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Iraq Government Still Struggles to Include Sunnis


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

A series of suicide bombings has killed at least 60 people across Iraq today. Half a dozen attacks took place from Baghdad to Tikrit to northern Iraq. Day by day, the number of attacks goes up and down, but that is just one way to measure progress in the war. On today's program, we're hearing about some other factors that are harder to quantify. One of them is the development of Iraq's new government. Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafari has been trying to include the Sunni minority in the government. His efforts have been met with scorn from Sunni leaders. Iraqis say the outreach effort was not helped by a recent raid on the offices of a Sunni organization. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON reporting:

The shortcomings in the drive to fashion something like a national unity government were clearly on display by the time the last four Sunni politicians were added to the Cabinet. Candidate after candidate proposed by Sunni groups had been shot down by Shiite and Kurdish officials. One of the new ministers rejected the job, saying he wasn't interested in being a token Sunni. Sunni lawmaker Fowa Zaljarbi(ph) quit Al-Jafari's United Iraqi Alliance in disgust over the compromise selections.

Mr. FOWA ZALJARBI (Sunni Lawmaker): (Through Translator) They made decisions without consulting us. This is not right and now the wrong Sunnis have been appointed seats in the government. They do not represent the rest of us.

KENYON: Despite the less than rapturous welcome for the new Cabinet, US and Iraqi government officials said they detected a slight melting around the edges in the Sunni community, a willingness to edge cautiously toward the mainstream. They mention the participation of one group, the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, as a potentially positive sign. Some National Dialogue members are seen as quite close to the insurgents, so close, in fact, that late last month, their offices were raided by Iraqi police. The very next day, in a sign that hard-line Sunnis are after them as well, the offices were hit by a car bomb. Then Monday, another raid and more arrests. Council spokesman Salih al Mutlig in a phone interview says people in the office were beaten and thrown out on the street without their clothes and leaders of the group were roughed up. Al Mutlig says both the US and Iraqi governments claim not to know who was behind the latest raid and that may be the most depressing aspect of the problem.

Mr. SALIH AL MUTLIG (Iraqi National Dialogue Council): What kind of government is that? What kind of democracy are we having now? This is the freedom that they promised us with? This is ridiculous.

KENYON: Prime Minister Al-Jafari spokesman's Laif Kuba(ph) says the prime minister wasn't behind the raid. He says the police and army act under their own procedures. Kuba called the National Dialogue Council a credible group and said Al-Jafari has asked for a full investigation of the incident. The US Embassy spokesman denied any US troop involvement in the raid. One member of the National Dialogue Council, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said, `Apparently, there's an invisible third power working without their knowledge.'

At the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group that's been pressing for a dialogue with Shiites and Kurds since 2003, Secretary-General Tariq al-Hashimi says most Sunnis don't want to be associated with the bloody insurgency that's wreaking havoc across Iraq. But they need some hope of a political future to get off the fence and support if not this government than at least the elections slated for the end of the year that will bring the next one.

Secretary-General TARIQ AL-HASHIMI: Unfortunately, the Arab-Sunni people, either they went to struggle by arms against the occupation forces, in fact, or the majority watch and see. I try, in fact, to talk to those watch-and-see people to involve themself in the political exercise in one way or another.

KENYON: But al-Hashimi says political reconciliation not military force is the surest way to end the insurgency, and he says raids like the one against the National Dialogue Council this week make his job that much harder.

Sec-Gen. AL-HASHIMI: This will increase the politicization within the Arab Sunnis. I'm quite afraid about the future.

KENYON: All sides say the dialogue will continue, but so far, the pace of reconciliation seems glacial compared with that of the raging insurgency.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.