I had dinner this week with two Iraqi friends who are senior members of the Iraqi government. Sobering, but interesting, as always, to hear the inside scoop on what's actually happening there.
A few interesting points they made...
1.) Current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is even more disorganized than former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was. I'm actually not sure this is possible, as we had an impossible time ever finding someone in the office to follow up on things and who was efficient and knew the whole picture of what was going on. The office was entirely in reactive mode and in pure chaos. My friend gave as an example that Maliki was in Japan while he was here in DC and he needed to get in touch with him about a matter. He called the office in Baghdad and no one in the staff there knew how to get a hold of him.
He also mentioned how Maliki's staff is comprised entirely of his party cronies (Da'wa party), who are largely inexperienced and incompetent. (When I was there, Ja'fari's staff included 7 medical doctors with no experience in politics, with whom Ja'fari was close. Ja'fari himself was a medical doctor by trade.)
2.) Sunnis lack leaders. The ones there now are content with making maximilist demands and are not prepared to do the tough, compromising work required of minority leaders in a mult-dimensional environment. (Most Sunni leaders with whom I spoke wouldn't ever admit they were a minority. They still maintain they're the majority.) My friend noted how few of them are actually in the country and are just running around the Arab world raising money for what could be conjectured as for future coup attempts. In any case, the Sunni leaders are doing their people a disservice.
3.) Sectarian strife party-driven. My friend mentioned that with the two sectarian parties in power, they view every issue, every bill, every conversation, every act, through a sectarian lens. Of course this is fueling violence; of course this is fueling extremist positions on each side. What is needed is support for liberal, moderate parties and institutions that safeguard them. He of course blamed the US for putting those extremist parties into power in the first place in the Governing Council, in which their participation secured them a foothold they've greatly expanded.
4.) Support for Moderates Key. He worried that the next elections will be stolen, violently altered, bribed, propagandized, etc. Somehow the US should ensure outside institutions are monitoring the elections commission, the parties, the ballots, he hoped. Moderates are losing ground in Iraq and we, as the US and their biggest supporter, must find a way to bolster them. (He mentioned generally media, education of a culture of openness and tolerance, financial support, etc.)