Friday, January 11, 2008
everything that keeps us together is falling part:
Late last year, the Kurds brokered a political alliance with the Iraqi Islamic Party, the nucleus of the Sunni Accordance Front, which is the larger Sunni bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. Good, right? Sectarianism in abeyance? You'd think, but former State Department Iraq officer Ramzy Mardini writes for the Jamestown Foundation that the alliance could end up ripping Ninewa Province apart.

According to Mardini, the alliance involves ceding almost all of the province -- home to roughly 2.5 million people, about 1.7 million of whom reside in the multiethnic city of Mosul -- to the Kurds in the upcoming referendum:

According to sources cited by the Sunni Haq News Agency, the agreement between Hashimi and the Kurdish parties stipulates that two-thirds of Ninawa province will be under Kurdish authority in any future federal region (Haq News Agency, December 29, 2007). The Federal Regions Law, passed by the Council of Representatives in October 2006, specifies that Iraq’s 18 provinces may begin to unite and form federal regions beginning in April 2008. The Sunni-Kurdish MoU is also said to completely discard the insertion of Mosul in any newly formed region and rather suggests that two-thirds of the city’s administration will be given to the Kurds, while the remaining one-third will go to Arabs and other ethnic groups (Haq News Agency, December 29, 2007). Though publicly reported, many of the aspects of the MoU, such as those indicated above, are said to be part of an “unpublished” portion of the agreement. If this is the case, [Iraqi Vice President and IIP leader Tariq] Hashimi certainly had good reason to keep such information secret since public knowledge of the vice president’s compromises might create a political backlash from ordinary Sunnis, especially in Ninawa province. If accurate, the sensitivity of these compromises explains Hashimi’s passive rhetoric when describing the MoU with the Kurds: “We don’t want to send the wrong message that this [agreement] is aimed against any specific sides, but is [instead designed] to activate national reconciliation” (al-Sabah, December 26, 2007).

If I'm reading that correctly, it means that two-thirds of the province will now be under the administration of the Kurdistan Regional Government, but the city of Mosul itself will be (hang in there) under Baghdad's control but still run by the Kurds. I think. Either I'm thick or Mardini isn't clear (though both could be true), but it seems that the actual modalities of control over Mosul are governed by the agreement's secret annex.

In any event, the question becomes: what in the world is in it for Hashemi? He just sold Ninewa's Sunni Arabs right out. That's his constituency. How can this agreement possibly be in his interest? Mardini:

The IIP leader’s reasons for improving relations with the Kurdish parties are essentially two-fold: 1, Hashimi strengthens the Sunni position against the Maliki government through the new alliance, and 2, Hashimi legitimizes his status as a Sunni leader against the rising power of the tribal council in al-Anbar.

Huh? I can see that Hashemi might be seeking a Sunni-Kurdish alliance in order to fuck over Maliki and the Shiites, and the parliamentary math puts a Sunni-Kurdish bloc in striking distance of toppling Maliki. But. If the Kurdish price is to control Ninewa, Hashemi's position is simply untenable: the Sunnis will not stand for the loss of the province to the Kurds. The IIP's Mosul representatives -- Hashemi's IIP -- told me in March that they were ready to tool up against the Kurds. So if Hashemi is trying an end run around around the rising power of the Awakening Councils, he just miscalculated. All of a sudden the Awakening Councils have the Betrayal of Ninewa to tie around Hashemi's neck.

This makes my head hurt. But let's take it a step further. Assume that the Sunni tribals are going to challenge Hashemi's self-proclaimed leadership of the Sunnis. Maybe Hashemi sees that as such an extreme threat to his power that he's willing to sell out Ninewa to the Kurds. But how would Hashemi's Sunni rivals knock him out of power? Why, through the next round of provincial elections. Perhaps the "secret annex" of the deal contains a provision that the law establishing the provincial elections never passes. Crisis averted, from Hashemi's perspective. The Kurds lose nothing under that bargain, and gain a ton of territory.

Now, that's admittedly a convoluted explanation, and one that relies on evidence I simply don't have. And the Sunnis -- from the Awakening Councils to al-Qaeda in Iraq -- could always, y'know, murder Hashemi. But I really can't think of any other way this arrangement makes sense for him. An official Marvel Comics-style No-Prize for anyone who comes up with something simpler or more compelling.

--Spencer Ackerman