Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Allawi versus Chalabi ?

I will say what I think this all amounts to at the end of this, but first we have to wade through the latest news.

Al-Hayat reports on a couple of events in the twisted but apparently ongoing history of national reconciliation. (1) The paper says the De-Baathification council, which is headed by none other than Ahmed Chalabi, has prepared a draft law that would somehow change its terms of reference (never explained exactly how), and this is described by a spokesman for the council as a compromise between those who want to eliminate the De-Baathification council on the one side , and those who want to tighten its anti-Baath provisions on the other. (2) A spokesman for another council, the Agency for National Reconciliation and Dialogue, which has organized and supervised the series of National Reconciliation conferences (last one mid-December, for political groups), says his group is planning a followup meeting (followup to the mid-December political-groups meeting, that is) that will be able to overcome some of the objections that were raised by participants in the prior meeting.

(1) The executive director of Chalabi's De-Baathification Council, Ali al-Lamy said he is under pressure from political blocs, some of which want to toughen current measures against Baathists, and others of which want to end the existence of the De-Baathification Council and terminate its activities. Al-Lamy said the draft law represents a compromise, under which the existence and the activities of the De-Baathification Council will continue, but he added the question of whether or not the existence and activities of the Council continue or not is a matter for Parliament to decide. This is of course complete double-talk, as you would expect from an agency controlled by Chalabi, but the journalist does his best to put us in the picture. He explains that the blocs that want to end the existence of Chalabi's agency include the Iraqi List, led by that other US-sponsored politician Ayad Allawi, and the Iraqi National Accord, led by Adnan al-Dulaimi, and their reason is "because it has come to have a political character and it is impeding the chances for [success of] the National Reconciliation project".

In other words, we get just enough information to see that for Allawi, Dulaimi and others, this is a case of National Reconciliation versus Chalabi.

(2) Which brings us to the second of Al-Hayat's topics this morning, namely plans for a follow-up National Reconciliation meeting.

A spokesman for the National Reconciliation agency, Nassir al-Aani, said the followup meeting will be held in Baghdad very soon, and he stressed his agency is still commited to what was decided at the first meeting [the mid-December meeting, including decisions having to do with easing the De-Baathification measures], and is still "trying to win over a lot of the parties that stayed away from the mid-December meeting, and that includes the Muslim Scholars Association, the Sadrist current, and the Baathists." Al-Aani added that a visit to Syria by the Minister responsible for National Dialogue, and the head of the Reconciliation Agency is for the purpose of meeting with Baathists there, in an attempt to win them over to the political process, ahead of this next meeting.

The journalist explains that some Baathists did attend the mid-December meeting, but they quickly backed away from decisions made there, alleging that "Prime Minister Maliki disavowed agreements that the government had made with them outside of Iraq".

The journalist adds that a spokesman for Dulaimi's National Accord Front told the reporter his groups's position is unchanged, and that "the participation of opposition [groups] in the political process is an essential thing." He said the National Accord Front "is still commited to calling for participation in the national dialogue by those who are outside the political process, and that includes Baathists against whom there are no charges".

It should also be noted: One of the demands Condoleeza Rice made during her latest visit to Baghdad in the last few days (in addition to the demand for immediate action on the oil law) was for immediate action in the national-reconciliation process. It can be assumed that these above-mentioned announcements, at least in their timing, are by way of response to that. The announcement of preparations for another national-reconciliation meeting would be a natural response for the government to make. The US has pressed Maliki to do more to bring ex-Baathists into the process, partly to weaken the resistance, and this represents the government's reply, namely that "we are trying as hard as we can".

The wild card is Chalabi and his De-Baathification Agency, which now says it is preparing some kind of "compromise" legislation to continue to exist, and which Allawi and others say is political and oppressive, and should be disbanded. Recent announcements by various people in Allawi's bloc show he is trying to position himself to be the leader of a post-Maliki political arrangement, and certainly opposition to Chalabi's de-Baathification program would be a good way of promoting a "new-broom" image and bolstering support from the Sunnis. But Chalabi, what is he? A rival? Someone bargaining for leverage? A person consumed by his hatred of the Baath, everyone and everywhere? Probably the simple answer is that he is still who he was in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.


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