Friday, July 11, 2008

Something in Talabani's satchel ?

Regular op-ed columnist Haroun Mohammed has a piece in AlQuds alArabi this morning titled: "Has the time come to replace Al-Maliki?" By way of background, it is useful to recall an earlier (November 30 2007) column by Haroun Mohammed which I summarized under the title: "A more plausible reading of US policy: Maliki 'under control', leading Iraq to US-protectorate status." By more plausible, I meant that the HM's account of Maliki's character, seen by the Americans as weak and easily controllable, provides a more complete overall picture of Bush policy than the idea that he merely bungled in handing Iraq to an Iranian sympathizer.

In today's op-ed, HM says the bilateral long-term-deal negotiations that have been going on since April have been designed by the Americans so as to marginalize Maliki as far as possible, funneling the talks through his deputy prime-minister, the Kurd (and member of Talabani's PUK party) Barham Saleh. The thinking was that even if Maliki ended up having objections, it would be easy enough to sway him. Such is their reading of the man.
[Participants on the American side including Satterfield, Crocker and Petraeus] understand that Maliki is not strong on the political or legal issues and they take him to be easily made compliant, if he is beleaguered or his position is threatened or shaken. For that reason they relied on marginalizing him during the management of the negotiations respecting the agreement, and they encouraged him to concentrate on the security file, on the idea that was the priority of his government, and leave his deputy prime-minister Barham Saleh to handle the negotiations away from the limelight...
HM says Daawa party sources say Maliki appeared to accept that idea, but came on them at the last minute, leaving the Americans with the choice of either postponing the process, or making some kind of unilateral announcement but without there being time enough to effect the necessary "changes in the presidency [of Iraq] with all that would involve by way of complications and political difficulties on the ground".

What stuck in the craw of the Bush administration was not the idea of a memorandum of understanding versus an agreement, but rather the mention in the MoA of the idea of a schedule for the withdrawal of American troops. Here HM provides a specific explanation: He says Bush's idea is that there should be no mention of withdrawal at the present time, but that withdrawal, like all other bilateral issues, would be dealt with in the future under the aegis of this overall agreement. What enraged the Bush administration, he says, was their sense that this mention of withdrawal was something dangerous. In fact he says the Americans aren't prepared to even discuss the idea, particularly given the heated-up campaign comments on this from Obama and McCain.

What if anything will the Americans do? There is an old saying, HM says (old since April 2003) that if you want to know what the Americans are really thinking, go talk to Jalal Talabani, or else to his sidekick Barham Saleh. Talabani was in the Oval Office on June 25 assuring reporters that there was progress in the negotiations, which were still being described as for a long-term agreement, even though Maliki had said the talks were at a dead-end. HM doesn't mention this, but the US special-ops forces were airlifted into Maliki's hometown just outside Karbala and offed one of his relatives pre-dawn June 27. (In spite of the fact HM doesn't mention the event, this would certainly fit the scenario of trying to jog the easily-manipulable Maliki back into line).

There has been a flood of statements and rumors in Baghdad, says HM, particularly since the return of Talabani from Washington, and he adds:
Perhaps the most noteworthy [of the ideas circulating around Talabani] is that Bush told him the government people in Iraq should utilize the short time remaining to him (Bush) in his second and last administration, and an important part of this "utilizing"--this attributed to Bush--is the matter of the Agreement and the need to sign it before the 31st of the current month....[And people around Talabani say Bush also told him] that 90% of the people who share decision-making with him are not in agreement with his policies in Iraq, and that he has been obliged in a lot of cases to use presidential authority to carry out measures that his aides and advisers and his ministers do not agree with. And one of those [policies that most of his aides do not agree with] is the continuation of the alliance with the leadership of the Kurdish and Shiite parties in Iraq for which [Bush allegedly told Talabani] Bush continues to be subject to bitter criticism from those around him and from allied countries, for toppling the prior regime and replacing it with a Kurdish-Shiite regime.
In other words, according to these rumors, Bush implied, at least, that he is prepared to help perpetuate the Kurdish/Daawa/SupremeCouncil regime insofar as he can do so in the waning months of his administration, but the main element of this will have to be an agreement respecting continued American military involvement--in this context, obviously, as a support for the Kurd/Shiite regime for whose support Bush has suffered so much and such harsh criticism, and on behalf of which he has done so much "on presidential authority..that his advisers... do not agree with".

