The rapidly closing window for national reconciliation in Iraq

National Journal reports: When his three-car convoy pulled up to a police checkpoint in Baghdad on Friday the 13th of February, Sheikh Qassem al-Janabi had little reason for concern. An influential Sunni moderate who was assisting the Iraqi government’s efforts to draw Sunni tribes away from the orbit of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the charismatic Sheikh Janabi had many friends in high places.

He was in the capital, supposedly far away from any likely ISIS assassins. And he was a longtime friend of the United States, which in the past year had sent military forces back to Iraq to counter the ISIS terrorist group. Sheikh Janabi was riding with seven bodyguards and his son Mohamed, recently returned to Iraq from earning a law degree from the University of Glasgow. They were traveling from their tribal homeland south of Baghdad on the Muslim day of prayer.

The men at the police checkpoint were impostors and suspected Shiite militiamen, and they bundled up Janabi and his entourage at gunpoint, quickly driving them away. Their bodies were later found across town in the ramshackle Shiite slum of Sadr City. Janabi was slumped in the back of one of the cars, his hands tied behind his back with his own belt, a bullet in his head. The bodies of his son Mohamed and seven bodyguards lay nearby, all of them shot execution style. To reach Sadr City, the gunmen would likely have passed through several police checkpoints, raising questions of possible official collusion in the murders.

When the history of the second Iraq civil war is written, the death of Sheikh Qassem al-Janabi may prove notable for what it said about the rapidly closing window for national reconciliation, and for foreshadowing the ominous turn toward outright sectarianism that the fighting in Iraq has taken. Certainly the Sunni lawmakers who walked out of parliament in mass protest on learning of his murder understood his importance, both real and symbolic. Along with other moderate Sunni tribal leaders who first turned against al-Qaida in 2006-07 and took part in the “Anbar Awakening” during Iraq’s first civil war, Janabi rejected the terrorists’ vision of a purifying civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Instead he continued to embrace the U.S. vision of a unified and democratic Iraq until the day of this death. [Continue reading…]

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