Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician predicted Thursday that Sunni Arab participation alone in a new government will not be enough to convince Islamic extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists to abandon the insurgency.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the country's largest Shiite party, told The Associated Press in an interview that Sunni Arabs must accept the "new reality" in Iraq and shoulder their responsibility to rebuild the nation nearly three years after the collapse of Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.
"Every day we are getting closer to accepting this reality. But there are some groups that will not accept this," al-Hakim said, citing religious extremists and Saddam loyalists. "Those people will continue confronting the government...Those people should be confronted firmly by the government."
Al-Hakim spoke as the election commission was preparing to announce results of the Dec. 15 national election, in which Iraqis voted for their first full-term parliament since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Results are expected within days.
Al-Hakim's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is the senior partner in an alliance of Shiite religious parties expected to claim the biggest number of seats in the new, 275-member parliament but not enough to govern without partners.
After the results are announced, the new parliament will convene to choose a government expected to include Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs, the disaffected community that forms the backbone of the insurgency.
U.S. officials hope the new leadership will win the trust of the Sunnis and defuse the insurgency so that American and other international troops can begin to go home.
Al-Hakim agreed that Sunni Arabs should receive key posts in the new government. But he added that placing Sunnis "in this or that post" would "not have a big impact" in easing the security crisis.
"The important thing is that they (Sunnis) believe there is a new reality in Iraq," al-Hakim said. "The doors are open to them and no one wants to confront, harm them or deprive them of their legitimate constitutional rights. They are our brothers and they will get their rights."
Sunni Arabs, believed to comprise about 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people, dominated political life for generations, and many of them resent the rise to power of the Shiite majority, which suffered under Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.
Many Sunnis refuse to accept the widespread belief that Shiites now number about 60 percent of the population. The decision by many Sunnis to boycott the January 2005 election enabled Shiites and Kurds to dominate the outgoing parliament, sharpening sectarian tensions and fueling the insurgency.
Sunnis participated in far greater numbers in last month's election and are expected to gain more seats in the new legislature.
One of parliament's first tasks will be to consider amendments to the new constitution, a demand of Sunni politicians who opposed several major provisions of the charter. If the new parliament approves amendments, they will be presented to the voters in a referendum.
However, al-Hakim made clear that the Shiites will oppose major concessions on some key Sunni demands. Many Sunnis oppose provisions transforming Iraq into a federal state and banning key members of
Saddam's Baath party from government jobs. "There is a group of principles, first to maintain the soul of the constitution, second is the federalism issue, third is a clear stand on terrorism, fourth a clear stand on the Baath and Saddamists as it is mentioned in the constitution and fifth the issue of civil liberties," al-Hakim said.
Many Sunnis fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country and open the door to Iranian influence in a future, Shiite-dominated region in the south. Sunnis also fear that a widespread purge of former Baath members would curb the rights of the Sunni community, which dominated Baathist ranks, reports the AP.