Thursday, December 14, 2006

SCIRI's argument against Baker, and its connection with National Reconciliation

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada publishes today a lenthy critique by Adel Abdul Mehdi of the Baker report. And since Mehdi (a vice president of the republic, and senior SCIRI official) is thought to be the US favorite for Prime Minister in the next government, it is worth studying.

His overall debating point is that the report appears to have seized on a few superficial points expressive of Sunni concerns about breakup of the country, Iranian influence, and so on, and made that the basis of recommendations, leaving out any broader considerations, and in particular leaving out important historical background. The whole approach, Mehdi says, reminds him of the shortsightedness of the US administration at the time of the Shiite "intifada" of 1991 following the expulsion of Saddam's army from Kuwait, in effect permitting Saddam to suppress it, based on short-term calculations of US interests.

And he says the report's anecdotal remarks about finding an Iranian under every stone, or the risk of Kurdish separation, are indicative of a facile attitude focusing on the danger of national breakup. But while much of the piece is polemical (he notes how few Arabic-speakers there are in the American embassy as another indication of the report's superficiality), there is one specific point that seems to be central.

He says recommendations 26 through 31, on National Reconciliation, are one-sided, meaning they deal only with Sunni concerns. And he says it is a mistake to make those kinds of concessions (for instance on de-Baathification and federalism) as a way of getting groups to put down their arms.
A balanced solution has to be something that aims at the attainment by all groups of their legitimate rights, without encroachment by this group or that...and without letting it come about that the laying down of arms--on whatever side--becomes a reason for imposing a solution or for the attainment [of a particular group] of rights that are not legitimate, under whatever aspect, or for whatever group, whether Shia, Sunni, Kurd or any other.
Here Mehdi is talking about the report's assumption that negotiation with the armed resistance would require concessions in areas like de-Baathification and a toning down or slowing down of federalism. But Mehdi seems to be most particularly concerned with countering any Baker-inspired move to slow down federalism.

Al-Mada concludes its front-page summary of the Mehdi statement as follows:
There is a general orientation in the report aiming at strengthening the central regime (which is recommended by some Arab states and some domestic groups) at the expense of the decentralized and federal regime, which [latter] the Iraqi people have [already] decided on.
Mehdi is referring to the October 11 Parliamentary vote on the law relating to procedures for estalishing federal regions. He says this "general orientation" is dangerous, because:
You cannot play with political and constitutional issues for tactical political purposes, and to please some, without constitutional procedures or a broad national agreement. In this way the report, in trying to correct errors, itself falls into administrative and constitutional and political errors.
The statement in its full version covers almost all of p 12 of the newspaper today, but the central point seems to be: Opposition to any structural concessions to the Sunni resistance as a way of ending their insurgency, and in particular opposition to any tinkering with the results of the October 11 federalism vote.


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