Sunni Disillusion with Iraqi Election Threatens to Fuel Guerilla War

The decision by the Iraqi Supreme Court to disqualify 90 delegates who were elected to parliament on December 15, most of them Sunni Muslims, because they were once members of the Baath Party, echoes the decision reached in the middle of 2003 by Paul Bremer, the first US administrator for Iraq.
At that time, Bremer, who was new to the job, ruled that all members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and officers and sergeants of his armed forces – especially if they were also members of the Baath Party (had they not been, they would not have been considered for promotions) – would not be eligible for posts in the new regime or the new army to be established.
Bremer’s ruling was considered the second worst mistake the Bush administration made in Iraq, next to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision – contrary to the view of most US military experts – that 150,000 troops would be sufficient to dismantle Saddam’s regime and bring Iraq under control.
This ruling condemned many thousands of former Iraqi officers and soldiers to choosing between a life of poverty and deprivation for themselves and their families and their only alternative: to join the Sunni Muslim guerilla war – with the guarantee of a monthly paycheck equal to their wages from Saddam’s regime.
Most of them chose the latter, giving the leaders of the guerilla war against the Americans an infusion of professional and experienced manpower.
The Iraqi parliament has 275 deputies. The disqualification of 90 elected members – most of them Sunnis and secular – even before the votes were counted and the results made public – will have two immediate consequences: approximately 30 percent of the democratically elected parliament will be prevented from taking their seats, leading the Sunnis to total disenchantment with the democratic election process. They will seize on this setback as further proof that whatever they do, including massive participation in the elections, they will never be admitted to a position of influence within the Shite-Kurdish regime in Baghdad.
Therefore, they will reason, the only avenue left open to them is to continue their guerilla war against the Americans and the Iraqi regime.
In recent days, this inclination has gained favor among the Sunnis. They are increasingly suspicious that the general election was rigged with the help of Iranian intelligence agents to boost the Shiite share of the vote beyond its close to 60 percent of the population.
Another effect could be closer cooperation between radical Sunnis and Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaida in Iraq, which has maintained all along that Sunni participation in the new political process is a delusion that will only lead to more repression.
On December 25, the bullet-ridden body of a young Sunni Muslim, Qusay Salahaddin, was found in Mosul. As the head of the local student union, he led last week’s demonstrations against the alleged voter fraud in the parliamentary elections. When he was abducted on December 22, he managed to reach his cell phone and shout to his friends that he was in the hands of the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, and they were going to kill him for his impudence in raising charges of voter fraud.
The New York Times, in its lead editorial December 27, advised the Sunnis to reconcile themselves to their limited influence in parliament since they represented no more than 20 percent of the population. Most Sunnis do not read The New York Times, but they can count: the Kurds, who represent no more than 18 percent of the population, scored much better than they; their candidates were not disqualified and no one kidnapped and killed Kurds who complained about forged ballots.
One exception is the Kurdish Bahram Salah, a former Iraqi deputy prime minister and chief election strategist for Iyyad Alawi’s secular alliance. He is speaking openly of rigged election results.
The talk coming out of Washington these days is resigned: we will we have to reconcile ourselves to a kind of “sectarian democracy” prevailing in Iraq in the next few years, official sources are saying. In practical terms, this assessment reduces the prospects of an early US military withdrawal from Iraq amid a corresponding expectation of a heightened Sunni insurgency.

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