How's that Sunni outreach going?

| Thu Apr. 7, 2005 2:01 PM PDT

Well, I was slightly off yesterday when I surmised that the newly selected Presidency Council in Iraq could potentially delay its decision on appointing a Prime Minister. Today they decided on Ibrahim Jaaferi, an Islamist Shiite who has long worried many secular Iraqis over his stances on implementing Islamic law in Iraq. Nevertheless, the New York Times coverage of the decisions leading up to government-formation is somewhat murky. For example:

The main Shiite and Kurdish political parties that now dominate the national assembly were engaged in heated talks to form the coalition government, with both groups holding fast to their own interests on key issues, such as who would take important government posts and control oil fields; the feuding and delays slowly eroded the confidence of Iraqi citizens in the process.

The Kurds and Shiites also had to negotiate with the Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the elections, over which jobs they would fill. Incorporating the Sunni community was essential for the new government to be viewed as legitimate.

Well, yes, they did need to negotiate with the Sunnis. Everyone knows that's the key to stability in Iraq. But did anything actually come out of those negotiations? As best I can tell, the Sunnis—by which I mean the non-urbane, non-secular Sunnis who boycotted the election—got nothing. The new Sunni speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, is essentially an unpopular exile who backed the invasion of Fallujah and broke with his somewhat-credible Iraqi Islamic Party last fall.

Meanwhile, the new Sunni Vice-President, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer, is a Sunni, but doesn't have much influence among the tribal sheikhs in al-Anbar province or the fundamentalist Sunnis who are fueling the insurgency. Nor does he have the sort of Baathist ties that could be useful in negotiating with many of the disgruntled ex-Baathists who are killing Americans and Iraqis alike. This is no secret; al-Yawer himself balked at the speaker job because he knew he would only be a figurehead.

So what, exactly, did the Sunnis get? If anything, it looks like they're going to get screwed; the Wall Street Journal reports on the Shiite groundswell to purge the Iraqi government of former Baath officials. The new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaaferi, has long indicated that he's in favor of this move. So where's the outreach fit in?

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