ARBIL - Iraq's national reconciliation conference held over the weekend highlights
the gap between the country's various political groups and their lack of consensus
on a common basis for reconciliation.
Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's call for the return of members of the
country's dissolved army under former president Saddam Hussein was interpreted
as positive, but the absence of major Sunni armed groups at the conference held
in Baghdad could dash hopes of a comprehensive reconciliation plan.
It is believed that elements loyal to the former ruling Ba'ath Party constitute
a vital part of the resistance. Sunni leaders demand the abolition of laws keeping
former Ba'athists from official jobs.
Maliki's position on this was seen as confusing and ambiguous.
"National reconciliation embraces all Iraqis except Saddamists and Takfiris
[those who declare others to be infidels]," Maliki told the conference.
But he said that the "Iraqi government differentiates between the Ba'athists
who didn't commit any crimes against Iraqi people and those who perpetrated
big crimes against Iraqi people and continue shedding the blood of Iraqis, and
carry out assassinations and terrorist acts."
Several major parliamentary blocs boycotted the conference, including the al-Iraqia
slate of first postwar premier Iyad Allawi, the Sunni slate of the Iraqi Front
National Dialogue led by Salih al-Mutlak, and the bloc loyal to young cleric
That, in addition to rising violence, has disappointed many who hoped that
a workable solution could emerge from the conference.
"In my opinion, neither this conference nor other similar conferences
can easily resolve the current problems," Khasro Pirbal, a political analyst
from Arbil told IPS. "When there are people in these meetings who don't
accept each other, what results can you expect?"
Pirbal said "neighboring countries have turned Iraq into a field for settling
old scores." The current tensions in the country are "a part of a
historical problem to which several other international and regional parties
are contributing now."
The often conflicting views of Iraq's political leaders make it hard for nationwide
peace to be realized, many of them acknowledge.
"We have to reiterate that national reconciliation will not include in
any way the symbols of Ba'ath Party and its [previous] regime, the criminals,
killers, terrorists, and Takfiris and their ideological extensions," Fuad
Massoum, head of the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc in the Iraqi parliament, told the
He called for a federal solution, opposed by many others in and outside Iraq.
That envisages broad autonomy to regions within a loosely held-together state.
In contrast to Massoum's views, shared by a majority of Kurdish and Shia politicians,
Sunnis had a different idea what reconciliation should include.
"We call for a reconsideration of ignoring the military servicemen of
the former army [of Saddam Hussein's government], dealing with national resistance
and differentiating them from terrorism, and preserving the unity of the state,"
said Salim Abdullah of the main Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front.
On the ground, political discord translates into bloody strife that is threatening
to turn into a fully-fledged civil war if not contained.
Sunnis accuse Shia militias of carrying out mass abduction operations against
them and attacking their neighborhoods. At checkpoints of sorts, Shia militias
can arrest anyone with a Sunni sounding name. In today's Iraq, Sunni names like
Omar and Othman can cost you your life at these checkpoints.
Shias, on the other hand, say Sunni extremists are carrying out bombings that
ruthlessly target Shia civilians in crowded urban areas. Last month, almost
200 Shias were killed by suicide bombers in Sadr City in the capital.
Iraq's government is under immense pressure from Washington to bring the situation
under control. Many warn that if Maliki's government fails to do so, unrest
will spread to the rest of the Middle East.
"Iraq's crisis is getting deeper and deeper day after day, and the essentials
of Iraq's integrity are falling apart," Fattah Zakhoyi of the Kurdistan
Toilers' Party, which has one seat in the parliament of northern Kurdistan,
"The political and religious leaders of the country have to realize that
this war cannot be continued more than this, and it will jeopardize their interests
of their constituents as well as their personal interests."