Under strong U.S. pressure, Iraq's presidential council signed off Wednesday on a measure paving the way for provincial elections by the fall, a major step toward easing sectarian rifts as the nation marks the fifth anniversary of the war.
The decision by the council, made up of the country's president and two vice presidents, lays the groundwork for voters to choose new leaders of Iraq's 18 provinces. The elections open the door to greater Sunni representation in regional administrations.
Many Sunnis boycotted the last election for provincial officials in January 2005, enabling Shiites and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power at the expense of the Sunnis — even in areas with substantial Sunni populations.
And that, among other things, helped fuel the Sunni insurgency. Provincial elections will help better balance the regional administrations which are now dominated by the Shia and Kurds.
"This is a good, positive step to enhance national unity and defuse the political tension," Nasser al-Ani, a Sunni lawmaker and presidential council spokesman, told The Associated Press.
And it appears the possibility of those elections happening this year is good.
That said, there's troubling word that the Sunni Awakening is less than happy with its current situation:
The success of the US "surge" strategy in Iraq may be under threat as Sunni militia employed by the US to fight al-Qaida are warning of a national strike because they are not being paid regularly.
Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous areas and then abandoning them.
A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening to go on strike and two already have.
Of course the gloom and doomers will see this as presaging a collapse of the Iraqi government and declare the surge a failure. And, you can count on some to also claim that AQI will be resurgent because of this, even as foreign fighters are reported to be deserting the Iraq effort like rats deserting a sinking ship.
When talking to leaders in Iraq, such as MG Rick Lynch of MNFI-C as well as a short conversation with Michael Yon, both, at the time, felt the program was in good shape (this was a couple of weeks ago). I brought up this article to MG Lynch, and he said his area, the southern belts of Baghdad which are heavily Sunni, weren't having the problems reported. Yon too had read the article and conceded that there could be some Sunnis somewhere who were dissatisfied, but that on the whole, from what he'd observed throughout Iraq, the the Sons of Iraq movement (formerly called the Concerned Local Citizen movement) was basically sound.
But one of the things MG Lynch brought out in earlier conversations was this seeming reluctance of the Iraqi government to integrate the predominantly Sunni SOI into the ISF. There's that lingering belief by the now dominant Shia that if they give the Sunni too much access to power they'll somehow end up taking all the power. It is a matter of trust, and for many, it just hasn't yet been established to the point that the Shia are comfortable with the inclusion of a large body of Sunni in the ISF.
Of course, obviously they're going to have to get over that if Iraq is going to become an inclusive and stable nation. And the provincial elections, which will make the national government more inclusive, may be the vehicle to satisfy the Awakening and lead to a more secure and stable Iraq.