Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Friends and enemies of the people

The national reconciliation conference started in Baghdad yesterday, in the absence of the Sunni Accord Front [IAF, the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament]; and of the Iraqi List [Allawi's group, secularist]; and of the Sadrist current; and of the Dialogue Front led by Saleh al-Mutlak; and of the Baathists. They all said the conference is just for appearances. Prime Minister Maliki, for his part, said [attendance at the conference] was "a dividing line between friends of the people, and its [the people's] enemies".
Cheney, for his part, met with Maliki, Talabani, AlMahdi, AlHashemi, Hakim, and then in Irbil with Barzani, in other words with the Supreme Council and with the Kurdish bloc, plus Maliki and Hashemi--all of them, to use Maliki's expression, "friends of the people". So neither in Cheney's visit, nor in the conference, was there any sign of reconciliation between the two sides, instead there was a hardening.

Moreover, far from reaching out, it was clear that one of Cheney's main objectives was to shore up the US-friendly stance of the "friends of the people", particularly targeting Barzani. After meeting with him, Cheney said the US is counting on Barzani to help in the process of negotiating a long-term US-Iraq security agreement, and also to help in speeding passage of important legislation, the one case he mentioned specifically being the Oil and Gas Law (up to now stymied in part by Kurdish insistence on sole jurisdiction over contracts in the Kurdish region).

It has been noticed by a number of journalists that pressuring Barzani re his GreenZone policies seems to be related in some way to US-Turkish relations, and it seems safe to assume that this would involve presenting Barzani with the alternative of further loss of face (re Turkish military attacks; the Kurdish Kirkuk ambitions; and other issues), or minimizing such loss of face in exchange for helping with the Oil and Gas Law and with the long-term security agreement.

It is important to understand that the Cheney visit and the whole conference-charade not only have nothing to do with reconciliation, but are in fact deliberatively divisive, in more than one way (and not just as reflected in the aove-quoted Maliki remarks). Cheney wants Barzani to bear his fair share of the pro-US burden in the GreenZone, but this will be at the expense of intra-Kurdish and intra-Iraqi accomodation. As the Al-Hayat reporter puts it: "Iraqi politicians from a number of different blocs expressed their disgust over the pressure exercised [by Cheney] to speed up passage of stalled laws. Mahmoud Othman, the Kurdish leader said that kind of pressure only adds to the difficulty of passage, rather than facilitating it".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badger - is this Baghdad Conference the same as the Cairo Conference you have been writing about for some time? If so when was it moved to Baghdad and does this indicate greater security there?

1:41 PM  
Blogger badger said...

No. The whole point of the conference that the Dead Sea meetings and so on were (maybe still are) supposed to be leading up to was that it was supposed to bring in parties currently outside the Green Zone, hence the secrecy. It's been usually assumed this would be in Cairo, but who knows? In any event, the meetings going on yesterday and today are a different animal. They are nothing but a repeat performance of the "political entities" meeting that the GreenZone reconciliation bureaucracy put on in Dec 06, but rather than having an expanded participation, participation actually shrunk. So even the expected PR impact backfired.

Greater security? Probably depends who you are. Cheney spent the night in a boxcar at the Balad military base north of Baghdad after they cleared the perimeter.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope the Bush regime will keep up the pressure, since it is clearly counterproductive to the passing of those self-serving laws - laws which should never have seen the light of day.

10:50 PM  
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