Internal divisions among Iraq’s Sunni Arabs continue unabated as Iraq gears up for elections next year. Sunni Gulf States all have their respective allies among Iraqi Sunnis and the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar may have contributed to further deepening those divisions.
A string of conferences to foster cohesive Sunni position failed over the last few years. Efforts to hold two more conferences, this time inside Iraq, appear to have already faltered, creating recrimination instead of cohesion.
One of the events was planned to be held in Erbil. Baghdad, in a remarkable reversal of traditional government opposition, was to host the other. Both are being boycotted by influential Sunni politician and financier Khamis al-Khanjar. Others boycotting include Jamal al-Dhari, the young and ambitious nephew of the late chief of the Association of Muslim Scholars.
Both Khanjar and Dhari are thought to be closely associated with Qatar. This may be the reason that chameleon Sunni politician Mishan Jubouri (currently a friend of Iran) last week praised their decision to boycott the meetings and condemned the organizers as trying to use sectarianism to consolidate political gains. Mishan recently said he was ready to recruit thousands to fight to defend Qatar against Saudi aggression.
On the one hand, there is a sign of a promising opening in relations between the mainstream Sunnis in parliament and the government of PM Haider al-Abadi. Reportedly the government not only agreed to host the conference, but also instructed courts to review the cases of wanted Sunni leaders Tariq Hashimi and Rafi Issawi to allow them to attend the meetings.
But on the other hand this boycott promises more infighting that’s bound to get uglier as Iraq gets closer to elections.