Saturday, December 22, 2007

"There will be new rules of the game"

There are two interesting cases of stick-figure reporting on Iraq, the first courtesy of David Ignatius in the Friday WaPo, where he says:
In January, the United States will also invite the Iraqis to negotiate a new "strategic partnership agreement" to replace the existing U.N. mandate for U.S. troops, starting in 2009. David Satterfield, Rice's special coordinator for Iraq, will ask Baghdad to appoint a negotiating team that represents all the country's factions and ministries. This new agreement will be sensitive for both sides, since it will cover everything from imprisonment of Iraqi detainees to future U.S. basing rights to Special Forces operations against al-Qaeda terrorists. Explains a senior Bush administration official: "There will be new rules of the game. There have to be. It cannot be business as usual."
That is very interesting, because while it confirms that the US is concerned about the legitimacy of its presence after the current UN mandate runs out, it suggests there will be nice and polite, if somewhat ambiguous, process. Satterfield will "ask", for a broader-based negotiating "partner", by having "Baghdad" somehow "appoint a negotiating team that represents all the country's factions..." By using words in this way, the WaPo columnist is able to represent the coming process as a very civilized thing, "asking", for a "partner", that will "represent all factions." What a nice man! But wait! In the background there is the unnamed "senior Bush administration official" talking about "new rules of the game". Wonder what that means? A more detailed account gives you part of the answer.

The relevant story circulating in Arab capitals as related by Haroun Mohammed (see prior posts here) talks about the same basic motive, namely the need by the US to obtain a broader base of support for its new Iraq "mandate". But there is more detail, and the detail is very telling. First of all, according to this account, Satterfield and others in the State Department are convinced that Sunni representation has to be obtained for the new mandate to have any appearance of legitimacy. So the expression "all the factions" phrase in the WaPo piece has a specific meaning. Secondly, the attempts up to now, including the meetings organized by Richard Murphy at the Dead Sea resort last month, have been unsuccessful in bringing them in. Third, Condi has decided to ask Cairo, Amman and Riyadh to start turning the screws on the Baath persons living in their capitals, to force them to come forward and play the game. And fourth, just as a reminder, Haroun Mohammed notes that the conditions laid down by the Sunni resistance would have to be dealt with first, and that includes a withdrawal-schedule. So his conclusion is that the whole effort is unserious.

What then? Is there anything different about this doomed US effort to arrange a reconciliation with the Sunni opposition/resistance, compared to the prior doomed efforts? Actually, on one reading of the Iraq news, yes there may well be.

Abdulaziz al-Hakim on Friday, and then Defence Minister al-Obaidi (who happens to be Sunni) on Saturday, and perhaps more to come, have quite abruptly raised the issue of potential institutionalization of the Anbar-style "awakening councils". Hakim said they have to be under the control of the government, and Obaidi said they won't be allowed to have their own organizational structure, moreover only those who are qualified will be accepted into the regular Iraqi armed forces. This is another set of reports that has the familiar one-dimensional stick-figure character, as if the background or the other dimensions had been eliminated.

Here's some of the background. This sudden outbreak of concern comes days after a report in the Sadrist-oriented citing warnings coming from European-embassy people in the GreenZone (via Brussels) to the effect that American intelligence officials have undertaken a project aiming precisely at organizing the Sunni awakening councils as a potential fighting unit in the interests of American policy.
The real anxiety in European capitals relating to these developments is the following: That the awakening councils could be used in the service of plans [that could be] implemented by the American intelligence agency against Iraqi forces opposed to the American presence, and specifically against Shiite organizations or a broad Shiite movement against the American presence in Iraq in the future, something that would contribute to a bloody civil war in Iraq, working in the long term against the desired stability in the country, and [instead] tearing it up into city-states.
A few days later, the same Nahrainnet cited sources in Washington who said they have seen
reports on an American plan to recruit Shiite tribal leaders in the South and Center of Iraq to form an alliance with Washington to "guarantee the existence of a military force on the ground to face down Iranian influence in Iraq...and to confront the Shiite political parties currently participating in the government, which form bulwarks for this Iranian influence." The reports say the contacts with Shiite tribal leaders have been undertaken by US intelligence officers in Iraq, sometimes with the assistance of regional governments including those of the UAE, Saudi, and Jordan.
The expressions of concern from Hakim and Obaidi come on the heels of these reports.

Apart from questions of the actual ability of the CIA to pull off something like this, the reported aims are quite straightforward and easy to understand. The concept would be the creation of two Contra organizations, the first based on the hypothesis of fighting any serious resistance movement by the Sadrists (or other groups opposed to the American presence); and the second based on the hypothesis of fighting a recalcitrant pro-Iranian government.

So if your question is: How does the current US attempt to get the Sunni opposition/resistance and the Shiite sectarian government to play the American game differ from previous attempts, I think possibly the question answers itself. What is different this time around is the availability of the awakening groups, which if organized in the ways suggested could be used as military pressure. That the Bush administration would be too noble or too unimaginative to try and make this kind of use of them seems a little unrealistic. (Incompetent? Quite possibly, but that's a different question entirely). Plus this would explain what the unnamed Bush administration official meant when he told Ignatius: "There will be new rules of the game. There have to be. It cannot be business as usual."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're quite right in calling the awakening movement(s) Contras, especially as it applies to the Shiites - in spite of the fact they're countering their own sitting government (along with its internal opposition) as opposed to fighting an emerging revolutionary movement. But because the genius designers of this program are blind to the distinction themselves, I'm sure even they are thinking of the tribes as Contras. So sure, Contras they are, even if the notion is completely senseless to think Shia tribal leaders will abandon their first representative government or their local militias where their sons are no doubt serving, just to serve immediate U.S. needs? Doubly troubling, as Ignatius notes is going to be the pressure in March to withdraw more troops in response to reduced violence and the subsequent (and substantial) problem of paying all these folks off. Not mention all the trouble created should things not work out as planned. And that, in response to your last question, places this new tactic, consistent with all the other old tactics, and nothing new at all.

anna missed

2:41 AM  

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