Monday, September 11, 2006

Sudan and Iraq -- Crossover Possibilities?

I was at a daylong seminar today. It wasn’t on 9/11; it was on Sudan. More specifically, it was on the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between the Khartoum government and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) that finally ended one of Africa’s bloodiest and longest – 21 years – civil wars when both sides signed the CPA on January 9, 2005.

Listening to the speakers – some of whom spent years working out the on again – off again cease fires and facilitating the negotiations that, beginning in 1994, fitfully but in the end finally produced the CPA – I could not help but see some intriguing parallels between conditions in Sudan and conditions in Iraq. And while the differences were such that the solutions being attempted to end the civil wars in each country (yes, there is an uncivil civil war in Iraq) could never be the same, the possibility that each could borrow from the other was intriguing.

Consider just a few items.

Religious and ethnic divisions are significant factors in the violence in both countries. In Sudan, the population is characterized by numerous tribal divisions and subdivisions as well as religious divides: The ruling parties – chiefly the National Congress Party (NCP) that seized power in 1989 – represent the Islamic (mostly Sunni) and Arab community that has dominated the government since independence in 1956 while the SPLM and other small groups represent the non-Arab Christian and animist religious sects that had largely been marginalized for 50 years. There is also the non-Arab Islamic community that is under siege in Darfur. The NCP employed militias in the south to fight the SPLM armed forces as they still do the Janjuweed in Darfur. The new Government of South Sudan is trying to reach agreements with the so-called “other armed groups” into the regional structure in the south.

In Iraq, tribal subdivisions number by some counts as high as 2,500. Ethnically, the population is largely Arab and Kurds, with smaller groups of Turkomen Chaldeans, and Assyrians. Religious subdivisions are chiefly Shi’ite and Sunni, with a small Christian contingent.

Outside intervention exists in each country. In Sudan, sanctuaries have been carved out of small sections of territory by rebel groups and tribal factions fighting government forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighting government troops from Uganda. UN peacekeepers in the DRC have running battles with DRC rebels, and Uganda troops have gone into Sudan after the LRA. In Iraq, the “foreign jihadists” complicate the insurgent picture, but the overriding sentiment among most Iraqis is that the coalition forces are the occupiers.

Oil is a key factor in each case. In Sudan, the oil is concentrated in the south or in the vicinity of the boundary between the north and south of the country. Under the CPA, the south is to receive 50 per cent of the profits. But the only way to ship the oil out is by pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea – in the north. In Iraq, most of the oil is in the Shi’ite south or Kurdish north, with little if any in the Sunni central sector. The oil-rich Kurdish entity is landlocked, and should the south vote for self-determination in 2011, it will be a landlocked oil rich entity also.

The constitutional process in each instance creates a form of federal state. In Sudan, there is to be a Government of National Unity (GNU), a Government of South Sudan, and “state” governments until 2011 when the south will vote for self-determination (independence) or to stay as one country. As part of the CPA, there will three armies: one in the north, one in the south, and joint integrated units under a centralized joint defense board as the “national” army. In terms of “security” in Darfur, the GNU, which is dominated by the Arab-Islamists, has said it would regard any new “peacekeeping” force with Christian soldiers from the west as an invading army, and it anticipates that at the end of September the current African Union contingent in Darfur will depart as scheduled.

In Iraq, the primary security effort is to build a national army and to seek the demobilization of the various militias associated with the sectarian power blocs. The Kurdish pesh merga is in effect a permanent army unto itself as are the northern and southern armies in Sudan. Legislation has been introduced in the Iraqi parliament to formalize the de facto federal system with a national structure and three sectarian-ethnic geographical regions: a Shi’ite south of nine provinces, the Kurdish north, and a “Sunni” center. The initial reaction by the Sunni bloc was to reject the proposal.

In each country, there are questions about rule of law, institutions of governance, role of Shari’a, and the best way to end the marginalization of minorities and the powerless. And perhaps the biggest question of all for the conferees – how best can the West try to influence the course of events so that these two countries develop institutions and practices that respect the dignity and rights of all their citizens?

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