The Sunnis Lose
As predicted two weeks ago here on Talisman Gate, the Sunnis have played themselves out of the Iraqi political game after staging a desperate gambit to gather more power and keep their own coalition from breaking-up.
The Shiites and the Kurds went ahead with forming a ‘coalition of moderates’ and intend to form a new cabinet based on their understanding, reached a couple of days ago. They had intended to win over the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party as window-dressing, but when the latter chose to shackle themselves to the ranks of Sunni radicals, the ‘coalition of moderates’—comprising PM Nouri Maliki (Da’awa Party), Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim (Supreme Council), President Jalal Talabani (PUK), and Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani (KDP)—simply went ahead without them, to the horror of American diplomats keen on showcasing ‘political progress’ to the US Congress in a report to be submitted in mid-September.
But all these developments are actually signs of healthy political progress: politics in Iraq have matured into the dynamics of parliamentary democracy, where coalitions are formed for the purpose of governing rather than for the purpose of maintaining a semblance of inter-sectarian and inter-ethnic consensual politics, but crippling the resolve of active governing and change in the meantime. Sunnis are now welcome as equal partners in running the country, but should they continue stonewalling the progress of a new Iraq (…and secretly supporting the insurgency) in the hope of renegotiating their political clout, then they will find themselves out of the picture—and that’s exactly what happened.
Problem is, many American diplomats, spies, journalists and academics who focus on the Middle East simply cannot understand the region without the notion of Sunni dominance. The supposedly marginal minorities, such as the Shiites and the Kurds, should always be subservient to the Sunnis, goes this line of thinking. It doesn’t matter if the Shiites and Kurds constitute over 80 percent of the Iraqi nation; “What will the Saudis say?” is the refrain of this crowd.
Well, what the Saudis have to say matters very little in Iraq, and once Iraq gets back on its legs and breathes petro-fire around the neighborhood, the Saudis will matter very little across the Middle East. A new paradigm is forming, and many traditional American centers of wisdom on the region are ill-equipped to understand it.
The Sunnis of Iraq believed that their talent and proclivity for violence would matter more than Shiite and Kurdish numbers; if only they could hurt America enough, then they’d get power that is disproportionate to their votes. America, in its electoral panic and misunderstanding of the new Iraq, went the extra mile for them and found itself as their unlikely attorney, bartering for a better deal. But the former and current victims, the Shiites and Kurds, dug in their negotiating heals and were unwilling to squander their historical opportunity at role reversal. Now that the insurgency has failed both militarily and politically, there is no more incentive to reach a hasty deal—and the Shiites and Kurds can afford to be magnanimous in victory, or not.
Thus, the Sunnis now fit the Arabic proverb that goes:
ضربني وبكى, سبقني واشتكى
(He hit me and cried, then was quick to complain)
The Sunni politicos of Iraq are behaving now as classic victims, rather than would-be rulers. They are divided, petty, vitriolic, uncompromising, and they seek sanctuary and strength from outside patrons. This is a community on the decline; it is being reduced to its logical size as a small minority.
Such is the new reality of Iraq, but it’s no wonder if Congress doesn’t get it: those who are supposed to explain this new reality to them—the diplomats, spooks, journos and academes—don’t get it either.