against his compatriots.'

"In the past, members of the association have often complained about injustices committed by Iraqi soldiers and police officers and by the American military. On Thursday, Sheik Abdul Ghafour invoked those injustices as the main reason for issuing the edict.

"'The bad conduct of some army recruits has led the wise men and loyal Iraqis to recognize that they must build up this country and not leave things in the hands of those who have caused such chaos and destruction,' he said.

Whatever the Sunni clerics' reason for wanting to come on board, the fact remains they want to come on board.

As the Washington Post reports on the decision:

"The Sunni clerics' recruiting call -- which had the authority of a religious edict, or fatwa -- marked their most open cooperation with Iraq's leaders and foreign patrons since the fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government in April 2003. The Sunni clerical bloc had rejected the country's post-Hussein leadership as irredeemably tainted by ties to the U.S. government and military."

The Post article, however, also raises this question:

"Others, however, expressed concern that the Sunnis' new stance toward the armed forces suggested the clerics sought less to ally themselves with rival Shiites and Kurds than to counter the dominance those groups have gained in Iraq's new security forces.

''This reflects . . . an attempt on their part to . . . have an influence in this growing military power, which in fact indicates a lack of faith in democracy,' said Wamidh Nadhmi, an outspoken Sunni who has been promoting a broad coalition government. He added, 'This process should have proceeded by negotiations to enter the government, to have some sort of dialogue, which I don't find at all.'

But wait a second. Haven't the majority Shia, despite the Sunnis' refusal to participate in the Jan. 30 elections, been insistent upon leaving several seats open for Sunnis in the new government? Rather than saying "screw you, it's your loss" to the Sunnis for boycotting the elections, the Shia have acted remarkably pluralistic in keeping the door open for Sunnis. Yet the Sunnis' condition for joining the new government has always been the depature of coalition forces from Iraq. But now:

"Politicians say the Sunni clerics' group is now participating at least indirectly in talks on the formation of what Shiites and Kurds promise will be a national unity government. But some Sunni leaders have said they will fully join the political process only after the United States announces when it will pull out its troops.

"The clerics' call Friday not just to spare Iraqi forces but to join them 'seems to be a new attitude,' Nadhmi said. 'They want the departure of occupying armies -- well, we all want that,' said [Sabah] Kadim, the Interior Ministry spokesman. Sunnis opposed to the U.S. presence, he added, increasingly realize 'it doesn't help a bit to be a terrorist. Really, it's hurting Iraqis.'"


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