Two weeks ago, I wrote about Morton Kondracke's disturbing Roll Call piece in which he calls for a U.S.-sponsored Shia elimination of Sunnis within Iraq. I argued that even aside from the fact that such action would be morally unpardonable, it isn't necessary. The potential for peace in Iraq exists in the form of an internationally-mediated reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias, modeled upon the Dayton Accords which ended warfare in Bosnia.
An article in Sunday's Washington Post entitled "Iraq's Sadr Overhauls His Tactics," by Sudarsan Raghavan, provides further evidence that such reconciliation is possible. Despite the deep trenches of their differences, peacebuilders on both sides are reaching out for dialogue and an end to violence in Iraq.
Moqtada al-Sadr is a prominent Shia cleric known for sewing dischord and encouraging violence towards Sunnis. His Mahdi Army - the second largest armed force in Iraq, after the U.S. military - has been blamed for horrific atrocities, including torturing and mutilating civilians. But recently, Sadr has begun purging his movement of violent radicals in favor of popular moderates, and recasting himself as a Nationalist in the middle of the Iraqi political spectrum. Although Shia-initiated aggression continues, "at least 600 fighters have been forced out of the militia over the past three months" for violent acts.
Can a leopard change its spots? Maybe not. But a good politician such as Sadr is more akin to a chameleon, savvy enough to adapt his colors to changes around him.
The changes are apparent. While many Iraqis accepted Shia-led violence after the bombing of Al-Askari Mosque in February 2006, the Raghavan article sites increasing popular frustration with violent insurgent tactics as part of the reason for Sadr's change. The populist message carrying the most weight these days is summed up by Sadr's moderate senior aide Salah al-Obaidi: "No, no, to sectarianism," and indeed Sunnis and Shias are largely united against creating autonomous regions.
The sects remain divided on the U.S. timetable for troop withdrawal and other issues, and Sunnis remain understandably distrustful of Sadr's peacebuilding efforts and inability to reign in violent splinter groups. But the prognosis for peace improves every time a Sunni or Shia puts down a weapon in favor of dialogue. Explains Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni legislator EPIC applauds for reaching across sectarian lines: "The Sadrists believe they have political problems, and they are trying new tactics to serve their own interests. But anyway, we welcome any political group who wants to talk instead of kill."
The fact that leaders on both sides are making an effort to talk instead of kill is a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction.