Top Iraqis Pull Back From Key U.S. Goal

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the most influential Sunni politician in the country, gives presents to children in Baghdad's Yarmouk neighborhood who lost their fathers to sectarian violence.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the most influential Sunni politician in the country, gives presents to children in Baghdad's Yarmouk neighborhood who lost their fathers to sectarian violence. "There is a shortage of goodwill from those parties who are now in the driver's seat of the country," he said. (Pool Photo By Khalid Mohamed Via Getty Images)
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 8, 2007

BAGHDAD -- For much of this year, the U.S. military strategy in Iraq has sought to reduce violence so that politicians could bring about national reconciliation, but several top Iraqi leaders say they have lost faith in that broad goal.

Iraqi leaders argue that sectarian animosity is entrenched in the structure of their government. Instead of reconciliation, they now stress alternative and perhaps more attainable goals: streamlining the government bureaucracy, placing experienced technocrats in positions of authority and improving the dismal record of providing basic services.

"I don't think there is something called reconciliation, and there will be no reconciliation as such," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd. "To me, it is a very inaccurate term. This is a struggle about power."

Humam Hamoudi, a prominent Shiite cleric and parliament member, said any future reconciliation would emerge naturally from an efficient, fair government, not through short-term political engineering among Sunnis and Shiites.

"Reconciliation should be a result and not a goal by itself," he said. "You should create the atmosphere for correct relationships, and not wave slogans that 'I want to reconcile with you.' "

The acrimony among politicians has strained the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki close to the breaking point. Nearly half of the cabinet ministers have left their posts. The Shiite alliance in parliament, which once controlled 130 of the 275 seats, is disintegrating with the defection of two important parties.

Legislation to manage the oil sector, the country's most valuable natural resource, and to bring former Baath Party members back into the government have not made it through the divided parliament. The U.S. military's latest hope for grass-roots reconciliation, the recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police force, was denounced last week in stark terms by Iraq's leading coalition of Shiite lawmakers.

"There has been no significant progress for months," said Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents and the most influential Sunni politician in the country. "There is a shortage of goodwill from those parties who are now in the driver's seat of the country."

Iraqi leaders say there are few signs that Maliki's government is any more willing to share power now than 15 months ago, when he unveiled a 28-point national reconciliation plan. A key proposal then was an amnesty for insurgents -- an "olive branch," Maliki said at the time -- to bring members of the resistance into the political fold.

But over the summer and fall of 2006, sectarian violence rose to its highest levels, driving thousands of people out of mixed neighborhoods and pushing Sunni and Shiite politicians further apart. The amnesty never materialized, nor has the reconciliation.

Some politicians remain hopeful. Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, recently drafted what he calls the "Iraqi National Compact," a 25-point statement of principles that condemns all types of extremism and sectarian discrimination.

Hashimi's statement calls for candid dialogue among Iraq's various factions. On Sept. 27, he met with the country's most respected Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a rare and symbolic gesture that underscored the possibility of cooperation across the sectarian gap. Hashimi said Sistani expressed support for the national compact while requesting minor editing of the document.


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