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Opinion: Sunnis must learn from their mistakes in Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this August 16, 2014 file photo Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi smiles during a meeting with Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Baghdad, Iraq. (Reuters/Hadi Mizban/Pool)

The head of a prominent Sunni Arab tribe in Iraq has said that Arab Sunni leaders and clerics in Sunni-majority provinces are prepared to join the new government, but only if certain “conditions” are met.

The news reports that covered this statement failed to clarify precisely what these “conditions” are, however wisdom tells us that Sunni participation in the new Iraqi government that Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi is seeking to form is vital. Abadi comes to replace Maliki, who has been rejected by all political forces in Iraq, not just the Sunnis. It is not in the interests of Iraq’s Sunnis at this point to repeat the mistakes that they committed following the fall of Saddam Hussein, when they boycotted the political process and let the opportunity to fix the situation in Iraq slip through their hands. This enabled some parties in Iraq to resort to political exclusion and rely on sectarian quotas. This is a state of affairs that the Americans also contributed to.

Today, Iraq’s Sunnis have a new opportunity to correct the situation and force all other political forces to respect their rights. This is something that cannot be achieved by boycotting the political process, only by participation and negotiation, particularly given the current attention that regional and international parties are giving to the situation in Iraq. It is important to strike the balance between meeting the legitimate demands of Iraq’s Sunnis, and others, and criminalizing and confronting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Iraq’s Sunnis have an important opportunity, and they must not repeat the mistakes of the past. The same applies to regional and international states; they too must not repeat their past mistakes. Mr. Haider Al-Abadi may not be the ideal alternative in Iraq, but ultimately he is the one who has been tasked with forming a new government. Abadi is someone who I first met in 2007, I know him, and have spoken with him.

Therefore, the story today is not about the fall of the tyrant Nuri Al-Maliki, but how to make the best political use out of this historic moment to serve the interests of Iraq and all Iraqis, as well as the region at large. Most importantly, Abadi today is incapable of becoming another Maliki.

Iraq’s Sunnis must participate in the new government and genuinely seek to fix the political and economic situation in the country. Regional states must also take the initiative to send envoys and ambassadors to Iraq. Now is the time for action, not hesitation or boycott. The only people who would benefit from this are the extremists, and most particularly Nuri Al-Maliki.

Therefore, we are confronted with a new and important political opportunity that Iraq’s Sunnis must take advantage of. Iraq’s Sunnis must also now take pains to differentiate themselves from ISIS, while the influential regional Arab states—and in particular Saudi Arabia—must restore normal political relations with Iraq by returning their ambassadors, and more, to the country. The goal is not to promote Iraq’s Arabs or Sunnis so much as it is to ensure that Iraq is for all Iraqis, and for the country to return to its traditional place in the Arab world.