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Iraq’s Sunnis Feel Shortchanged

By Yerevan Saeed 5/1/2014

Once more, Fallujah dominates the headlines. For several years after the US invasion of Iraq, the Sunni town was a hotbed of insurgents, where Baghdad regained control only after the tribes took up arms and drove out the insurgents in 2008.

Over the past three years, however, the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki began persecuting the Sunnis. Random arrests became common, senior Sunni leaders and officials -- including the former vice president Tariq al-Hashmi and former finance minister Rafie al-Essawi – were charged with terrorism, forcing them into exile or resignation.

The Sunni populations feel marginalized by lack of public services, high unemployment and unfair treatment by Baghdad.

All these pushed the Sunnis to start wide-scale demonstrations in the Sunni areas of the country against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad in the winter of 2012.  It started from Ramadi and Fallujah and then spread to Diyala, Salahaddin and the ethnically-mixed provinces of Nineveh and Kirkuk.

While negotiations occurred between the government and protestors from time to time, Baghdad never meant to address the underlining issues and demands of the Iraqi Sunnis. Rather, it was working to weaken the protestors and the Sunnis by the traditional tactic of “divide and rule.” The government empowered some tribal chiefs, while making threats and issuing arrest warrants against others.

This hide-and-seek game between the government and protestors culminated in the deadly attack by the Iraqi security forces on the sit-in protests in the town of Hawija last April, where more than 60 protestors were killed and hundreds more wounded. None of the security officials have been held accountable by the courts or the government for this massacre.

Instead of addressing the Sunni grievances through political and economic means, Baghdad continues to apply security solutions to bring the Sunnis -- and alleged al-Qaeda elements among the protestors -- under control.

This strategy of Baghdad to tackle the security concerns in Anbar province, have also pushed the Sunnis and Islamic extremists into a single front against the central government. Now, there is a huge deficit of trust between the Sunnis and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The Sunnis believe Baghdad’s Shiite government has betrayed them and forgotten their role in siding with Iraqi troops against the al-Qaeda insurgents in 2008. They complain that their salaries have been cut and their leaders shut out of the political process.

At the moment, there is a three-way clash going on in Anbar province, one among the Sunni tribes themselves, another between the Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda and the third between the tribes and the government.

Some Sunni tribes have allied with the government again, while others have become allies of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). When the war is over, Maliki has to remember the Sunnis and their demands, because this is where things fell apart the last time. The government will have to bring the Sunnis into the political process, offer jobs and public services and stop random arrests.

It is hard to predict the outcome of this crisis. What is clear, however, is that the situation will only continue to worsen if the government persists in using only military force to face the Sunnis.

Yerevan Saeed is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston 


Karwan | 5/1/2014
This not a Sunni - Shia confrontation.. It's Iraqis(tribes, , police and army) against terrorist armed militia backed by Sectarian governments surrounding Iraq... Stop trying to creat a rift between the Iraqi are one of them after all...and be honest in telling the story
Rebar | 5/1/2014
The government is not pursuing an all out military solution simply because it doesn't have the capability yet, wait a year or two until the Iraqi army is fully restored and has an active air force then both Sunnis and Kurds will find out what a mistake it was not joining forces and removing Malaki. Kurds and Sunni Arabs should be natural allies but unfortunately there are several major hurdles in the way 1. Some Sunni Arabs are still Baathsts and refuse to come to terms with what they did, they have to admit and apologize for the atrocities committed against Kurds. 2. The Sunni Arabs are very divided and although no one is admitting it they are actually fighting a civil war. You have the former baathists, the Islamists and the tribes who again are divided into two camps, half of them supporting the government the other half the Islamists. There is also an array of other small Sunni Arab parties like liberals, democrats, communist etc but they are too small and powerless. 3. On the Kurdish side PUK/Gorran are not whole heartedly behind removing Malaki so there is a disagreement between them and KDP, Iran is the main reason, it's pressuring PUK and Gorran. 4. It's unlikely that Kurds and Sunni Arabs can come too an settlement on the disputed territories which is essential, Sunni Arabs still until this day are driving Kurds out from mixed areas, this has convinced Kurds that they will never change their mentality. These reasons and others is why Malaki has such an easy time playing with Sunnis and Kurds, until he's strong enough militarily that is to settle things permanently.
Ahmed | 8/1/2014
What do you suggest at the beginning of this article is that Iraqi government is made of Shiites only, it is not -in case you've never lived in Iraq. Then you claimed that the government's persecuting Sunni leaders as al-Hashimi and al-Essawi only because they are Sunnis, they are not -in case you were having a slumber. Al-Hashimi was convicted by a judges committee made of nine judges, six of them were Sunnis. If by the Iraqi law a person was convicted by terrorism, no reasonable person can even think of the situation as being persecuting based on sectarian reason. The rest of the article is based on similar lack of reasoning. Don't lie because it will get you nowhere.
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