Meeting Sunnis’ Demands Key to Iraq Crisis Resolution

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Interview with Qassem Mohebali, Former Iranian diplomat and Middle East Analyst
By: Saeid Jafari

For a while, the appointment of new president, new parliament speaker and new prime minister raised hopes that finding a final solution to the ongoing political crisis and deadlock in Iraq would not be out of hand. However, the prime minister’s failure to form his new cabinet and continuation of differences between ethnic and religious groups in the Arab country has clearly shown that the ouster of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, and appointment of his successor is no more the solution to the Iraqi crisis and the country will continue to be consumed by internal conflicts. In the following interview with Khabaronline website, Qassem Mohebali, a former diplomat at the Iranian Foreign Ministry and an expert on Middle East issues says if the demands of all Sunni groups in Iraq are not met, there will be no solution to the Iraqi crisis. The text of the interview follows.

Q: Discussions are going on over the formation of the new Iraqi government and it seems that involved parties have not been able to reach an agreement on how to divide various ministries among them. How do you see the situation?

A: As for the division of posts in Iraq, it should be noted that Shias as well as Sunnis and Kurds want this process to go on in such a way that key posts will be given to them. The most important problem, however, is probably about the position of Sunni Iraqis in this division. This issue had also caused many problems for the government of former Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, and led to many conflicts, problems and differences among various political groups as a result of which Sunni politicians decided to leave the government. For this reason, one of the main demands of the Iraqi Sunnis is to have a better standing in the new division of power compared to the previous government. Therefore, I think if the demands of the Iraqi Sunnis are not met, the existing problems will continue to nag the country.

Q: The issue of maintaining security in various provinces has been also a focus of attention. Due to failure of the Iraqi army to control the ISIS onslaught, there have been speculations about the possibility of establishing an alternative army to replace the existing one. Can the establishment of an institution like a substitute army be considered a solution to the security problems that Iraq is currently experiencing?

A: The main problem that the country has with the ISIS is a result of political differences that exist among these three groups with the ISIS and other extremist groups making the most of their differences. Therefore, in the first place, a political agreement should be reached by various groups in order to make sure that ethnic and tribal leaders are satisfied with what is going on in Baghdad. Later on, thinking about how to deal with extremist groups through military force would be more effective. And the use of force should be done by an army which has the support of all political groups. As long as differences exist among Kurds, Shias and Sunnis in Iraq, neither Shia forces will engage terrorists in those regions where Sunnis sway majority, nor Sunnis will be willing to fight against the opposition groups. The main reason behind the collapse of the Iraqi army has its root in the profound political problem that is currently plaguing the country. Therefore, the problem should be first solved within the Iraqi government before a final solution is thought for how to deal with the ISIS crisis. Otherwise, the existing problem will rage on unabated. Even if there is a powerful army consisting of Shia and Kurdish forces, it would be impossible for that army to suppress the Iraqi Sunnis because they will unite around the ISIS. This is true taking into account that the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, tried to suppress Kurds for 30 years, but never succeeded to eliminate them from the political scene of Iraq.

Q: How these differences can be resolved? Mr. Salman Jumairi, who represents a coalition of Sunni political groups in Iraq, has announced that negotiations with the National Iraqi Alliance have not been successful because certain groups belonging to a coalition of Shia political groups still insist on the continuation of the past government’s practices. In view of the above facts, do you think that there would be a positive outlook for the management and reduction of differences that currently exist among various Iraqi groups?

A: I think that Iraqi Shias should be vigilant and show more resilience. A party, which has more power and holds the majority, is expected to give more concessions to the weaker party in order to protect the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq. Unfortunately, a certain kind of tribal and Shia-dominated viewpoints pervades within some Shia groups, which does not let them to see the problems from a national standpoint. This issue is also rife among Kurds and Sunnis Muslims, but since Shias hold the majority in the Iraqi society, they are expected to show more sensitivity as well as sense of responsibility compared to Kurds and Sunnis. Unfortunately, however, some Shia groups do not want to accept the necessity of division of power and cooperation with other groups and other sections of the society. As long as this empathy and sense of cooperation does not exist in the Iraqi society, there could be no hope in possible improvement of the situation in the Arab country.

Q: How strong are those Sunni groups that support cooperation with an integrated Iraqi government and how many of those groups prefer to go for military approaches, including by supporting the ISIS?

A: Unfortunately, that part of the Iraqi Sunni Muslims that is currently taking part in the political games in Baghdad lacks suitable grounds and maneuvering room. Therefore, as the Sunni groups lose in strength, the role of such extremist groups as the ISIS and the Baathist elements becomes more pronounced. Of course, I personally believe that the Iraqi Sunnis are by no means willing to see a divided Iraq and the majority of Sunni political leaders are not supporting this idea. On the other hand, the extremist side of these groups is not willing to accept and be subjected to leadership of a Shia majority. This is a paradoxical situation that currently prevails among Iraqi Sunnis, while internal mechanisms are not apparently adequate to solve this problem. As a result, Iraq needs international as well as regional support and efforts in favor of unity in the country. Foreign players should also put more pressure on domestic players in the Arab country to give in to democratic process. Otherwise, I really think that pressure from the ISIS will not allow an agreement to be reached between Sunnis and their political leaders, on the one side, and the central government in Iraq, on the other side.

Q: How do you see the overall perspective of the ongoing developments in Iraq? Do you think that in view of the above facts, the government of the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi will be able to finally form his cabinet on the basis of a consensus among various political groups?

A: The main problem with Iraq in the first place is the collapse of the political structure and disruption that has come about among the aforesaid three communities. This problem cannot be easily solved. The maximum step that the government of Mr. Al-Abadi can take is to reduce this problem and serve as a good option for the establishment of a stable government in Iraq. As a result, I believe that the problem in Iraq is a profound and longstanding problem, which will continue for a long time to come. At the same time, the ISIS has proven that it is not an ephemeral phenomenon to be done away with easily. We have already seen that despite the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the group is still playing a crucial role in the continuation of instability and insecurity in Afghanistan. In the same way, even if the ISIS is defeated, it will continue to play its role in spreading instability and conducting terrorist operations in the country. However, as I said before, the foremost priority is for all political groups in Iraq to reach a political agreement among them. This will provide a good ground through which the country’s chronic problems can be solved in the long run.

Key Words: Iraq Crisis Resolution, Sunnis’ Demands, New Iraqi Government, ISIS, Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, Haider Al-Abadi, Political Groups, Qassem Mohebali

Source: Khabaronline News Website
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: CSMonitor

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