WASHINGTON Jan 24 The speaker of Iraq's
parliament warned on Friday that upcoming elections might be
used to further marginalize already-frustrated Sunni Muslims,
who have chafed against what they call unfair treatment from the
country's Shi'ite prime minister.
Usama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, said in an interview during a
visit to Washington that he feared attempts to discourage voting
or "provoke the situation" in Sunni areas, or to sideline
certain would-be candidates, were designed "to weaken Sunni
representation in parliament."
He also warned that poor security could pose problems for
the parliamentary polls, scheduled for April 30.
"If the security conditions worsen, the elections could be
postponed (or) if they are held, they will take place under
inappropriate conditions," he said.
Nujaifi held talks this week with President Barack Obama,
Vice President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. officials, as
violence appears to be spilling into Iraq from the war in
neighboring Syria, and as tensions grow between Iraq's Sunnis
and Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
This week, Maliki warned he may take military action against
al Qaeda-linked militants in mostly Sunni Anbar province.
While U.S. officials say they are encouraged by Maliki's
cooperation with some Sunni tribesmen there, the conflict in
Anbar - once a symbol of the U.S. military success in Iraq - has
heightened fears about Iraq's trajectory two years after the
United States completed its military drawdown.
While Nujaifi described meetings with U.S. officials as
positive, he also spoke of "neglect" following the U.S. military
withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011, as the Obama
administration has turned toward the war in Afghanistan, the
challenges of the Arab Spring, and the growing crisis in Syria.
The United States has sought to staunch instability in Iraq
in part by speeding up delivery of missiles, surveillance drones
and other weapons that could help Iraqi forces fight off a
resurgent militant threat.
"We have been and we continue to work with the government of
Iraq at very high levels," a U.S. State Department official said
on condition of anonymity.
POSSIBLE THIRD TERM
Nujaifi and other Sunnis have complained that Maliki has
applied laws selectively and has systematically undermined the
position of Sunnis, who dominated majority-Shi'ite Iraq under
former President Saddam Hussein. Maliki denies such charges.
Still, Iraqi voters could hand Maliki a third term in April.
The U.S. official said that Iraq had held numerous elections
since 2003 that were deemed largely fair and transparent despite
As those polls approach, Nujaifi called on the Obama
administration to ensure that the United States' long, costly
effort to build a democracy in Iraq was not in vain.
"What we have now is a facade of a democracy - superficial -
but on the inside it's total chaos," Nujaifi said, warning of
the consequences of further instability.
"If the country doesn't return to the right path, it could
descend into something that resembles Syria. There might be
sectarian killing, there might be partition - big catastrophes."
The U.S. official said Washington continued to press Iraq
leaders to do more themselves to end political disagreements,
which have often broken down along sectarian or ethnic lines.
"These are long-standing issues that were in Iraq before
2003 and are still there today," the official said.
"They aren't solved in a day, a month, a year, or a decade.
These are issues that are generational, that Iraqis from all
sides need to sit down and address effectively with long-term
(Edited by Alistair Bell and Matthew Lewis)