Sunday, March 11, 2007

On to Istanbul

Al-Sabah, a newspaper controlled by the Green Zone government, pointed out that the main three-hour session of the Baghdad get-together yesterday was held in the strictest secrecy. Which means that the accounts in AFP, Reuters and AP (and Aswat al-Iraq, for that matter) are thus made up mostly of what the generally talkative Iraqi and American spokesmen had to say afterwards and in their public speeches. In a nutshell, Maliki said the violence that is killing Iraqis is the same violence that killed others in Madrid, London and the World Trade Center, adding this is something that requires a unified international response, sounding like Bush vintage 2003-4. David Satterfield even got to try out his Colin Powell imitation (according to AP), when he "pointed to his briefcase" and said we have proof of Iranian involvement, to which the Iranian representative replied that the US is only trying to cover for its own failures. But the media message was very tightly controlled, and it was the same in Arabic as in English, namely: Everyone has to help restore stability, including helping the Maliki government in its reconciliation program. (Saudi Arabia and the Iraqi groups of the Sunni persuasion appear not to have made public statements at all). And the Americans on the one side, and the Iranians and the Syrians on the other, "interacted", which is seen as a very positive thing.

The group agreed on the idea of creating three working groups, one to deal with security, the other to deal with the refugee problem, and a third to deal with natural resources. The Iraqi foreign minister Zebari, who vouchsafed this information, was unable or unwilling to say who would be on the committees, when they would meet, what their agendas would be, and so on.

There will be a followup meeting of the neibhbors, this time with the G-8 apparently, and the consensus seems to be that Istanbul was the lucky applicant for this, beating out Baghdad, Cairo, and Berlin. Khalilzad noted in his press-remarks that if it is held in Istanbul, then Rice will attend, and apparently this was taken as the decisive thumbs-up. The Istanbul meeting will be in April, apparently.

Interestingly, among the Iraqi-party statements in connection with yesterday's meeting, it was left to the Fadhila party to point out the meaninglessness of the mantra about "only talking about Iraq". There is also the little matter of the role of the United States of America and Britain, Fadhila said in its statement, considering that they have played quite an important role in changing the political equilibrium of Iraq since 2003 (Al -Mada, Sunday, p3).

But on the whole, the distilled reporting ended up creating a picture of teenage dating behaviour. They (US on one side and Iran and Syria on the other) succeeded in "breaking the ice", although Khalilzad noted he and the Iranians were never alone out of earshot of the others. And they agreed to meet again. Al-Hayat noted that it was only the sound of mortar fire outside that reminded the participants that there are other groups that need to be consulted in this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us hope that the Monday press reports and blogs at least have some commentary that has not been filtered and massaged by the West. Hopefully, some of that will come from actual participants.

I want to see a headline that says, "Media Shut Out" or "Journalists Forbidden to Report."

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