(by Sharon Behn, WashingtonTimes.com) DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iraq’s Sunni leadership presented the majority-Shi’ite government yesterday with a 10-point ultimatum that they said would either end the violence or lead to a national strike and widespread street demonstrations.
It was the first time the Sunni minority has publicly offered conditions to end a bloody insurgency that has left thousands of Iraqis dead. However, it was not clear how much control the political parties have over the insurgents, who include foreign terrorists and disgruntled former members of dictator Saddam Hussein’s military.
At the top of the list of demands was the resignation of the interior minister and his entire staff — who are seen as leading a brutal anti-Sunni campaign through Iranian-trained Badr militias and a pro-Shi’ite police force.
The call comes amid a rise in sectarian killings, which Sunnis suspect are sanctioned by the government. Bodies of Sunnis, many blindfolded and shot in the head, are found almost daily.
Speaking through Tariq al-Hashimi, who heads the Islamic Party within the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front coalition, the Sunnis also asked that the Iraqi army take over from the police in the country’s cities.
At a Baghdad press conference that was telecast across the region, Mr. al-Hashimi said all militias in Iraq must be disarmed. He called for a halt to random arrests, or any arrest without a court order, and said all those being held without court orders should be released.
He also demanded an apology from the United States and Iraqi governments for all those who have died while being held without charges and called on both governments to release the results of investigations into secret prisons uncovered by U.S. troops last year.
The prisons had been run by forces under the authority of the Interior Ministry, which apparently abused and tortured prisoners.
Mr. al-Hashimi called for an end to such secret prisons and asked that a list of names of those arrested be made public.
Finally, the Sunni leader said Iraqi television stations should stop inciting hatred against the Sunni minority in the country.
If the conditions were met, Sunni leaders will call on their people to stop “the bleeding of Iraqis” by ending attacks on Iraqi government, police and military targets, said Mr. al-Hashimi. He did not mention U.S. or coalition targets.
If the conditions are not met, he warned, Sunnis across the country would go on strike and take their cause to the streets in a series of civil demonstrations.
“It will be a real mess if they don’t accept” the conditions, said an Iraqi Sunni engineer who watched the broadcast in Dubai, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. al-Hashimi’s remarks were made in the context of continuing negotiations with the leaders of Shi’ite and Kurdish parties for the formation of a new government.
The Sunni parties won only about 20 percent of the seats in the new legislature, but Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders say they are eager to include Sunnis in hopes of ending a sense of estrangement that is feeding the insurgency.
Control of the Interior Ministry is a major issue in the talks on a new government. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has told The Washington Times that he does not want to serve again, but the post is likely to remain in the hands of his Shi’ite coalition.
The Sunni parties are thought to have played a role in a series of direct and indirect contacts between U.S. officials and leaders of the insurgency, first reported by The Washington Times late last year. The New York Times and Newsweek magazine reported on the contacts in January.
U.S. officials openly say they are working to draw Sunni tribal and other leaders into the political process in hopes of weaning them away from more intractable elements, such as the foreign terrorists led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, cited as the inspiration for Zarqawi’s group, offered a vague “truce” to the United States in an audiotape last month, but the Bush administration immediately rejected the idea.
Copyright 2006 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. Define ultimatum, insurgency and sectarian as used in the article.
2. What does the Sunni leadership threaten to do if their ultimatum is ignored?
3. Why might the Sunni leadership not be able to end the insurgency as they have proposed? (Who are the insurgents?)
4. Why is the top demand of the Sunnis the resignation of the interior minister and his entire staff?
5. List the requests made in the 10 point ultimatum.
6. Read the “Explanation of Sunni and Shi’a Muslims” below. Do the demands made by Sunni leaders appear legitimate to you? If they decided to do so, what problems might the Shi’ite government have in meeting the demands? Explain your answers.
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A (Shi’ite) MUSLIMS
- Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as orthodox or liberal) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
- The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
- Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief.
- Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
- However, Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a).
- Sunni Muslims are the minority in Iraq (approximately 32-35% of the population are Sunni) Of the Sunnis in Iraq, only 12-15% percent are Arabs, wile 18-20% percent are Kurds.
- Kurds are not Arabs, but a different ethnicity. Under Saddam Hussein, some 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed. At least 50,000 Kurds died – many were tortured and murdered by order of Saddam Hussein.
- Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule.
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