The Limits of Grassroots Reconciliation In Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2007

Notwithstanding some rumbling among Republican critics of Bush administration policy about the failure of the surge, plenty of folks on the Right now share Bush’s enthusiasm for the surge-linked “Anbar Model.”

In his July 12, 2007 White House press conference, Bush referred to this as “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

In a recent post, I suggested that politically, the Anbar Model was accomplishing much that “top-down” political reconciliation had failed to achieve.

Charles Krauthammer makes a similar point in his most recent Washington Post column.

A year ago, it appeared that the only way to win back the Sunnis and neutralize the extremists was with great national compacts about oil and power sharing. But Anbar has unexpectedly shown that even without these constitutional settlements, the insurgency can be neutralized and al-Qaeda defeated at the local and provincial levels…

In some ways, the so-called “grassroots” reconciliation is a substitute for “top down” reconciliation.

Note well, the reconciliation is between US forces and the Sunnis, not between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis.  Indeed, the Shiite-led Iraqi government has expressed grave concern about the drift Bush’s “bottom up” reconciliation.

Between Krauthammer, the White House and Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate there is no real disagreement on the issue of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

The disagreement centers on the Maliki government and its commitment to “top-down” reconciliation.  Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate want Bush to dump Maliki because he and his governing coalition continue to resist efforts to hand power to the Sunni Arab minority.

The Washington Post quotes Haider al-Ebaidi, a Shiite politician from Maliki’s Dawa party:

Ebaidi said many Shiites view reconciling with former Baathists as “rewarding those people who have been responsible for torturing and killing”…

“The moment they push these things through,” he said, “they will divide the government more.”

It is far from certain that Bush will, in fact, abandon Maliki.

But it is also unclear whether Senate Republicans think there is a viable parliamentary alternative to Maliki.

We may find out this weekend.

Earlier in July, CBS News reported that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (sometimes transliterated as Tariq al-Hashemi) was assembling the votes for a parliamentary no-confidence vote to topple the Maliki government.

CBS News has learned that on July 15, [senior Iraqi leaders] plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki…

The no-confidence vote will be requested by the largest block of Sunni politicians, who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project. What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty.

[The CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote had the support of Vice President Cheney, an claim recently echoed in the Economist.  Even the most ardent US supporters of such a no-confidence vote remain skeptical that Cheney would support the move.]

Juan Cole does some nose counting and seems to doubt Hashimi will be able to get the votes:

There are three Sunni Arab parties in the 275-member parliament. The largest, with 44 seats, is the Iraqi Accord Front. The National Dialogue Front of Salih al-Mutlak has 11 seats. The small Liberation and Reconciliation Party has 3 seats (its founder, Mishaan al-Jibouri has had to flee the country because a warrant was issued for his arrest last fall). According to the Iraqi constitution, any 50 members of parliament can call a vote of no confidence, so the Sunni Arab parties can certainly initiate the process.

They would need 138 seats to unseat al-Maliki, however, and it is not clear that they would have them. The 58 Kurdish deputies will vote for al-Maliki, and he would only need 80 Shiite votes to win the vote. Even with the defection from his alliance of 32 Sadrist MPs and 15 from the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), al-Maliki probably still has 80 Shiite MPs behind him (before the defections he had about 130 in his United Iraqi Alliance, so the defections should have left him with 88). It is also not clear that the Sadrist and Islamic Virtue MPs will actually vote with Sunni fundamentalist parties to unseat a Shiite prime minister.

Maliki retains the confidence of his key ally, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.

But the CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote was merely “the first step” to bringing down the government.

Other steps would presumably require “extra-parliamentary” action.

In other words, Hashimi and his political allies might abandon the “political process” altogether and launch the long-awaited anti-Shiite coup that would finally silence Maliki’s Right Arabist critics (even as it might unleash the fury of Iraqi Shiites).

At present, there is nothing in the news that would suggest the White House has given up on the Maliki government or the Iraqi parliamentary process.

Until he does, however, there will be no political reconciliation between Bush and his Right Arabist critics.

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