(Note: my computer crashed just as I finished the first version of this post... don't have time to write it up in nearly the depth as the first time. Sorry.)
Amar al-Hakim, son of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim and the likely next head of the Shia faction SIIC (nee SCIRI), recently visited Anbar province along with about 40 other Shia figures to meet with the Sunni tribal shaykhs of the Anbar Salvation Council. His goal was to push the idea of federalism on the Sunnis. The general tone of the coverage of the visit is nicely captured by this AP report:
In a major reconciliatory gesture, a leader from Iraq's largest Shiite party paid a rare visit Sunday to the Sunni Anbar province, delivering a message of unity to tribal sheiks who have staged a U.S.-backed revolt against al-Qaida militants.
What these reports for some odd reason neglect to add is that the mission was an utter failure. As al-Hayat reports today, the Anbar Salvation Council absolutely and completely rejected the idea of federalism, both in general and in all of its details. Al-Hayat quotes SIIC leaders saying that they will take this as a "maybe."
The assembled leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council, it's worth stressing, are the most compliant group of Sunni leaders which could possibly be assembled. Given their current relationship with the United States, they would be expected to be far more forthcoming to such proposals than would any group of, say, insurgency leaders. They weren't, speaking volumes about the current state of Sunni-Shia relations. While Amar's decision to travel to Anbar was certainly interesting and well worth attention, their forceful rejection of his initiative would seem to be at least as newsworthy. Arab media coverage (unlike most of the American media coverage I saw) typically mentioned that the Shia figures came to Anbar under heavy American military protection - a sensible precaution, if true, but one which would cut against the current carefully cultivated image of Anbar as a newly peaceful safe haven.
Meanwhile, there's been a whole raft of absolutely fascinating statements and interviews from Iraqi Sunnis recently - including a dossier of complaints by the 1920 Revolution Brigades against the Islamic State of Iraq, an interview on al-Jazeera by a leader of Hamas Iraq (without his face being concealed), and lengthy interviews with Reform and Jihad Front spokesman Abd al-Rahman al-Qissi and Jaysh al-Rashidayn spokesman Adil al-Zahawi. I'll try to sum those up later this week.