By Mick Krever, CNN
The Iraqi government’s “increasingly authoritarian” policies that have “marginalized Sunnis” have contributed to the worst violence in that country in years, Former U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Iraq Meghan O'Sullivan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“There needs to be a lot of changes in the policies of the government of Iraq in order for this threat to be neutralized,” she said.
Violence in Iraq is the worst in years, and part of the city of Falluja may have already fallen into the control of an al-Qaeda affiliated group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The current situation is “really the culmination of two things,” O’Sullivan said: the “worsening situation in Syria” and the government’s policies.
There are conflicting reports about who is fighting whom in Falluja, with government forces, tribal groups, and the al-Qaeda affiliates all involved.
When it comes to Syria, now deep into a full-scale civil war and a haven for al-Qaeda, O’Sullivan allowed that the U.S. decision not to intervene was “colored by the experience in Iraq, and the difficulty that was had there.”
But she reiterated that if the Iraqi government were “multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic” and “truly a power-sharing government” it would have had “a lot more credibility in Syria.”
A key variable for the current conflict in Falluja and other Iraqi cities, O'Sullivan said, will be whom the Sunni tribal groups will align themselves with – the government, al-Qaeda, or somewhere in between the two, which she said would “effectively be in favor of the al-Qaeda affiliated militants.”
In 2007 and 2008, when the U.S. surged its number of troops in the country and there was a “Sunni awakening,” those tribes allied with the government, she explained.
“But since that time there have been really now several years of disappointment, so Maliki is going to have to work a lot harder.”
It is also possible, she added, that the al-Qaeda affiliates have “gotten smarter” and moved away from the “strict interpretation of Islamic law” that alienated the tribesmen.
Looking forward, O'Sullivan made a larger point about the future of Iraq, removed from the minute-by-minute fighting in Falluja.
“Is [the Maliki government] going to be a government that can credibly represent all Iraqis? Because if it’s not, Iraq doesn’t have any prospect of being stable.”