Iraqis hire DC consultant for autonomy push

A Sunni religious group has hired a Washington consulting firm to make the case for creating a new semi-independent region in Iraq.
 
Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, the leader of the largest Sunni tribe in the country, hired Calex Partners to set up meetings with organizations, corporations and congressional offices “in furtherance of the goal of forming a semi-autonomous region for the Sunni tribes in Iraq,” according to forms filed with the Justice Department.

“Currently, US policy does not envision the formation of a semi-autonomous region. It is this policy that the registrant seeks to change," the forms say.
 
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Jonathan Greenhill, a principal at Calex Partners, signed the contract to represent Suleiman. He is a former senior operations officer at the CIA with experience in the Middle East.
 
The tribes want a region to themselves — similar to one held by the Kurds, another minority ethnic group that has its own semi-autonomous government in northern Iraq.
 
Sunni tribes had been at odds with outgoing Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government, leading some to pledge support to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Sunnis, by contrast, had dominated under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and were largely marginalized by the Maliki government that followed.
 
The connections between the Sunni tribes and ISIS have made some U.S. officials wary of aligning with them, according to Al-Monitor
 
But the new Shiite administration under Haider al-Abadi has made an effort to mend fences with the Sunnis, according to Reuters, and religious and tribal leaders have said they would be willing to back the new leader “if certain conditions are met.”
 
Those conditions largely revolve around ending violence in Sunni-populated areas and providing reparations for people who were displaced, Reuters reported. Creating a semi-autonomous region for the tribes might also be included in potential talks with the new government. 
 
(According to an updated form submitted to the Justice Department in May 2015, the work with Suleiman "failed to materialize" and the contract was eventually terminated. "No work was ever performed," Greenhill said in a disclosure form.)
 
Greenhill isn’t the first American lobbyist to be employed by tribal organizations.
 
Mark Alsalih began representing the Common Council of Iraqi and Arabic Tribes, which is run by Suleiman, over the summer. 
 
Alsalih told Al-Monitor last month that he had been trying to draw interest from officials in Obama administration about collaborating more closely with Iraqi and Syrian tribes.
 
“The U.S. needs to work hand in hand with the Sunnis that have the on-the-ground intel and that are being targeted by ISIS,” he told the publication. “The tribes can identify with great accuracy where ISIS is, who’s supporting them, how they’re getting their money and even where they sleep at night.” 
 
 
-- This post was updated on Feb. 18, 2016