Monday, March 26, 2007


Al-Quds al-Arabi reported on Friday in a very definitive way the demise of Allawi's attempt to put together a coalition what would represent an alternative to the Maliki administration, based on statements of non-support by a key member of the Islamic Party of Iraq (part of the big Sunni coalition); by a spokesman for the Kurdish parties; and by the head of the Fadhila party, which had most recently been in talks with Allawi. The Al-Quds story was on page three, under its own by-line. Then on Saturday, the Shiite news-site reported the same story verbatim, attributing it to "international news agencies". The story is unusually solidly-sourced, but to me at least it's not entirely clear where it originated. Western media haven't mentioned it, which may or may not mean anything.

In any event, it is worth highlighting a remark attributed to a leader of Allawi's own group, Izzat Shabandar, who said that in spite of Allawi's efforts, the initiative "lacked American support." This comes as Khalilzad is being replaced as US ambassador, suggesting (to me, that is) the possibility that what these reports reflect is an American decision to fold the Allawi initiative and replace it with something else. But what?

Meanwhile, Al-Hayat continues to talk up the idea of cooperation between tribes, armed groups, and the government in fighting the AlQaeda organizations. (Sorry for a missing link here. The latest I cited was here, but there has been at least another item along the same lines in Al-Hayat since then). Some of this at least is undoubtedly wishful thinking, but it is worth underlining the fact that from Al-Hayat's Sunni perspective, it makes sense to talk about cooperation between some armed groups and the Maliki administration, at least in this tactical way. I don't think anyone knows the relative strength, within the resistance, of the AlQaeda affiliated international jihadis on the one side, and the domestic nationalist resistance on the other. But the point here is merely that Al-Hayat, for its part, sees the threat from AlQaeda as having triggered talk of government cooperation with some of the domestic groups. Whether this will prove to be at all meaningful remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice met in Aswan on the weekend, not only with the foreign ministers of the so-called "Arab quartet" (Saudi, Egypt, Jordan and UAE), but also, separately, with the heads of the Mukhabarat (national-security/intelligence) of those countries, including Omar Suleiman of Egypt and Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. (She had a similar meeting with the Mukhabarat chiefs in Amman last month.) The Aswan meeting with the Mukhabarat chiefs wasn't elaborated on in any of the Western accounts, but Abdulbari Atwan, writing in Al-Quds al-Arabi, explained that for instance in Egypt, the foreign minister handles things like economic cooperation with Sri Lanka, while the Palestinian file is in the hands of Suleiman, and the same in Saudi Arabia, where Bandar is the person in charge of the Lebanon and Iran files. Atwan, who is well-connected, didn't say specifically what was talked about in those Rice-Mukhabarat meetings, suggesting he doesn't know. Did they talk about Iraq?

His overall point is that the Rice verbiage about "horizons" and "active diplomacy" and so on, refer to US pressure to get the Arab states to water down their 2002 Israel-Palestine peace proposal by dropping the Palestinian "right of return" and by front-ending Arab recognition of Israel. In today's column, Atwan calls attention to Thomas Friedman's Saturday op-ed in the NYT (recommending the Saudi King re-launch the peace initiative with a surprise visit to Israel and Palestine right after the Riyadh summit) as another piece of this scheme for a watered-down peace-proposal with front-ended recognition of Israel. Atwan said he regrets to have to say it, but the fact is Friedman is not just blowing bubbles; the King might actually do it. After all, he notes, the original 2002 proposal involved collusion between Friedman and the King, so this might be the same type of thing.