Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi arrived in Jordan on Tuesday to meet with tribal figures and other influential Iraqis to try to win support among Sunni Arabs and encourage participation in upcoming elections. He ruled out a full-blown conference with insurgent enemies.
Iraq’s neighbors, worried about low Sunni Arab turnout in national elections scheduled for Jan. 30, are mounting a behind-the-scenes push to persuade the interim government to meet with opposition leaders, including some Sunni Muslim insurgent groups, in what they call a reconciliation effort. Those meetings would include former regime supporters and possibly those financing the ongoing rebellion.
Media reports speculated the venue could be in Jordan.
But the interim Iraqi government appears reluctant to hold such a conference, partly because of pressure from the Shiite majority whose leaders are already wary of Allawi’s moves to bring former Baath members into the government’s security services.
Many Shiite leaders are reluctant to cooperate with people who played a major role in the bloody 1991 crackdown on Shiites after a revolt in the southern Shiite heartland.
Meeting with insurgents 'an invention'
During an appearance Tuesday before the Iraqi National Council, Allawi, a secular Shiite, said the notion of a full-blown conference with the government’s opponents was “not in our minds.”
He said his trip to Jordan, Germany and Russia was intended “to develop the relationship with major allies” and would include meetings with Iraqis.
Allawi said reports of a meeting in Jordan with Baath party exiles and insurgent leaders were simply “an invention by the media — nothing more or nothing less.”
Instead, Allawi said the government was open to contacts with influential Sunni tribal figures and others “who haven’t committed any crime.”
He mentioned by name two sons of an influential sheik from the largest tribe in Anbar province, a center of the Sunni rebellion which includes the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the National Council on Tuesday that the government recognized the need to “widen the scope of participation” in the election to those groups “that renounce violence and terrorism.”
Talks with non-violent critics
Zebari said Allawi would meet with about 25 to 35 “personalities,” mostly from the Ramadi area of Anbar province.
“We still think that national reconciliation is necessary and vital but we also make a distinction,” Zebari said. “If there are people who are accused and are known for what they have committed ... these people should be tried according to the laws.”
It appeared that the government’s strategy is to develop a dialogue with tribal figures who are not closely identified with the insurgency but who can talk to insurgent leaders.
The government appears to hope that such figures can influence other Sunnis, including many from the Baath party and Saddam’s security service, to lay down their arms. That would isolate fanatical Islamic jihadis, both foreign and Iraqi, from their Baathist allies, believed to provide most of the funding and logistical support for the insurgency.
On Monday, Allawi told Iraqiyah television “there is no opposition now. Iraq is open to everyone now. ... I’m going to meet with important Iraqi figures and tribal figures, as I met with Iraqis in London, Washington and Jordan.”