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The Prime Minister of All Iraqis?

Not that it’s important enough for mainstream media to highlight, but that elusive thing known as Iraqi political reconciliation (remember when its absence was a sign of the apocalypse?) may be upon us:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki traveled to Anbar province, a visit that three years ago would have been considered a suicide mission into the cradle of the Sunni Arab resistance.

Now the Shiite Muslim leader, famously mistrustful of the sect that dominated Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign, was huddling with the head of the ruling Sunni coalition in Anbar, talking of the need to cut across sectarian lines in upcoming national elections.
Perhaps just as surprisingly, Maliki’s words were received favorably by tribesmen. “Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is patriotic and able to lead Iraq,” said provincial council member Arkan Khalaf Tarmouz, who attended the meeting two weeks ago. “It is possible to ally with him in a national coalition.”

Some think Maliki is striking a unity pose for political gain. But even the most cynical read is not that cynical: Maliki lost support among some fellow Shiites when he went after Muqtadr al-Sadr and other Iranian-backed forces. He needs Sunni support to stay alive politically. At this point, the Sunnis want unity, and all Iraqis want calm. Giving the people what they want means delivering reconciliation and security, and ultimately passing an oil law and revisions to the constitution. Where’s the problem? Saddam didn’t believe in jihad, but that didn’t make his Islamist overtures any less dangerous. If Maliki is being opportunistic about unity, it doesn’t make his attempt at reconciliation any less positive.

The usual disclaimers still apply. So do some new ones. In its hunger for full sovereignty, the Iraqi government may bite off more than it can chew on the security front. Also, as tensions subside between Sunnis and Shiites, a conflict is coming to a head between ethnicities in the oil-rich Kirkuk region. But whatever the real concerns, one line of nay-saying is edging ever closer to the trash bin of history. The great historical Shia-Sunni rift about which we’ve heard so much (and which Americans, in our bottomless ignorance, supposedly agitated) is not an insurmountable roadblock on the path to Muslim democracy. It’s a serious consideration that gains nothing from politicization.

We’ll do well to remember that when the articles, books, and “documentaries” about Afghanistan’s unbreakable tribal ties start to crowd the horizon. We are allowed to learn from our successes once in a while.



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