Dhari: Trials of an interlocutor in Rice's peace process
On October 3, 2006, in Cairo the U.S. Secretary of State met with ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan, and Egypt. Afterwards the ministers from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar received unexpected phone calls from one of Rice’s assistants asking them to attend a private meeting with Rice in a secure location in Cairo that same evening.
One of the ministers who attended that evening meeting with Rice in Cairo later met a senior member of the Iraqi Muslim Council (the MUC, Muslim Ulama Council, also known as the Association of Muslim Scholars) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He briefed the Muslim Council representative on the meeting’s topics the most important of which was an offer from the Bush Administration to open talks with the Iraqi resistance movement. This was in accord with Rice’s express desire that the Muslim Council be informed of U.S. views. At her meeting in Cairo, Rice told the four ministers that she wanted to talk to them about the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. The U.S. administration, Rice said, understood that they had “committed mistakes” in Iraq. She said that the president was very concerned about these mistakes and wanted to set them aright. “You are our friends and I want you to help us,” she told the four ministers. “Please forget the past and its complications. I admit that we made mistakes and we ignored your warnings and did not take your advice. But let us cooperate to sort out all problems in Iraq. I invited you to this meeting here in Cairo in order for us to discuss this, and after I contacted the White House to make sure that they knew we were going to discuss this issue in this more private setting.”
After Rice’s short introduction, apology and plea for help, a Saudi diplomatic official asked Rice in what way the Arab governments could help the United States. She replied, without hesitation, that the U.S. administration “wants extensive and detailed talks with Iraqi Sunni resistance leaders about ways to end the insurgency and bring stability to Iraq.” She said that she wanted those present at the meeting to return to their countries and “use their influence” to convince the Sunni resistance to participate in talks with the Americans. Rice went on to say that the Bush Administration is ready to talk to Sheikh Harith Al Dari, Secretary General of the MUC, in addition to “any senior member of the Baath Party or any ex-senior high-ranking commander of the Iraqi Army” about finding ways to stabilize the situation and ending the resistance. Rice said that the United States would speak with any high-ranking official of the resistance, but would not speak with any officials of al-Qaeda.
In the wake of this meeting, Sheikh Harith al-Dari visited Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Emirates and had several meeting with senior officials in these countries on Rice’s proposal. Even so, after these briefings al-Dari flatly refused the idea of conducting any direct meetings with U.S. officials until the United States had responded positively to six “decisive demands” of “the Sunni Resistance and Opposition to the American Occupation of the Nation of the Two Rivers.” The six demands were put in writing — apparently by al-Dari — and delivered to U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley during his visit to the Saudi capital in December. After reading these demands, Hadley paid a surprise visit to Irbel, in northern Iraq, where he met the president of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, Masoud Barzani, and Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, to seek their advice on how to respond to the demands.
The six demands are:
1. The United States must agree to enlarge the current national reconciliation endeavor to include all political parties, including the major parties of the Iraqi resistance movement;
2. The Iraqi government should without any preconditions grant and adhere to a national pardon and full amnesty for those who were part of the resistance;
3. The United States and the Iraqi government must agree to abolish all aspects of the current de-Baathification law and return Baathist officials to their positions in the government and in the military;
4. Starting immediately the United States and the Iraqi government must agree to the dismantling of all militias and death squads and bring their leaders to justice;
5. The United States and the Iraqi government must agree to abolish all programs aimed at federating the country into three regions;
6. The United States and the Iraqi government must approve a plan to equitably distribute oil revenues fairly to all Iraqi provinces.
The Conflicts Forum editors note that subsequently, Dhari talked to various Iraqi resistance representatives, "who emphasized their intention of fully participating in the political process if these demands are achieved," but add that an MSA representative said he doubted this would go anywhere, given the unliklihood of the US agreeing to the demands, and the Conflit Forum people say they agree, for that reason and also because of the opposition by the main Shiite coalition backing the Maliki administration.
Readers will recall that in early November, there was the kerfuffle over a reported "arrest warrant" issued by the Baghdad government against Dhari, allegedly for inciting to sectarian violence, later downgraded to an "investigation subpoena". It transpired that the real reason for the warrant was that Dhari had been visiting a number of Arab capitals for discussions about the Iraqi political situation with government officials and others. (That part of the story was summarized here.) In other words, the US was trying to open lines of communication with the resistance via Dhari among others using Arab regime leaders as go-betweens. Dhari was visiting Arab capitals. And at the same time the US-controlled Maliki government issued an arrest and/or investigation warrant against Dhari on charges of inciting to sectarian violence. And the New York Times, for its part, published on November 19 a story in which a tribal leader loyal to the US called Dhari a "thug" and implied he was a supporter of AlQaeda, without any substantiation at all. (That episode is summarized here).
Getting back to the chronology, the Conflicts Forum account says US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley visited Riyadh in December (I don't know if there is a date for that), where he was shown the above list of six demands that Dhari had drawn up. Hadley then went to Irbil to talk to Maliki and Barzani about how to respond.
Also in December, on the 13th and 14th to be exact, there was the Istanbul Conference, organized by something called the Global Anti-Agression Campaign, an international Sunni group that included big-name Saudi islamists, where Dhari was the keynote speaker, and there were also messages from major Iraqi resistance groups including the Islamic Army in Iraq. There were some anti-Shiite speakers, to be sure. But Dhari's theme was that the conflict in Iraq, while it obviously has come to have a religious component, is at root a political struggle against the American occupation and on top of that the Iranian intervention. While the Iranians are using religion as a tool, Dhari said, it would be a big mistake to be drawn into letting this become a religious war against Shiites. Rather, Shiites are part of the fabric of Iraqi society, and the focus should stay on the actual enemies, America and Iran. The conference called for complete and unconditional US withdrawal, just as did the above noted six points*. Since this wasn't being mentioned anywhere in English, I followed up with this account of an AlJazeera summary of the conference, then this, about which perhaps the less said the better.
Conflicts Forum calls their piece "Rice's stillborn talks with the Iraqi resistance". It is a major story. As for the above-noted trials of the main interlocutor in this process, I guess we can make of them what we will.
*An interesting slip on my part. Actually the six points don't include the demand for a withdrawal, a point commenters honed in on with interesting interpretations.