It’s an Anbar Thing (not an AQ or U.S. thing)

It’s an Anbar Thing (not an AQ or U.S. thing)

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In the midst of staggering violence and a tragicomic U.S. campaign to rebuild a country it thought it would be leaving in a matter of months after the invasion, a political process took place to elect a transitional National Assembly and draft a permanent constitution. Iraq’s Sunnis, though by no means a monolith, were by that time mired in an insurgency and unprepared to accept their new position as a minority in Iraq. Hussein’s manipulations and propaganda had many Arab Sunnis believing that they made up an absolute majority of the population, instead of their true demographic proportion of some 20 percent. The Shi’a constitute roughly 60 percent and the Kurds another 20. In denial, the Sunnis largely boycotted the National Assembly elections in 2005, leaving them with even less influence than their numbers would have afforded them. Intransigence and the insurgent violence further eroded the Sunnis’ political sway to virtually nothing.

In the end, the Sunnis found the resulting constitution, which decentralized Iraq’s powers and revenues to the regions (relatively wealthy and independent Kurdish and Shi’a enclaves and a dependent and poor Sunni one), unacceptable. In the referendum, 96.96 percent of Anbaris voted against the constitution, as did 81.75 percent of the largely Sunni Salahaddeen Province and 55.08 percent of Erbil. This fell just short of scuttling the constitution, which would have been affected by two-thirds rejection in three provinces.

The only thing that saved the constitution may have been a last minute sop to the Sunnis who won the endorsement of one Sunni party and may have saved the vote in Erbil. This was Article 142, which stipulated that a committee would be established within four months of the ratification of the constitution to explore potential amendments that would be voted on in one package. Seven issues were to be addressed. Key among them were the status of de-Ba’athification laws, the ability to veto changes by a three-province vote, and perhaps most importantly, the split of oil revenues between the national and regional governments. This dangled carrot, however, never came to pass. While the committee was created, no significant action was taken to address the Sunnis’ grievances.

The ratification of the constitution led to elections that, after difficult negotiations, seated Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki was seen as a relatively weak, compromise candidate agreeable to all the parties, but ended up asserting himself to the point that he was accused by some Sunnis and Shi’a alike of being a strongman dictator in the making going into Iraq’s 2010 elections. For this vote, Maliki headed his own new “State of Law” coalition, finishing second by one seat to former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya coalition. The Iraqiyya coalition was an avowedly non-sectarian collection of Shi’a and Sunni parties and was seen as the Sunnis’ best hope for a change, especially in the face of the disqualification of over 400 mostly Sunni candidates from the election. Nonetheless, after months of wrangling and a U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement, Maliki was reseated as prime minister and the Iraqiyya coalition sidelined.

In the years since, Maliki has continued to strengthen his grip on power in Baghdad, further alienating the Sunnis with moves to marginalize and even arrest their members of parliament. For instance, Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi’s house in the Green Zone was surrounded by Iraqi troops just before the final U.S. combat troops left Iraq in December 2011. A warrant was issued for his arrest for murder of Iraqi government officials just one day after the final convoy crossed into Kuwait. Hashimi escaped to Kurdistan, where the Kurdish Regional Government refused to extradite him back to Baghdad.  He ultimately fled to Turkey, which has likewise refused extradition. Hashimi was found guilty by an Iraqi federal court and sentenced to death in absentia in 2012.