The most prominent Sunni in Iraq’s fragmented government said Monday that the United States is going to have to come up with a “Plan B” if the current crackdown fails to stem the violence in the capital.
Tariq al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice president, also warned that the Shiite-led government has no choice but to use force against sectarian militias, even though it may be too late to keep them from resuming killings and kidnappings when the Baghdad security crackdown ends.
He spoke as the country’s other vice president, a Shiite, escaped an apparent assassination attempt in a bombing that killed 10 people. Adel Abdul-Mahdi suffered a minor leg injury in the blast and was hospitalized for medical exams, his office said.
Al-Hashemi, head of Iraq’s biggest Sunni party, said he warned U.S. officials during a visit to Washington in December that sectarian rivalry had paralyzed the unity government and that the U.S. needed to think about alternatives if its current security strategy fails.
“I was very frank with the American administration. I encouraged them to think seriously about ‘Plan B,”’ he said. “What sort of alternative do we have in the future in case the current security plan fails?”
Al-Hashemi said he has received no indication whether his advice was accepted.
He blamed much of the security crisis on the government’s failure to curb Shiite militias, even though many Iraqis believe the latest bombings have been the work of Sunnis.
Bombings more political than sectarian, he says
“I don’t read these car bombings as sectarian but political,” al-Hashemi said. “It is true that they hit Shiite areas, but they kill as many Sunnis as Shiites.”
He said the attacks were aimed at discrediting the Iraqi government and “there are many parties that have an interest in this.”
Al-Hashemi said the government, which took office with great fanfare last spring, had failed to bring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together and restore peace because all the major decision-making remains in the hands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“We need teamwork” so “there will be a healing for the country,” he said. “So far the country is run as a one-man show.”
Harsh words for al-Maliki
The Sunni leader also criticized efforts by al-Maliki, a Shiite, and his predecessor to grant Shiite hard-liners — notably anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — a role in government. The young cleric’s Mahdi Army militia has been blamed for much of the sectarian killings in Baghdad.
“This cost the Iraqi people a good opportunity and as a result ... people were slaughtered, burned and forced from their homes,” al-Hashemi said of the Shiite political strategy.
“The option of a political solution failed, and there is no choice now for the government except to use force against these militias — but it’s too late,” he said.
Al-Hashemi said he did not expect the Baghdad security operation, launched Feb. 15, to bring a quick end to violence, despite a sharp decline in execution-style assassinations blamed on sectarian death squads.
He said advance publicity on the operation and the slow arrival of U.S. and Iraqi reinforcements gave Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents an opportunity to go into hiding and bide their time until the crackdown is over.
President Bush announced plans to send 21,500 U.S. reinforcements to Iraq, most of them to Baghdad. The last of the U.S. military units earmarked for the operation are not due here until May.
Complaints of sidestepping Mahdi Army
Sunni leaders have also complained that the crackdown has focused on their neighborhoods while leaving the Mahdi Army stronghold in the Baghdad district of Sadr City virtually untouched. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also urged Iraqi leaders to “rise above sectarianism” during her visit this month, according to an Iraqi official.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
“Up to now, legal procedures have not been observed,” al-Hashemi said. “The human rights of Iraqis have not been respected as they should be. In this regard, this (security) plan is being implemented in the same way the previous ones were. This is surely regrettable.”
At the same time, he said efforts to lure Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms was “moving at the speed of turtles” because the Shiite parties are reluctant “to bring them into the political process.”
“They view the resistance as a terror group that is no different from al-Qaida and that’s the problem we are facing now,” he said of the Shiites.