Mohammed Abu Rumman, a Jordanian journalist who follows the Iraqi Sunni scene very closely, has a fascinating article up at al-Hayat on recent developments there. It's a detailed, rich essay, which makes a few key points. First, Awakenings leaders seem to be uncertain about their future and about American intentions, with unpredictable ramifications - possibly moving them into the political process and integration into the state, possibly inflaming them against American 'betrayal'. Second, the emerging Sunni political scence is intensely fragmented, with a bewildering array of parties and movements competing rather than any coherent Sunni bloc. Is Iraq really entering a post-Awakenings period? What would that mean?
First, Abu Rumman leads with indications from sources close to the Iraqi Resistance that the Americans are abandoning the Awakenings, asking them to stand down in the face of the Iraqi armed forces. While some describe this as a betrayal, the prominent Sahwa leader from the Islamic Army Abu Azzam al-Tamimi argues that it is a natural and appropriate response to changes on the ground. With the influence of al-Qaeda on the decline and the Mahdi Army on the run, he claims, the Awakenings are less needed for self-defence and now should pursue Sunni interests through other avenues - such as his own political party (see below).
Abu Rumman's reporting here is certainly worth further investigation - are the Awakenings being asked to stand down? Are national armed forces taking their place? If this were accompanied by the incorporation of the Awakenings fighters into the national army and police, then this could be a very positive move towards the consolidation of state authority. If it's happening without such incorporation, it could put fuel back into the armed factions who have been carefully monitoring this situation and put the current security situation at risk. Not everyone shares Abu Azzam's guarded optimism (based on this story, other published reports, and my own conversations) and Abu Rumman notes that even Abu Azzam is worried. I hope that the US and those Iraqis interested in national reconciliation are staying on top of this.
The second part of Abu Rumman's article attempts to sketch out a roadmap for the dizzying array of new political parties and entities, including: Karama (Dignity), headed by Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, from the Islamic Army of Iraq; Istiqlal (Independence), concentrated south of Baghdad, headed by Abu Atiyaf and Mahmoud al-Janabi (also both leaders from the Islamic Army); The National Movement for Development and Reform, headed by Jamal al-Karbouli, which he describes as enjoying wide support from Baathists, technocrats, and former military men, and whose main goal is to confront Iranian influence in Iraq; The Awakenings Conference of Iraq (tribal, headed by Ahmed Abu Risha, based in Anbar); The National Front for the Salvation of Iraq (tribal, headed by Ali Hatem Sulayman, also Anbar); The Accordance Bloc, headed by the Islamic Party; a bunch more, including various groupings of tribal figures, independents, and so forth; And, of course, numerous trends and factions continue to reject the political process, including the Association of Muslim Scholars and the factions aligned with it, to say nothing of the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda).
This variety suggests both wide-ranging support among the Sunnis for participation in the current political process and their deep political fragmentation. The Awakenings appear to be producing not one political party, but half a dozen based on competing personalities, local interests, and tribal differences. The Islamic Army of Iraq itself seems to have produced at least two different parties, while the Anbar Salvation Council seems to have generated at least two which might cooperate and might compete. The differences between the Anbar Salvation Council and the Baghdad-area Awakenings which has long been evident seems to be manifesting. Abu Rumman also notes some interesting alliances being mooted. For instance, Abu Rumman quotes Usama al-Tikriti of the Islamic Party on the possibility of an electoral alliance with Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party. Could there be a better symbol of the idea of a "Green Zone" class with a distinct identity and interests?
This is all fascinating to watch. The Awakenings have proven much more effective than I expected last year, largely because they extended to include the insurgency factions and offered them a way into the political process (demonstrating the utility of talking to enemies, no?). On the other hand, they have proven to be just as much a politically fragmenting force as I had expected, the anti-Iranian and anti-Shia focus of many of them continues unabated, and the concentration of firepower outside the state remains deeply problematic.
I think that reasonable people can disagree over whether such communal fragmentation (not just in the Sunni community) is a good or bad thing: it provide opportunities for shifting coalitions and the pursuit of local interests, at the expense of the existence of a clear negotiating partner which can bargain, sign and enforce agreements on behalf of the community. It challenged the hegemony of factions which consolidated power in the chaotic post-war months and years (whether the Islamic Party on one side or the AMS on the other). It's probably a good thing from the perspective of the central government, since it weakens "Sunni" bargaining power while providing lots of points of entry for individual deals and local accommodations. Is it also a good thing for the Sunni community? It really depends on the nature of the leadership which emerges. The provinicial elections will, as everyone says, be key here when they're eventually held - but don't forget that empowering new leaders by definition threatens the power of existing leaders... and nobody really knows how certain new participants in the electoral process might react if the voting goes the wrong way.
As to the firepower outside the state represented by the Awakenings (and the Mahdi Army and the various militias currently being targeted), this puts the focus back where I've put it for many months: will these forces be integrated into the state, creating more sectarian-balanced security institutions, or will they be left on the line until they finally lose hope? More and more people seem to recognize the importance of this (even if others grumble that "we don't need to find jobs for those hoodlums"). But it remains very unclear whether the Maliki government's current rhetorical emphasis about building up the state and imposing order - applied selectively, but in my view to considerable effect (even the Sadrists now say they are happy to go along as long as the government's actions stick to the 'imposing law and order' mandate) - will extend to action on this pivotal dimension of Sunni incorporation into the security apparatus.
More on all this coming soon...