Friday, December 28, 2007

Strange pussyfooting on Cairo

There is confirmation of plans for a "reconciliation" conference in Cairo next month that is supposed to include representatives of Baathists and armed factions, in the form of remarks by three Iraqi-parliament officials to the newspaper Al-Hayat, which however publishes the story only in its Saudi edition, and not in the edition that is published on the web. (The independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq reports the remarks, citing the Saudi edition of Al-Hayat). Arabic here, English here.

The Cairo conference, if it comes off, will be followup to earlier such meetings in Beirut (has anyone heard of that?) and then mid-October at a Dead Sea resort, reported in prior posts here. The Cairo plans were described extensively by Haroun Mohammed (posts on that here and here), who said the principal motive for this as far as the Americans are concerned is to somehow create GreenZone entity that would have enough breadth and weight to legitimate the bilateral Iraq-US agreement that is going to be necessary once the current UN mandate runs out the end of 2008.

There are signs of continued pussyfooting by the Americans, presumably to give plausible deniability in case nothing happens. Not only has there not been any announcement of these plans, but also, for instance, today's Al-Hayat account says it wasn't the Americans at all, but Iraq president Talabani who is behind this idea. Delivery of the invitations to this meeting continues to be described in funny ways, for instance Al-Hayat quotes one Iraqi parliamentarian who says the invitations are being delivered by "independent persons," to invitees "according to the measure of the moderation of their stances and their demands." (A phrase Aswat al-Iraq quoted from Al-Hayat but their English translator took one look at it and did what we all do from time to time: He decided to leave it out).

Wathab Dulaimi, chairman of something called the Council on National Dialogue, who also confirmed these plans, said topics for discussion (in addition to the standard items of federalism, participation in the "political process", and so on) will also include the Awakening Councils and the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance. And he added: "The Awakening Councils have broken the barrier (logjam?) that was standing in the way of discussions between us and the opposition," without explaining exactly what that means.

And there doesn't seen to be complete unanimity what topics will be at the top of the agenda either. While Dulaimi and the Minister of National Reconciliation stressed issues like amnesty and De-Baathification (without mentioning US troop withdrawal), another of the newspaper's informants, Wail Adbul Latif, a member of the parliamentary committee dealing with this, said the conference "will take up three core issues: Federalism; participation in the government; and presence of the foreign troops in the country".


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