Potential Outcome: The First Shiite-Sunni Arab Front

The night that the Iraq Conference closed in Brussels on June 23, seven car bombs blew up in Baghdad in the space of 12 hours – most in Shiite neighborhoods. The death toll neared 40 with dozens more injured.


The conference was attended by top officials from 80 countries and international organizations. Prominently present were Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari and US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.


Tragically, seven car bombings in Baghdad in less than a day no longer break any records; they were just a grim figure to add to the 700 terrorist strikes – mostly against Shiites – that have plagued Iraq in the last month, a month which has been the most disastrous of the guerrilla war since its launching in May 2003.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources disclose that behind the blood-letting, the ground is moving in Baghdad in a way that could transform Iraq’s future political-strategic landscape and even affect the guerrilla war. The Shiite prime minister Jaafari and the Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, are at loggerheads. Not only are the two top officers of state not on talking terms, but their feud is percolating to their communities.


Our Iraq experts report that the hostility, while not outwardly visible, is beginning to turn around Iraq’s political and military configurations. The Kurdish-Shiite alliance has been the keystone of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy; now it is melting down and making way for a drastic, unforeseen shifting around of the pieces on the Iraqi game board.


In the not too distance future, Shiite and Sunni leaders may come together for a pact between their Arab communities against Iraq’s Kurds.


 


Jaafari blames the Kurds


 


The Shiite prime minister lays the trouble at the door of the Kurds and their leader on four counts:


1. He finds President Talabani’s attitude intolerable, particularly his rejection of the concept of Iraqi federalism. Instead of working for the good of Iraq, Talabani devotes all his strength to expanding Kurdistani independence.


2. Jaafari holds that it is the fault of the Kurds, not Sunni Arab leaders, that the drafting of a new state constitution is stalled. Jaafari does not expect work on the constitution to meet its mid-August deadline or be ready for the general election scheduled for December. He would not be surprised if the Kurds backed out of the election altogether, thereby inducing Sunni factions to end their boycott on voting. A new political combination would then take shape – the opposite of the Shiite-Kurdish format that that came out of the January poll as a result of the Sunni boycott. Iraq’s political map would be turned on its head.


3. The prime minister resents the Kurds’ hefty investments in building an autonomous psehmerga army of 40-50,000 men, instead of contributing to the American-Iraqi program for a national army to serve central government.


4. The Kurds’ latest project for establishing their own air force – revealed here by DEBKANetWeekly’s military sources – finally persuaded Shiite leaders the time had come to drop their partnership in government with the Kurds.


A few days before leaving for Brussels, Jaafari received word that a team of Jordanian flight instructors had arrived in the Kurdish capital of Irbil to train Kurdish pilots to fly combat helicopters. This news created much bad feeling in government circles in Baghdad. The prime minister and the defense minister Saadoun al-Duleimi assume that Jordan would not have sent its flying instructors to Kurdistan without prior consultation with Washington and Ankara.


(See separate article on the Turkish-Kurdish axis).


 


Shiite Badr units man Baghdad checkpoints


 


Not all the grievances are on the Shiite side. The Kurds have their own bitter gripes too.


Above all, they claim that many of their actions derive from steps – and not just intentions – on the part of their Shiite colleagues to set up a new front with Sunni Arabs for the purpose of challenging the Kurds, especially in the Iraqi capital.


Talabani and president Masoud Barzani of Kurdistan recently complained to Washington that units of the Shiite Badr Organization had entered Baghdad and taken charge of Iraqi security forces stationed there. Our military sources confirm that 3,000 armed Badr troops are indeed posted on the streets of Baghdad as part of a tacit understanding between Jaafari and al-Duleimi who is a Sunni. The defense minister ordered the Badr force to be issued with Iraqi National Guard uniforms, distinguished only by special collar tags.


As a result, many of Baghdad’s checkpoints are manned by troops who barely speak Arabic because their language is Farsi.


Certain irritating distinctions Jaafari has been making in conversations with his advisers have also reached Kurdish ears. For instance, he draws a difference between “terrorists” of the type that follows Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They must be fought. And “insurgents” to whom the government must reach out for an agreement. The Shiite prime minister also refers to “the Kurds.” They, he says, must be put in their place.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources report that al Qaeda was not slow to exploit the evolving strife in the Iraqi capital. American officers running the war on terror report that all of the fundamentalist group’s operational branches in Iraq under Zarqawi’s command have been instructed to focus their suicide attacks on Shiite and Kurds alike to demonstrate that, while Shiites quarrel with Kurds, al Qaeda is king rather than “the insurgents.”

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