Sunday, November 30, 2008

A sectarian negotiating process

Mashriq Abbas in AlHayat does his best this morning to recreate the negotiating process that led to the Nov 27 vote for the security agreement. Among the things he has found out so far:

(1) There were parallel negotiations, one government-to-government which was more or less the publicly acknowledged one, and the other, unacknowledged, at the US embassy where the US talked individually with the main political parties to work out a set of "domestic calculations" that would satisfy the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties respectively, enough to ensure passage.

(2) The Kurdish parties were never a problem, because of the basic Kurdish popular opinion that the US presence is a guarantee for the Kurdistan region. As for the Shiite parties (Supreme Council and Dawa that is), they went from being opposed to drafts on the basis they "compromised Iraqi sovereignty", to being in favor of the final draft on the basis "Iraq has no better alternative". The Sunni parties went in the other direction, from being at first in favor (based on the need to rein in Maliki's one-man rule and to deter Iranian influence), to being opposed on the basis there was a need for "domestic political reform" to go along with the security agreement.

(3) Post-agreement PR is a good reflection of what was done. The Shiite parties boast of "major achievements" in respect to sovereignty (supervision of US military activities and so on) in addition to the withdrawal timetable. The Islamic Party has taken credit, or tried to, for the agreement to hold a referendum on the agreement in July. The Americans were not opposed to this idea, Abbas says, and this became the division of political goodies from the process: "sovereignty" for the Shiite parties, and "referendum" for the Islamic Party.


Something is escaping me here. Maliki had been expected to find some way of waiting for a more favorable negotiating atmosphere with the Obama administration, on the obvious basis that Obama was more amenable to withdrawal than the Bush administration. Suddenly the Shiite parties were saying: We must accept the current offer, because Iraq will have no better alternative. What happened to the idea of a better deal from Obama?

Secondly, the idea that the Islamic Party's key inducement was supposed to be the taking of credit for the referendum-idea seems far-fetched. Referendum was one of the major themes of the weekly Sadrist demonstrations, and it was referred to in statements by Sistani and others as well. Referendum=bona fides of the Islamic Party doesn't seem like a very good PR fit. Could there have been other inducements offered to the Sunni parties in that non-public series of negotiations at the US embassy?

Finally, in America, the Obama policy-groupies had in recent months been outspoken in their criticism of the Bush administration for not exerting "strategic" leverage on Maliki to make political concessions to the Sunni parties. Suddenly the bloggish Obama people (Katulis, Kahl, Sam Parker, Marc Lynch and that whole group, not to mention the whole of Brookings, CAP, etcetera) have fallen completely silent on Iraq policy. What happened to their "leverage" argument?

Putting the questions together: What did the Maliki administration come to understand about the coming Democratic Party policy that made him grab for the best deal available under Bush, even though key "concessions on sovereignty" such as supervision of US military activities, and criminal jurisdiction, were clearly exposed as a sham in the McClatchy story on the eve of the vote (points on which even Sistani is now showing signs of buyers remorse).

And what made the Islamic Party decide in the final week of negotiations to support the agreement. Abbas says what was involved was a package of "domestic calculations", but all he mentions in particular is this far-fetched idea that the party could take credit for the decision to hold a referendum. Possibly there was something else. Possibly the US finally gave up on the idea of "leveraging" Maliki to make concessions to the Sunni parties, and the US decided to help the Sunni parties on its own.

Possibly this accounts for scuttlebut along these lines has surfaced in a couple of instances, both of them having a common feature: the spectre of US security support for Sunni groups in the western part of Iraq. Possibly.

Because this is what Biden had been saying: Central-government accomodations are not in the cards; there have to be separate regions by ethnicity and sect. Certainly if the US is setting itself up to supervise such a process over the coming three-year period of time (or longer), that is certainly something that would account for the silence we are hearing from the Democratic Party policy-groupies.

Brian, Colin, Sam, Marc and all of you: Would it hurt you to say it isn't so.


Blogger Rashad said...

It isn't so. I'm pretty sure the leverage the US exerted to get agreement before Dec. 31 was this:

If the agreement isn't signed by the 31st, our (US) troops aren't leaving their bases on the 1st. No IZ checkpoints will have US soldiers, no US patrols will be out securing neighborhoods etc.

