Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another likely story

Robert Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation (online version at least), says the Jan 13 announcement of a "12-party" memorandum of understanding was "groundbreaking" and a "big step forward," that "could change the face of Iraqi politics in 2008," and then quite amazingly he goes on to say emphatically that this agreement has "emerged independently of the United States", without citing any authority for the latter point.

Let's have a look at the background.

His aims are, first, to tell a story of cumulative efforts by some of the GreenZone parties to develop a common front against the essentially separatist parties in the north (the two big Kurdish parties) and in the South (Supreme Council and Maliki's wing of the Dawa), and secondly, to celebrate this as an assertion of autonomy and freedom from American influence. The first part is true, although Dreyfuss' account includes exaggerations. The manifesto did say Clause 140 of the constitution is now a dead letter, meaning that the Kurds should give up trying to annex Kirkuk, and it also rejected the validity of oil contracts signed by the Kurdish regional government without reference to the central government. That it "blocked the privatization of Iraq's oil industry" is a bit of an exaggeration by Dreyfuss (it talked about natural resources belonging to all the people); and as far as Basra is concerned, it should be noted that the Fadhila party, a major power there, whose supposed participation in this Dreyfuss calls particular attention to, said today (Thursday) that it has not in fact joined this new alliance, and any reports to the contrary are devoid of truth.

Dreyfuss goes on to summarize reports of meetings of some of these parties: one in England (apparently referring to this bizarre report about a meeting involving a fugitive Iraqi businessman in Leeds), then one in Beirut, and now a proposal for another meeting in Paris, as examples of gathering momentum for this, completely free of American influence. That's where the story leaves the realm of exaggeration and actually breaks down. Because the reason for these meetings is to prepare for a conference in Cairo, and that conference is being arranged, by all accounts, by the Arab League on behalf of the American administration. Cairo will be follow-up to the meetings a couple of months ago at a Dead Sea resort in Jordan, which were organized by former US State Dept big name Richard Murphy, which included representation by not only GreenZone parties, but outsiders to the political process, meaning resistance groups, including Baathists or representatives of them. In other words, the Dead Sea/Cairo suite of meetings is an American-sponsored process try and integrate some of the armed resistance factions into a restructured GreenZone political process. The fact that no one in Washington or anywhere else in the English-speaking world bothered to follow up on the Dead Sea meetings with even so much as a "no-comment" from Murphy suggests very strongly that Condi and the State Department have deliberately gone into a period of occultation so as to not show American fingerprints on this, and the above-mentioned Dreyfuss piece is arguably proof that this has borne fruit.

In this connection it is worth noticing that the resistance-supporter Awni Qalamji, in his op-ed yesterday, made an important concession, namely that some of the resistance factions have in fact been (in his view) co-opted by this process. This is what the lawyers call an admission against interest, so I think it is credible. Not only is the process leading up to Cairo largely an American attempt to co-opt some of the armed resistance, but also it seems to have been partly successful.

Moreover, those who follow this co-opting process have been reporting on US/Arab League efforts to get other Arab countries to cooperate in pressuring expatriate Iraqi opposition/resistance figures living in their capitals to come forward and participate in this process. (Yemen was an example where that process didn't seem to be working well).

So there are at least two processes involved: Hints of renewed participation in the GreenZone process by a Sadrist/Allawi/Sunni group, working together; and US attempts to co-opt as much as possible of the armed resistance as part of the same restructuring. Which then raises the question how these two processes fit together. Here Qalamji has an explanation. He says one of the proposed "motivations" that the Americans are putting before the groups they are courting is this: Your participation, they are being told, is essential to prevent the triumph of the separatist Kurd/Supreme Council regime, with its Iranian implications for the South. It has been on this basis, Qalamji says, that the Gulf states have been convinced to help pressure resistance people to come forward and join in the political process. Resistance people should participate in the GreenZone in order to contribute to "balance" in the government, thus helping form a political bulwark against Iranian hegemony in South Iraq. Of course, to say the two processes are linked doesn't answer all the questions about how they are linked. But it does suggest that Dreyfuss spin on this not only is unsupported, but also highly implausible.

The fact is, no one knows the dynamics that led up to the "12-party" manifesto; and I don't know what dynamics led Dreyfuss to make the astonishing claim that the Americans didn't have anything to do with it. But for Dreyfuss to say that this was in fact without American involvement (without citing any justification) suggests to me that: (1) This was probably something an American government source told him (otherwise how could he be so sure); and (2) This is part of the effort to keep the American role in the Cairo process out of sight. So that whatever happens next in the GreenZone will appear to have been free of American influence.

Of course, the fact that the Sadrist current appears to be on the same team with any Sunni parties is a positive sign for the long-term future of Iraq, but the importance of that too can be exaggerated, because Sadr/Sunni was never the main problem. The main problem is the Sadrist/Baath antipathy, which isn't the same thing at all.


Anonymous Alamet said...

Just in at this week's Al Ahram:
In his visit to Cairo last week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called for Arab efforts to help realise national reconciliation in Iraq. Zebari, who made his remarks after a meeting with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, urged the Cairo-based League to reactivate its reconciliation efforts, claiming that the security and economic situation in Iraq is now appropriate for such an endeavour. Later in Amman Zebari said Moussa would dispatch his deputy, Algerian diplomat Ahmed Ben Heli, to Baghdad for talks on preparing a new reconciliation in Cairo.

However, top Arab diplomats told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Arab League, which has painfully learned lessons from past rounds, has no plans to send Ben Heli to Baghdad soon, or before it receives assurances that its efforts won't be torpedoed by feuding Iraqi groups. Reportedly, Moussa is especially dismayed by the sectarian discourse used by some of these groups and want them to adopt a national and unifying agenda, said one diplomat familiar with the Iraq file.

3:51 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Good eye. Looks like Moussa hasn't read the Dreyfuss piece or he'd realize the new coalition is designed "to sweep Maliki out of office or force him to join it."

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard Dreyfus of the Nation, at least, has been paying attention. Yet why hush up his best news, good tidings that nobody else seems to have learned of yet, not even my pet google?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently touring the Middle East, has renewed his country's offer to bring Iraq's warring political factions together. Sarkozy suggested "hosting in France, far from the heat of passions and on neutral ground, inter-Iraqi roundtable talks that are as large as possible." It's unclear whether Sarkozy's proposed conference would include representatives of the armed resistance, but it's possible. (An earlier offer by France to host similar talks got the cold shoulder from Maliki and no encouragement from the United States.)

(What's the French for "light at the end of the tunnel"?)

4:42 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I did refer to a "proposal for another meeting in Paris". I guess you're complaining I left out the "neutral-ground-far-from-the-heat-of- passions" window-dressing.

Or maybe you're being funny, hard to tell.

Anyway the scoop you're referring to was reported yesterday in Al-Hayat.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Shirin said...

The important question is what is Sarkozi's agenda in making this offer.

The devil is nearly always in the (carefully obfuscated) details.

11:29 PM  
Blogger annie said...

what is Sarkozi's agenda in making this offer.

isn't he a neocon? bush's new best friend? paris sounds much more romantic than DC and is very near the heat of passion.. we can all pretend american interests won't be represented.

6:17 PM  

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