A Sunni with a dream of uniting Iraq factions

Posted in Iraq | 31-Oct-05 | Author: John Burns| Source: International Herald Tribune

Leader of the independent democrats movement Adnan Pachachi (R) presents his coalition's electoral list for the December elections with Iraq's former prime minister Ayad Allawi (L) at a news conference in Baghdad October 29, 2005.
BAGHDAD For those exhausted by Iraq's relentless violence and sectarianism, there are few tonics like a conversation with Adnan Pachachi. At 82, Pachachi is an Iraqi patrician who began his diplomatic career in Washington on the day in April 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt's coffin arrived at Union Station from Warm Springs, Georgia.

A fugitive from Saddam Hussein's brutality, he returned to Iraq 30 months ago in the hope of restoring the political civilities many Iraqis say were swept away with the assassination of King Faisal II in 1958.

Pachachi is a Sunni, but he believes that Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Arabs, and Iraq's minorities, are not by nature disposed to the current politics of religious and ethnic division. He regards the years of repression under Saddam, a Sunni whose main victims were Shiites and Kurds, as less a matter of Sunnis bludgeoning others to gain minority privilege than the work of a tyrant who betrayed Sunnis' instincts for a common life. Although seething mosques and insurgents dominate the Sunni heartland now, he says, most Sunnis, at heart, would prefer an inclusive, secular Iraq.

He is preparing to campaign with Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was Iraq's provisional prime minister until last spring, in a centrist, nonsectarian alliance in elections for a full five-year government that are set for Dec. 15.

The alliance will offer an alternative to the boldly sectarian platforms of the main Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties, but its prospects, many Iraqis believe, are not that strong. Even Pachachi's wife, Salwa, watching warily from the couple's home in London, keeps telling him "it's a pipe dream, and it could be," he said. "But we have to try and realize our dreams, because what is the option? Should we give up?"

In a Baghdad garden in the glow of a setting autumn sun, Pachachi discusses ideals that seem as appealing as the man himself. But events of the past 15 days seem, in crucial ways, to contradict him. The opening of Saddam's trial showed how strongly attached many Sunni Arabs still feel to the ousted dictator, regardless of his record of mass killing, and the final count last week of the votes in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum underlined how much Sunnis disagree with Shiites and Kurds.

Still, principles like Pachachi's go to the heart of what many U.S. officials here regard as the best and perhaps last hope of rescuing Iraq from sectarian civil war. That hope rests, ultimately, on core components of the Sunni insurgency, and their rivals in Shiite religious militias, laying down their arms to build a common life. The Americans are encouraged by signs like the participation of perhaps two million Sunnis in the referendum; the decision of moderate Sunni groups to contest the December vote, and an increase in Sunnis signing up for the army.

But these developments could just as easily mean that Sunnis, rather than embracing the new order, have found intrusive new ways to frustrate it. Although some Sunni parties chose in the end to endorse the constitution, they exacted a commitment that puts the entire document up for renegotiation after the December election. Harder-line Sunnis rejected the constitution outright.

Rising Sunni recruitment into the new security forces could just as easily portend the opposite of what the Americans hope. U.S. officers have acknowledged that the 200,000 soldiers and police officers trained under the $11 billion force-rebuilding program include some, perhaps many, who are insurgent infiltrators, just as others have proven to be agents of the Shiite militias.

Like Sunni political participation, some Iraqis say, the surge in recruits could reflect little more than a decision by Sunni hard-liners to oppose the U.S. enterprise in Iraq from within.

In any case, it has never been easy to believe that Sunnis can be reconciled, in any numbers, to majority rule. That would turn history upside down, shifting power and wealth from the Sunni elite who have held sway here for centuries, representing about 20 percent of Iraq's current population, to the Shiites, who constitute about 60 percent. A common test is to ask Sunnis whether they will accept Shiite majority rule. Sunni politicians, like ordinary Sunnis, are generally evasive.

Among Sunnis, the common belief is that the trends in the war lie with the insurgents, and that with time, and the support of the Sunni hinterland in the Arab world, the Americans will eventually withdraw. Then, many Sunnis feel, it will be a fight among the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds, and the Sunni reading of history tells them that victory, ultimately, will be theirs.

As a prescription for bringing peace to Iraq, it is as far removed from Pachachi's dream as it could be. But at an age when many men would let history take care of itself, he is pressing ahead.