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Iraq's reconciliation remains on rocks
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With the dropout of a slew of ministers and delay of critical legislations, Iraq's bumpy political process is still on the rocks, which would put the recently improved security into harm's way once more.


As the year is drawing to an end, the Iraqi government admits that rifts on the political front are nowhere near bridged.


"The political process is not like what we have hoped. Steps should be taken to bring the conflicting parties together," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Nov. 17.


"The relations between the political parties are not good. There is, in fact, lack of trust among them," he said in a straight way.


The hard-wrought constitution and general election could have raised the hope for reconciliation and stability, but an attack against a major Shiite mosque last year dashed the hope after igniting a sweeping sectarian violence across the country.


To help Iraqis carry out their own campaign to put down sectarian violence and insurgency, U.S. President George W. Bush announced in January a troops surge, deploying some 30,000 additional troops in Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces.


Iraq's civilian death toll did plummet nationwide in the last two months as a result of the surge. The official statistics showed that the toll was 2,076 in January but fewer than 800 in October.


Some 39 fatalities in October also marked the lowest monthly death toll for American troops since March 2006, according to media count based on Pentagon figures.


However, the security pickup is generally attributed more to other factors than a thaw of political and sectarian tension.


The U.S. military says that it is the extra troops and hardened push against al-Qaida members and insurgents that really were at work in the achievement.


In addition, some main Sunni insurgent groups have turned their rifles on the al-Qaida network after rifts emerged between them because al-Qaida members have been adopting hardline Islam and exercising indiscriminate killings.


Various U.S. official reports have given low scores to Iraq's political push. Senior U.S. politicians, even Bush himself, have criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for his inability to unite factions.


With Bush's administration facing internal pressures to pull out troops, Maliki subsequently feels hard pressed to take the lead in setting up his government's own strategy and commit to significant political, economic, and security steps to put on a brave face on a swift, considerable U.S. and coalition force draw down, a scenario Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari warned could produce a civil war and split of the country.


Instead, his unity government plunged deeper into crises during the year after 17 of the 40 cabinet members had quitted.


Internally, the Shiite leading alliance was partially dismantled after the political bloc loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr withdrew its six ministers from the cabinet in mid-April.


The walkout was followed by another involving six ministers and a deputy prime minister of the Sunni bloc of Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) in early August, leaving the unity government with no Sunnis.


Less than a week later, the Iraqi National List (INL), led by former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, also pulled out its four ministers.


The IAF presented a list of 12 conditions for returning to the cabinet, including the disbanding of all militias and releasing of thousands of Sunnis who it argued were indiscriminately jailed.


The political mistrust has prevented the passage of vital legislations concerning respectively oil resources, constitution amendment and provincial election.


Maliki insists that his government has made some successes, including saving the country from a civil war. Maliki also maintains that his government is inclusive.


An alliance consisting of four major Shiite and Kurdish parties was formed early August in a bid to push forward reconciliation. However, the Sunnis rejected the call for joining in.


While there has been an emphasis on creating a "moderate" front, there has been little discussion among the Shiites and Kurds regarding the issues the Sunni Arab community says marginalize them.


The reversal of the de-Ba'athification process to reinstate former regime officials has been stalled because of Shiite suspicions, and the committee responsible for amending the Iraqi constitution has yet to present its recommendations.


These setbacks leave many Sunni Arabs with the impression that the current government has a clear sectarian agenda.


Besides, bitter discord emerged between Iraq's Arabs and the Kurdish people when the central government repeatedly lashed out at the Kurdish government for its signing oil deals with foreign investors.


In the recent crisis over striking Turkish banned Kurdish Workers' Party rebels in the Kurdish autonomous region, a lack of smooth cooperation between the central and local governments could also be witnessed.


And the referendum over the fate of the oil city of Kirkuk is deemed very hard to happen by the end of this year because of differences among ethnics.


Although the country's constitution stipulates federalism in the future, the Sunnis are very much reluctant to see that, fearing they would be excluded from the lucrative oil fortune.


Even in the Shiites, there are differences over the problem. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest Shiite political party, zealously supports that idea, while premier Maliki is cautious and worried that move could tear apart the country.


As the security is improving under overwhelming U.S. military offensive and grass-roots Iraqis' self-defense campaign, concerns remain pretty strong as for whether the peace would persist in the absence of decent collaboration and reconciliation.


Based on more than a dozen interviews with U.S. military officials, the Washington Post said that the Iraqi government has failed to exploit the sharp decline in attacks against U.S. and Iraqi civilians by reaching out to its former foes.


The U.S. also keeps pressuring the Iraqi politicians to work hard for progress amid better security.


Phile Reeker, a spokesman of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, said on Nov. 18 that "it is very important that Iraqi leaders continue to work toward reconciliation, work toward taking the important steps required to move things forward now that the security situation has allowed that to happen."


In a latest demonstration of how far away the reconciliation is, Maliki lashed out at Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper.


The prime minister faulted his long-time critical for blocking legislations and asserted that he would not seek the return of Hashemi's IAF bloc to the government.


(Xinhua News Agency December 3, 2007)

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