HM concludes:
Participants in the political process in Baghdad do not rule out the possibility of dramatic developments in the coming two-week period of time, with the July 31 deadline and no signing or announcement about the memorandum or the agreement. There is in circulation more than one scenario [said to be] in Talabani's satchel, and the fact he returned [directly] to Baghdad this time, and not to Sulaimaniya as he has done in earlier trips, has triggered an uproar...

9 Comments:

Anonymous Alex said...

Harun Muhammad doesn't seem to understand (and I'm sure that Bush & co don't either) that the problem is not Maliki - whether he is weak or obstinate (he seems to me a fairly weak person) - but what is behind him, and forcing him to stand up to the US. That is, the Hawza, and Iraqi Arab public opinion, who are firmly against signing the SOFA on any terms acceptable to the US.

Going behind the back of Maliki to the Kurds - Talabani and Salih (who are certainly in favour of the SOFA) - is not going to work, as the Kurds can only speak formally for the rest of Iraq (inasfar as T is president). The only result would be to loosen the Kurdish hold on the central governement (already in decline for other reasons).

8:20 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I don't think HM is suggesting that any of the ideas in Talabani's bag are things that "might work" for him or for Bush in any meaningful sense. He's suggesting there are things that Bush "might try". I think what you point about about Iraqi public opinion and the marja'iya and so on is actually taken for granted in most places outside the bubble, and also I guess the expectation that anything they try in the face of that will in all probability have catastrophic results. He's just trying to give us a glimpse into the bushworld mindset.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Rojo said...

Hey Badger, what do you make of this claim that the US has been allowing the Israeli warplanes into Iraqi air space and even allowed them to land at the al-Assad airbase?

http://www.daily.pk/world/worldnews/84-worldnews/5481-israeli-jets-using-iraqs-airspace.html

Have you seen anything that would corroborate that? Because that would be an explosive story if true, no pun intended.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Rojo said...

Well, how about that, seconds after leaving that comment, I went over to Helena Cobban's site and find her quoting this Ynet story saying basically the same thing...

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3566925,00.html

6:26 PM  
Blogger Rojo said...

Not to clutter the comments pages, but I felt I should belatedly note that the sources for both stories appear to be the same, so the Ynet article should not be seen as a corroboration.

6:29 PM  
Blogger badger said...

The first story on this was on the Sadrist site Nahrrainnet on Wednesday (link here), and when I read it I thought it sounded not implausible. People around two US airbases (Assad in Anbar, and Ali bin Abi Talib in Nassiriya) had been noticing unusual nighttime takeoffs and landings of fighter planes, along with unusually tight security for several weeks, and anonymous Iraqi Defence Dept people had concluded it was American or Israeli (more the latter since the Anbar flights seemed to be coming from Jordan), and they pointed out that from the Nassiriya base you could in in Iranian airspace in 5 minutes and to Bushehr very quickly. So the sourcing seemed to be un-exaggerated and methodical. The next I saw was the Iranian PressTV picking up the report, and now YNet, but the YNet details seem to be no more than recycling of the Nahrainnet ("5 minutes to Iranian airspace from Nasiriya" and so on), so I don't know. Looks as if you're right, the only independent report is still the one in Nahrainnet...

7:05 PM  
Blogger Shirin said...

Rojo, it appears the IDF and the Pentagon are both denying the story.

Of course, the IDF and the Pentagon absolutely NEVER lie about ANYTHING.

So, who knows?

7:13 PM  
Anonymous gj said...

Reminds me of a joke that I heard in early 2003.

Saddam and George Bush are having a "peace" summit.

Saddam says to George: "I had a dream last night. The war had been won and I was victorious. The people of the United States greeted me with flowers and sweets and banners crying out "we love you, oh Saddam, for liberating us from the Bush warmongers."

And George said: "Funny about that, I had a similar dream. But in my dream I was victorious and the people in your country greeted me with flowers and sweets and banners and calling out in joy."

"What were they saying?" Saddam asked.

"I don't know," said George. "I don't speak Hebrew."

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haroun Muhammad al-Gurmandi is a Fayli Kurd BTW, so why is he an Arab nationalist????

12:56 AM  

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