Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Dead Sea meetings: Parliamentary junket, or fund-raising exercise for think-tanks?

Azzaman has a small item in its Iraqi edition today headed: "Altercations between Iraqi personalities at a meeting on reconciliation by the Dead Sea", consisting of two points: (1) an Iraqi parliamentarian said there were indirect communications between the Iraqi government and representatives of armed factions who showed positive interest in the national reconciliation project (no further details); and (2) there have been reports of verbal arguments between persons who attended a meeting in Jordan yesterday on reconciliation between Iraqi groups. The journalist then quotes the head of the National Dialog party Saleh al-Mutlak with some fairly unenlightening remarks on the Jordan Dead Sea Meeting. It was organized, he said, by a "non-governmental organization"; it was followup to other meetings that have been held in various regional capitals; he, Mutlak wasn't there; the purpose of the meeting was national reconciliation.

A news site called has two items, on the meetings, and the reporter dispenses with journalistic niceities, pointing up rather than glossing over, the absurdities. He writes:
A parliamentarian described the meeting at the Dead Sea between a parliamentary delegation and opposition people living in Syria as a bridge linking the two shores, a meeting organized by an American organization [actually an American tufut or tafawwat organization, but that word has me stumped] as the third [of its kind] after the meeting in Istanbul, and it is expected that there will be a another meeting in a month's time in Beirut, and another in Rome under Italian sponsorship. The parliamentarian told al-Iraq News that there were three axes to the discussions:

(1) The federalism axis: The opposition delegation, which was composed of only two persons, namely Abdul Razzaq al-Dulaimi and Khalid al-Muayani, brought out the federalism issue and the demand for a revision of the constitution, but in the result the discussion led to agreement that this issue is dependent on the will of the people of Iraq, and subject to referendum and future modifications.

(2) The withdrawal of the Americans from Iraq: The parliamentary delegation explained the difficulty, by reason of the zeal for the unity of Iraq, of the immediate withdrawal of the Americans from Iraq, without a appropriate program for the realization of security, and the discussion led to the need for a schedule for the American withdrawal.

(3) Participation in government: The parliamentary delegation set out its point of view on this issue, and the parliamentarian told al-Iraq News that the result of the discussion was positive. And the opposition delegation asserted that they don't represent any particular group, but that came to represent themselves. And the same source said it had been expected that Harith al-Dhari would attend, but he didn't show up for reasons that were not known.
Under the heading "Why was the discussion of National Reconciliation held behind closed doors?" this al-Iraq News reporter says the meeting was first described as organized "on the initiative of the American International Institute for Permanent Dialogue, which is a non-governmental organization...but then this was corrected to The Italian Institute for Studies, which is what financed the aforementioned institute".

The journalist occasionally lets his frustration show, for instance when he writes: "The funny thing is that the head of the parliamentary committee on National Reconciliation, Wathab al-Dulaimi, attended the meetings, but [when we spoke to him] he denied knowing anything about the meetings, despite our already knowing about his role in organizing them".

And he concludes:
Journalists and media people don't expect any breakthrough from a meeting on national reconciliation held in secrecy. Rather they see this in the context of public relations efforts carried on, since the 2003 invasion, by Research Centers to gather funding and contributions, for problems that are not susceptible to solution by finance, or by weapons either, since the 2003 invasion, once the language of constructive relations between the competing parties was disabled.
"Fine," you may say, "but where is the positive spin one expects from these things?" The answer appears to be an outfit called Iraqi Press Agency, (website, which says it was started up two months ago in September 2007 (which explains why I had never heard of it). Here's how the Iraqi Press Agency describes what went on:
For three days Iraqi parliamentarians and Baathists and parties related to the Iraqi resistance met for an open discussion by the Dead Sea in Jordan to arrive at a common denominator respecting discussions on finding a new opening in Iraq following the occlusion that has afflicted the political process. The meeting was organized by an American institute led by a former foreign secretary Meerphy (phonetic)attended by political personalities from Britain and Italy, with participation by representatives of the Iraqi Reconciliation Agency...
There isn't any additional identification for these mysterious "entities connected with the resistance", and it is explained that the Baathists were there not as Baathists but as individuals, because the party doesn't yet agree to negotiations with the government. This "Iraqi Press Agency" report makes the whole affair sound a little more substantive also with respect to matters under discussion, reporting that they talked (in addition to the items noted above) about matters like prisoners held without charges, "transitional justice", and so on. Speaking just for myself, I have never seen the expression "transitional justice" in Arabic, but I guess that, like the highlighting of the British and Italian participation, could well be part of the think-tank appeal the al-Iraq News reporter talks about.