"iraq's return to the arab fold"
Abdel Monem Said Aly
of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo:
For four days (November 19 to 22), the Arab League in Cairo hosted Iraqi political and sectarian factions in a conference for national reconciliation. The meeting witnessed not only Iraq's return to the Arab fold after prolonged resistance by many Iraqis, but also a decision by the Arab world to embrace the Iraqi question that for almost three years has been handled exclusively by the US and the international community...
The Arab League, which did not support the American invasion of Iraq and denied the war any Arab source of legitimacy, initially entertained serious doubts about the new Iraqi political elite and its patriotism. Despite surrendering the Iraqi seat to the Iraqi Ruling Council and its successor institutions and accepting the UN Security Council process for dealing with the Iraq question, the majority of Arab countries never reconciled with what they conceived as an occupation-installed political power that had no legitimacy beyond the American-protected green zone in Baghdad. The empowerment of Iraqi Shi'ites and their political coalition with the separatist Kurds heightened concerns among the predominantly Sunni Arab world over the fate of Iraqi Sunnis in a new Iraq whose Arab identity had been weakened. The result was a dual Arab policy: offering lip service to the stability of Iraq while leaving the country to its own fate. All Arab League resolutions to support Iraq were ignored, and the small Arab diplomatic presence was withdrawn from Baghdad with the first fatalities among diplomats.
However, as the general Arab pattern has demonstrated, this process of estrangement proved unsustainable. The continuation of the insurgency in Iraq, the possibility of Iraq fragmenting into three states in the course of a very bloody civil war, and the heavy Iranian presence in the country all persuaded the new Iraqi political elite to seek Arab help for salvation and balance.
Salvation was to be accomplished by convincing the rebellious Sunnis that although they are a minority in Iraq, they are part of a very large Arab Sunni majority in the region. And balance was to be achieved by seeking a stronger Arab presence to face the new conservative Iranian presence. The signs of weakening American support for the war in Iraq also worked against those who wanted to maintain isolation from the Arab world. Meanwhile, on the Arab side the fear of a breakdown in Iraq was mounting, along with concern over the spread of a new wave of terror as well as apprehension over the Iranian presence. Fear of the spread of the new Iraqi model of violence and separation--not democracy, to be sure--sounded an alarm that the Arab world did not want to hear.
The result was Iraq's return to the Arab fold. Baghdad was asked to indicate its Arab allegiance and to promise to give Sunnis a new shot at revising the constitution after the coming legislative elections. In Cairo, "resistance" was condoned while "terrorism" was denounced. In exchange, the Arab League will provide legitimacy for the new Iraqi political system, urge Sunnis to cooperate, and help sustain a reconciliation process scheduled to start in February.
(Published Dec. 4 in the Arab Times
, an English-language newspaper in Kuwait.)