Karim and Harith have a strict rule whenever they meet at their parents' north Baghdad house: don't talk politics. No one in the family wants the brawl that would likely erupt between the two brothers. Harith, a passionate Islamist who owns a small butcher shop, belongs to a seven-man cell of insurgents in the capital. He boycotted the January elections and fought against U.S. Marines last year in the streets of the solidly Sunni Al Aadhamiya neighborhood. Karim, a former officer in Saddam's armed forces, serves proudly as a captain in the new Iraqi Army and expresses support for the Baghdad government. The brothers agree on only two things. Both men want an end to the city's electrical outages--and both want the Americans to go home.
The day of that departure is now starting to look at least a little closer. Last week, after more than two months of backroom brinkmanship, the National Assembly finally delivered the first freely elected government most Iraqis have ever seen. Now Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's other newly announced leaders are facing an even tougher step toward ending the occupation: they need to win the support of insurgents like Harith. "We have to reach out to them," says Barham Salih, one of the country's most prominent Kurdish politicians. Many Sunni Arabs doubt that the new government will put their rights and interests on a level with those of the Shiites and Kurds who dominated the election. "It will take time," says Salih, "but the political process is impossible without them." Such a failure could be catastrophic, he says: "I don't deny that the dynamic for sectarian conflict exists." Politicians like Salih want to avoid saying "civil war" until they have no choice.
Still, the new leaders can't seem to agree on how much to reach out. The outgoing interim government recently named scores of former midlevel Baathists to posts in the civil service, police and military. The idea was to win support among the Sunnis and to recruit some experienced managers. Nevertheless, when the National Assembly held its first real public debate last week, Shiite legislators seized the opportunity to demand that the former Baathists be fired. Many Iraqis have no intention of forgiving even low-ranking past members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime. "We have all suffered from that criminal gang," says Sabah Kadhim, a Shiite who serves as a senior adviser at the Interior Ministry. "They destroyed our country--they have no place in the new Iraq."
Many of Iraq's Sunnis are equally stiff-necked. Last week their highest religious council, the Muslim Scholars Association, issued a decree to the new government: "The Iraqi resistance is legal, and it has the right to defend its country against occupation." Even scarier, the fatwa followed on the heels of an earlier directive from the scholars urging Sunnis to join the armed forces and police but not to "give aid to the occupiers." Taken together, the two decrees seemed to be telling insurgents to infiltrate the security services. "The problem is that many [Sunnis] are still living in fantasyland," says one senior U.S. official. "They can't get used to the idea that they no longer run this country."
Even the most pragmatic Sunnis still find it hard to adapt. The Shiites' refusal to work with former Baathists has ruled out practically every qualified Sunni leader except former exiles, and exiles aren't especially popular among Iraqis who stayed behind. Shiite and Kurdish leaders made sure to put Sunni politicians in some high-profile government jobs--notably Hajim al-Hassani as speaker of Parliament, and Ghazi al-Yawar as deputy president. But the appointees have only limited grass-roots support in the Sunni heartlands, where the insurgents are strongest.
Optimists say resistance attacks have declined in the past two months. Even so, insurgents are killing more Iraqis and Americans than they were a year ago, and the attacks keep getting more sophisticated. A rebel raid on Abu Ghraib Prison last week failed to release any detainees, but more than 40 Americans were injured. Kidnappers grabbed Gen. Mohammad Jalal Saleh, head of a special counterinsurgency force, along with his bodyguards in west Baghdad. And as the National Assembly convened, coordinated bomb blasts offered a grim opening salute just outside the Green Zone. "It is certainly not over," says one U.S. intelligence officer.
Insurgents like Harith claim they're fighting for better government. When police searched his house last fall, he says, 300,000 dinars (about $200) vanished. "The new Iraq should not be built by traitors and thieves," he says. The insurgency is about patriotism, not sectarianism, he insists: "Only people loyal to Iraq, not to a foreign power, should rule here. No matter if they will be Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds." If Iraq's new government can find a way to earn his confidence, thousands of American soldiers will be more than ready to pack their bags.