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Iraqi Parliament Convenes, Adjourns After 30 Minutes


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched what is being called the biggest air assault since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago. According to a military statement, more than 1,500 troops, 200 vehicles, and 50 aircraft are taking part in the attack against militant strongholds north of Baghdad. Today's military action comes on the same day Iraq's new parliament was sworn in. The inaugural session lasted just 30 minutes, and parties are still deadlocked over the next government. Joining me now is Jonathon Morrow of the United States Institute of Peace--a non-partisan, Congressionally-funded organization helping to resolve international conflicts. He recently returned from Iraq, where he discussed politics with Sunni leaders. Good Morning.

Mr. JONATHAN MORROW (United States Institute of Peace): Good Morning.

MONTAGNE: So, the parliament finally met. What happened?

Mr. MORROW: Well, not very much. The one thing that happened is that they meet. There was a requirement under the constitution, there was an expectation in Iraqi political life that the parliament should meet, of course, many weeks after the election for that parliament. It was getting a little embarrassing. So, there's been a sign of progress. I'm not sure that you would say, though, that there's been much more than that. We have not seen, of course, the election of a government of national unity, as you mentioned, or much else.

MONTAGNE: The Bush Administration has been pushing for such a government. The U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke about it yesterday from Baghdad during an interview with NPR. Here's a clip of that.

Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): The problem that Iraq faces right now is the threat of sectarianism that the terrorists are trying to both promote and exploit. And the right answer to that is to bring a government of national unity, separate the Sunni population from the terrorists, and, in fact, turn them against the terrorists.

MONTAGNE: What about it? Can Iraqis form a national unity government, and, in fact, should they?

Mr. MORROW: Yes, to both questions. They can, and they should. The formation of a national unity government, I think, is a necessary step to preventing, to diminishing, if you like, the rate at which Iraq moves into sectarian violence. However, and I think this is important, it won't be enough. The formation of a national unity government won't be enough in and of itself to prevent violence.

Ambassador Khalilzad mentioned separating Sunni insurgents from their political leaders from the population. That can be done, but it will take, frankly, much more than the formation of government of national unity. Why is that? Well, basically, it's because the Sunni population and the Sunni leaders are looking for more than just cabinet portfolios, positions in a government of national unity. There are some deep-seated anxieties that go beyond just cabinet posts.

MONTAGNE: You recently met with Sunni leaders. Have they dug in on that? Would they be willing to see an Iraq divided into three regions and a federal Iraq, if certain conditions were met?

Mr. MORROW: Well, that's a very good question. I think, at the moment, the answer to that is probably no. Although there are some Sunni leaders...they're not speaking about it openly, but they are thinking about, for instance, forms of self-government in Sunni regions, even the possibility of a Sunni region being created that might mirror, if you like, the Kurdistan region in the north, and any possible southern federal region in the south.

I think this is very important. I think this it's actually a good thing, unlike many commentators on Iraq. I don't see this as necessarily representing the breakup of Iraq in any negative sense. The radical regionalization of Iraq, in fact, could be the one thing that paradoxically holds Iraq together. And, in particular, that might stem the flow of bloodshed.

I think that American foreign policy, generally, the policy of the international community should be much more focused on preventing violence, and much less about holding a central Iraq together, much less about trying to create strong central governments. I think that's actually impossible. I think, under this constitution that we now see, a strong central government is impossible. In a sense, the central government, even a government of national unity in Baghdad, is something of a distraction in an Iraq where politics will be increasingly either local or, in fact, regional.

MONTAGNE: Jonathan Morrow is senior advisor in the Rule of Law Program at the United States Institute of Peace. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. MORROW: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.