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Globe Editorial

Simmering in Iraq

April 23, 2009
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ALL TOO many signs indicate that key parties in Iraq are not moving fast enough to resolve basic conflicts before US forces withdraw from Iraqi cities this June - and from the rest of the country by August 2010. To foster stability and domestic consensus before then, the Obama administration must seek the cooperation not only of the various contending groups in Iraq, but also of the United Nations, European governments, and other states in the Middle East.

One sign of trouble is how Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has been treating the so-called Awakening Movement. Some 96,000 former insurgents of the Awakening accepted pay from the US military to eradicate Al Qaeda from its previous stronghold in the Sunni Arab west of the country. This switch of allegiance by Sunni Arab forces was a decisive element in bringing down the violence in Iraq.

The Awakening fighters were promised that once Al Qaeda was crushed, they would get jobs in the police and other security forces. But the Shi'ite-dominated government appears to be breaking that promise. Not only has it been slow to hire former Sunni insurgents, but it has allowed several Awakening leaders to be arrested on the basis of flimsy allegations.

If this sectarian behavior is not stopped, sooner or later it may result in a resumption of calamitous Sunni-Shi'ite violence. The reluctance to hire Awakening members may in part be explained by budgetary strictures related to the plunge in oil prices. But the broken promises to the Awakening also reflect deep, unresolved conflicts about the future character of Iraq.

Among the most contentious issues are whether Iraq's governing model should be federalism or a strong central state; the status of oil-rich Kirkuk and, more generally, the territorial boundaries of the autonomous Kurdish region; a law on managing and sharing oil resources; and creation of the framework for an independent judiciary.

American officials still have the clout to insist that promises to the Awakening be kept. But Iraqi politicians will have to make compromises. Legal assistance from the United Nations can help Iraqis hammer out the needed legislation to implement their Constitution, the United States and its European allies can provide diplomatic and economic help, and neighboring states can increase the chances for stability by keeping out of Iraq's domestic politics.

Only the Iraqis, however, can create a stable, new state, and they can do so only by making peace among themselves.

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