Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A new nationalist current in Iraq?

Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the emergence of a new nationalist party in Iraq, al-Hadba, which seems to have garnered a plurality of the votes in troubled Nineveh governorate - much to the dismay of the Kurdish parties who had controlled local government there, despite the substantial size of the Sunni Arab population. From the standpoint of representative democracy this is a good thing; the Sunni Arabs were woefully underrepresented before.

As Arraf notes, US military officials are upbeat about this development, because it may dampen down the Sunni insurgency there if Sunnis have better political representation. But the Hadba party leader also asserts that there may be violence between Arabs and Kurds if the Kurds refuse to accept the results of the balloting - and there indeed seem to have been some irregularities, in Nineveh and across much of Iraq.

But I think Arraf misses the bigger picture, and the historical depth of the story. A secular, nationalist, centralist, Sunni-dominated government is perhaps what the Kurds in Nineveh - and the Kurdish Regional Government itself - fear most. That's exactly what the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein was, and its impact on the Kurds was - well, to put it bluntly - genocidal. We all need to watch this situation extremely closely. The Kurds are likely to react very assertively to any attempt by al-Hadba and other Sunni centralist elements to roll back whatever gains the Kurds have made in Nineveh and in other areas bordering the KRG's territory. It is not beyond imagining that prime minister Maliki will send central-government forces to Nineveh if things heat up - which will ramp up the Kurds' fears even more. A very delicate situation indeed . . . .

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