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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Fixer une date pour le retrait militaire américain

by Interview by Pierre Barbancey

Iraq: Setting a Date for US Military Withdrawal

Translated by John O’Neil

Translated Friday 14 July 2006, by John O’Neil

Diaa Rachwane, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, has been following developments in the Arab world and in Iraq in particular.

HUMA: Are we witnessing an upsurge in intercommunal violence in Iraq? Is this violence taking on a new form?

DIAA RACHWANE: The intercommunal violence happening now is the most serious since the US invasion. We see confrontations daily. But I believe that what occurred Sunday means that it is entering a new phase. Iraq is now at the edge of civil war especially between the Sunnis and the Shiites. At the moment, the Kurds, for geographical reasons, are outside the conflict but nothing says that they would not be dragged in if such a civil war were to develop.

HUMA: How did the situation come to this? There was a new political phase in progress after the elections and the Prime Minister’s difficult nomination. Are the conflicting forces participating in this process or not?

DIAA RACHWANE: There is a combination of several forces. The most important are the militias. The principal political parties, particularly the Shiites, all have strong militias. Part of these parties’ power comes from these militias but these militias do not behave in completely political ways. One must also note the Iranian influence which is not found on all the Shiite parties. For example, Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army is not subject to Iranian influence but can force its ideas on its Shiite and also its Sunni partners. In addition, the US attitude and the past alliances with certain Iraqi Shiite parties, like the Daawa party or the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), created problems with the other political groupings, particularly Shiites. But once again, the intercommunal problem in Iraq manifested itself with the US invasion and the past alliance with the Shiites. When it appeared that the US immediately took sides it created problems for some of the Shiites and for practically all the Sunnis, who felt excluded. The people chosen to control Iraq had already been chosen by the United States. But US forces fought other key figures, as was the case of Moktada al-Sadr whose troops sustained several losses to the US army at Nadjaf and Kerbala.

HUMA: What are some possible solutions for ending the violence and getting out of this situation?

DIAA RACHWANE: It is very difficult to speak about solutions in a situation so close to civil war. But I believe that there are several measures to be taken jointly. First, it is necessary to fix a date for US and western military withdrawal from Iraq and to define clear stages for that. Second, it is necessary to convene a national conference under the aegis of the United Nations, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference in order to coordinate Muslim and Arab efforts to replace US forces with international forces made up mainly of Arab and Muslim troops. But a regional conference in which Iraq and all its neighbors, Iranians, Turks, Syrians, and Kuwaitis who are the principal referents of Sunnis and Shiites throughout the world, take part is also necessary. It is absolutely necessary that there is a conference with leaders able to represent the Sunnis and Shiites to reorganize religious and ethnic community relations. Iraq will also need to reorganize the base of its current political organization, i.e. the US-installed system.

HUMA: Is it necessary to simply change the system?

DIAA RACHWANE: This system which was set up to give primacy to those who had been chosen by the Americans must be destroyed. It is necessary to end the quota system of ethnic representation in the government and to return to a sense of Iraqi citizenship. All the same, it is strange to hear the Americans speak all the time about democracy and modernity, and to see them establishing the Iraqi system based on sectarian criteria. It is not modern, it is not the modernity which we seek, in the Arab world. That will take time. But first a date must be set for the departure of US troops from Iraq.

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