Monday, January 01, 2007

The new Bush-Maliki plan, off to a shaky start

Al-Hayat publishes an analysis suggesting the execution of Saddam is part of the Iraqi segment of a plan that has crystalized in the mind of US president Bush following his meetings with Malaki (in Amman) and Hakim and Hashimi (in Washington). But before getting to that, the reporter notes the following: The Maliki administration says it is trying to "soften some of the blowback" from the execution by (a) permitting the family to bury the body; (b) not opposing demonstrations in support of Saddam; and (c) inviting Iraqis to open a new page, hinting at legalizing the Baath party and the return of Baath-era officers to the armed forces. However, the journalist says, it did appear from the video that has been circulating that what the government did was to turn Saddam over to the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, and the execution had more the appearance of a political liquidation than of anything appropriate to the "new Iraq" that Maliki talks about.

On the one hand, sources told the Al-Hayat reporter that the execution, both in its timing and its methods, was planned to fit within the plan for [strategic] changes that was prepared during the meeting between Bush and Maliki in Amman. There is a bit of a gap in the logic here because the journalist doesn't explain how the execution-timing and method fit the plan. (This is cleared up in the next-to-last paragraph, below, where the journalist seems to be saying handing Saddam over to the Mahdi Army was a "signal" from Maliki to placate the Sadrists, just as he has sent other "signals" to placate the Baathists).

The next thing the journalist says is that the coming month should witness changes in the nature of the government's way of acting, so as to fit within the "new American plan", for instance there will be the dissolution of the de-Baathification agency, a general amnesty for people in Iraqi and American jails, and an end to the trials of Saddam-regime people, which will mean no more executions of high-ranking people, and more ex-Army people back in the armed forces. The journalist couldn't get a government official to actually confirm any of these plans, but one high official said Maliki plans to use these circumstances "in a positive way", once some of the execution-blowback has been absorbed. And the journalist was able to find someone "close to Prime Minister Maliki" who assured him that the time will be right for a general amnesty, for asking parliament to end or weaken the de-Baathification law, and for dialogue and amnesty for most of the officials of the former regime, once there is a guarantee of Kurdish agreement to that.

The source told the reporter most of this was "crystallized" by Bush himself, with the addition of some of the ideas of the other two who met with him, namely Hakim and Hashimi.

And he said that the American part of this "new American strategy" centers on strentghening law-enforcement and a wide-ranging restructuring of the army, including the re-integration of thousands of people from the former army. Meanwhile, Maliki, with his new image of "strong leader" based on his firmness in executing Saddam, will work on the issue of dissolution of the Mahdi Army and the other Shiite militias, with a view to easing the resentment of the Sunnis, and to challenge them to respond positively to the changes of 2007, including [forgetting about] Saddam and the circumstances of his execution.

However, the journalist notes, things might go in the opposite direction. True, Maliki has been sending various "signals". For instance, the image that people have of the execution is that it was heavily dominated by supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, and this appears to have been a signal from Maliki to Sadr ahead of the proposals for dissolving the Mahdi Army and for amnesty for his people accused of sectarian killings. And Maliki's response to the family's requests respecting the burial was another signal to Saddam supporters, namely that the government is determined to open a new page. And Maliki issued a post-execution statement in effect urging Baathists to acknowledge the mistakes of the former regime and join in the reconstruction if Iraq.

But at the same time, a group of Iraqi Baathists pledged to support Izzat al-Duri as the new "legal president of Iraq, and leader of the armed forces". This was in a document (circulated at an Amman Saddam-memorial meeting) describing itself as representing "all the citizens of Baghdad", which praised al-Duri as "the principal leader of the heroic national resistance, who will lead the liberation of Iraq from the occupation by America, Britain and Iran."

4 Comments:

Anonymous Vladimir said...

Badger how serious has this talk of disarming the militas ever been? Both al Sadr and Hamkim must think that armed groups under their command are indespensible in today's Iraq. So it seems that only legitimizing these forces under the guise of Iraqi Police ect. is the only way either one will go for it.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous GJ said...

vladimir: It's much easier to attack than to defend. As consequence Shiite militias are an attack/revenge force, not a defensive one. They have planned for/adopted/responded to the model of the Sunni/Baath insurgency. Both sides are acting rationally.

So t'is unlikely anyone will ever get them to disarm. Certainly no hope unless insurgency internalises its (3rd place) minority status and chooses a political path to achieving the
maximal gains logically possible under new order? Alternatively the insurgency pursues its present course and goes for utopian maximilist gains in which case the new majority Shiite govt will use all its means to expel them from Iraq.

What should the Sunni leadership do? A rough comparison is the IRA. They ended up electing the first course. However the IRA demographic arithmetic was much more promising than that which faces the Iraq Sunnis, so this would have informed their choice.

12:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gotta love that thing about how Bush "Crystalized" this so-called plan. A dubious metaphore in itself.

What I find curious is why the administration would allow the lynching scenario to play out as it did. By enabling the process to evolve as it did, by giving the okay for the hanging itself to be undertaken by the Sadrists was a guarantee that the whole Saddam trial would be de-valued into a sectarian lynch mob judicial farce. Or at least precieved so by the world. Which is a pretty stiff price of legitimacy to be paid by the U.S. for what? Unless of course the administration is baiting the Maliki government into showcasing its worst possible profile -- its connections to the Sadrists themselves, which by their actions, thereby exemplify the "extremist" mode. And then there is the predictible pan Sunni anti "Iranian" reaction. So sure, this may all be a part of some Whitehouse/Iraqi plan, but my suspicion is its just the first "bait" part of the plan, with the "switch" part soon to follow.

anna missed

1:29 AM  
Blogger badger said...

anna, that could well turn out to be right.

But please don't misunderstand what I'm trying to do here, which is merely to call attention to some of the different facts and the different spins that Arab media offer. In this case, the reporter says he tapped into government thinking on the future plan, and in answer to the question where the lynching fit in that plan, the answer was, well yeah, there will be blowback to be absorbed, all we were trying to do was placate the Sadrists. Certainly that doesn't make any sense as an explanation, but it fits into the reporter's story as an acknowledgement by the government that they are off to a difficult start.

Its natural that everyone is trying to put everything together, and we all have out leanings. Mine, like yours I guess, is that the default explanation is US divide-and-conquer activities. But it can get complicated (see the next posting on the Dhari adventures, where Rice tries to open talks via him, while at the same time Maliki and the NYT try to lynch him (figuratively). A lot of times I figure you just have to record some of this stuff and then see later on to what extent you were right about what it meant. For instance in the Dhari case, at the time this seemed like merely the US-backed regime smearing a Sunni leader, but now it looks more like attempts to impede the attempted-negotiating process...

But as I said, in this case, you're probably correct right off the bat.

4:49 AM  

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