I don't think Iraqi parliamentarians or politicians found this prospect particularly appealing. That's all the leverage the US needed. No need to go hunting for conspiracy theories about an Obama backed division of the country.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No IZ checkpoints will have US soldiers, no US patrols will be out securing neighborhoods etc. ....That's all the leverage the US needed.

yeah like ok if you say so.

2:16 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Rashad, just spell this out for us: Under the supposed stand-down threat, the point supposedly was that armed groups would find it easier to overrun the Green Zone, and the GZ political class would, as you say, not find that a particularly attractive proposition. And the Americans? What happens to the American embassy and Parliament and the whole project in that case? You think the Americans were saying "you're going down if we stand aside, but we're not going down with you?"

That doesn't work in that double-suicide form as a plausible threat, does it?

In fact the only way the stand-down threat story would work is if they said: You the GZ political class are going down, but it will be in a coup that we the Americans are prepared to sponsor. And I'm sure you're not proposing *that* conspiracy theory, are you?

Btw, you're at POMED?

5:15 AM  
Blogger Rashad said...

Currently, all the checkpoints are doubled up with Iraqi Army and US forces into and out of the IZ. So if the US forces didn't show up it would just be less secure, not no security.

Secondly, the IZ is made of a bunch of compounds, which have their own security as a second layer, which would all be intact. What I heard was that without a signed SOFA, the US forces would have no legal basis to be in Iraq and could be arrested under Iraqi law, so they threatened to basically stay home on their bases and in their compounds.

Now, this was all second-hand. And could be wrong, but if I were the US government, and trying to negotiate legal standing for my troops, I would make it very clear what would happen if no agreement was signed, or UN mandate extended. That was the US' main point of leverage in the talks. I heard there were also (clearly not credible) threats to just pack up and leave, which would please most Iraqis, but terrify the government.

Other possible US points of leverage include: development funding, arms sales, border security issues, relations with Turkey. They could have also offered carrots to various parties like political support for the Sahwas, or other things. I don't know, it's a negotiation, you come into it with a bunch of carrots and sticks and try to get the other side to move towards your position. That's how it works. It doesn't require some mysterious threat of partition to be logical.

I used to be involved with POMED but am in the process of winding that down.

6:18 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I understand. But I do think that perhaps in your milieu you would have been hearing the most about what you call the main point of leverage (threat of ending security support) just because that was part of the publicly-disclosed negotiations, government-to-government. What the Hayat reporter says is that there was also a parallel set of talks at the Embassy with the political parties divided by sect and ethnicity. The carrots and sticks "that's how it works" process. That wasn't government-to-government, but rather track-2 process of manipulating the sectarian arrangements. And the smoke indicates that part of that could well have been an offer of American security support for Sunni groups in the west. (Political support for the Sahwa would have been a stick against Maliki; security support for Sunni groups obviously a carrot for the other side and would better explain the sudden Islamic Party approval).

The reason for being concerned about what the US has committed to here isn't any "mysterious threat" or anything like that. It is merely that the ho-hum carrots and sticks how-it's-done process included (as Abbas says it did) manipulation of the sectarian balance, together with the hints from elsewhere of an undisclosed US security commitment to one or other of those groups, outside the framework of the central government.

Personally I don't think the rhetoric of "mysterious threats" and "conspiracies" really does the trick here.

Of course, neither of us knows what was done, and neither does anyone else, which is why I say be need to hear from the suits.

I hope you will help keep us up to date with this, & thanks.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Rashad said...

Well, my original comment was mainly directed at your view that it was the specter of future democratic policies that the various parties feared, and got them to sign on.

I just really don't think that most of the Iraqi political parties are sitting there in fear of the deal that Obama might give them, and so felt compelled to sign during the Bush administration. I think it was a constellation of other more practical concerns.

11:09 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Fair enough. That part of what I said was maybe ill-advised. But it seems to me there are enough signs that this "constellation of more practical concerns" may well include US moves in the direction I indicated. It's people who want to see bona fide US withdrawal who should be alarmed. (For instance, see the following post for the first indication of an actual side-deal in favor of the Islamic Party, apparently invalidating part of the published agreement. This particular instance is unexceptionable, but it makes you wonder: how many such side deals are there?)

11:38 AM  

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