Sabotaging Peace in Iraq


The events in Iraq during the past week make it clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that neither the Bush administration nor its puppet Shiite theocrats in Iraq want peace.

Ten days ago, the U.S.-installed government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made a grand show of offering "national reconciliation" with the Iraqi insurgency. In what seemed at first to be an olive branch to the insurgents, Maliki began dropping hints that the regime in Baghdad might offer a package deal to the resistance, including a broad amnesty for armed, anti-occupation fighters and an outreach to the deposed Iraqi Baath party. It was, according to Maliki and to Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a sincere effort to strike a deal that could end the fighting in Iraq and which conceivably could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Last week, I wrote skeptically about the thin possibility that Maliki might strike a deal with the resistance. By now, it is obvious that the Maliki-Khalilzad supposed reconciliation plan was no such thing. Khalilzad, President Jalal Talabani and Maliki have been conducting on-again, off-again talks with parts of the Iraqi resistance for at least a year but appear to have no intention of offering the insurgent groups a deal they can accept. Instead, Khalilzad and the leaders of the Iraq government are engaged in a cynical, divide-and-conquer maneuver that can only guarantee the war in Iraq will grind on for years.

Last Sunday, when Maliki released his much-anticipated reconciliation plan, it was vague and insubstantial. Maliki mentioned "amnesty," but the amnesty he offered did not extend to those doing the fighting. He included no outreach to the Baathists -- who are at the heart of the resistance -- and not a hint that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is on the table. Instead, Maliki simply asked the fighters to lay down their arms, and he called on Sunni tribal and clan leaders and Sunni Arab political blocs to join the Baghdad regime. It was a warmed over, but still very stale version of repeated calls by the U.S. occupation authorities and their Iraqi allies for an unconditional surrender by the resistance.

According to reports in the media, the fact that the reconciliation plan didn't include anything new was the result of pressure on the Iraqi government by the U.S. embassy and the American military command. For a few days, hope fluttered in some quarters, sparked by reports that as many as seven Iraqi insurgent groups had responded positively to Maliki's plan. Perhaps for the first time in three years, it seemed possible that an end to the war was in sight.

But as details of the plan became clear, the idea of national reconciliation was rejected virtually unanimously by the Iraqi resistance. By the end of the week, the Sunni leaders in Iraq closest to the insurgency were all reporting that the Maliki plan was dead. Hareth al-Dari, a leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, said bluntly: "The main resistance factions have rejected [the plan]," and he called it "nothing but a public relations plan to brighten the image of the government." Added Hussein Falluji, a Sunni member of parliament: "The major factions have refused this initiative … This reconciliation plan is only in the prime minister's mind. It was born dead."

More bluntly, Maliki's plan was denounced by resistance leaders on the internet -- and the resistance answered Maliki with a devastating wave of violence, car bombs, and intensified attacks on U.S. forces. Not only that, but for the very first time a Shiite resistance group made itself known. The new Shiite force, called the "Islamic Army in Iraq: Abbas Brigades," is apparently not linked to any of the ruling Shiite religious parties, including the often independent-minded forces allied with Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and its call to arms echoed the line of the mostly Sunni-led resistance. Iraq, said the Abbas Brigades, is occupied by an American force that is "building bases [and] sowing sectarian sedition between Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds." It pledged attacks on U.S. troops.

Khalilzad and Maliki didn't bother disguising their ploy. Ambassador Khalilzad chose David Ignatius of the Washington Post to deliver his cynical message that the entire Maliki reconciliation plan is only an effort to co-opt malleable -- or gullible -- parts of the resistance. In a phone call to Ignatius, Khalilzad announced that he -- and Maliki -- were pushing for "conditional amnesty for Iraqi insurgents as part of a broader reconciliation effort, and negotiations with insurgent groups about terms and conditions for ending the fighting." But he also made clear that he was not talking about a blanket peace accord but merely "outreach to elements of the Sunni insurgency that (in theory) can be co-opted." Even more stark was Charles Krauthammer, the militantly pro-war neoconservative, who authored a Post op-ed entitled "Amnesty for Insurgents? Yes." In it, he wrote:

The insurgency continues, and it is not going to be defeated militarily. But that does not mean we lose. Insurgencies can be undone by being co-opted. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. … In Iraq, amnesty will necessarily be part of any co-optation strategy in which insurgents lay down their arms. … Reconciliation-cum-amnesty gets disaffected Iraqi Sunni tribes to come over to the government's side.
Khalilzad and Maliki may yet offer what the American ambassador calls a "conditional amnesty" to Sunnis who agree to accept Maliki's terms. Problem is, no credible leader of the resistance in Iraq can accept the deal offered by Khalilzad and Maliki, and in fact, if they do so they will be painting a bulls-eye on their foreheads, since they will instantly become targets of the resistance themselves.

Ironically, in response to Maliki's less-than-forthcoming initiative, what appears to be a majority bloc of the Iraqi resistance made an offer of its own. The resistance, they said, would halt the fighting, stopping all attacks on U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi government, in exchange for a U.S. pledge to leave Iraq in two years. For the United States, fighting a war-without-end in Iraq, that ought to have been seen as a good deal. But it was rejected out of hand.

The offer by the resistance, a ceasefire in exchange for an end to the occupation in 2008, also got little U.S. media attention. And, although I may have missed it, not a single U.S. political leader from the left nor those who are calling for a U.S. withdrawal -- not Russ Feingold, not John Kerry, not Jack Murtha -- took note of the offer. None had the guts to say to Bush: We ought to accept this deal. No editorial writer at the New York Times took up his pen to support it. No thinktanker at the Brookings Institution or the Center for American Progress had the courage to say: "What the Iraqi resistance is saying is a good idea."

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Maliki made it clear exactly what "conditional amnesty" means. While offering to talk to Sunni tribal elders and to minor elements of the resistance that he believes he can co-opt, the government of Iraq issued "Wanted" notices and rewards for 41 resistance leaders. It was a bitter irony. The list of 41 was a Who's Who of the Iraqi resistance; in other words, the regime was offering rewards of up to $10 million for the capture or killing of precisely the people it ought to be negotiating a truce with!

Among them were Raghad Hussein, Saddam's daughter, who is living in Jordan; Saddam's wife, Sajida Hussein, who lives in Qatar; Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former top Iraqi official who is widely believed to be a leader of the underground; and at least a dozen other top former Baathists, Iraqi military and intelligence officials and others. The issuance of the list underscored the fact that neither Khalilzad nor Maliki are seeking a deal with the real Iraqi resistance, merely attempting to corral a few more stray Sunni leaders into the regime.

The list of 41 received an immediate rebuke from Jordan. Since 2003, Raghad Hussein has lived in Jordan under the protection of the government of Jordan and King Abdullah. Asked whether Jordan would turn her over to the Iraqi government, Amman slapped Baghdad in the face. A spokesman for the king of Jordan said bluntly: "She is the guest of the Hashemite royal family."

The Jordanians added that, in their opinion, Raghad is not violating the terms of her asylum agreement, according to which she is supposed to refrain from political activity. Of course, it is widely believed that she, along with many other top Iraqi officials in Jordan, are helping to direct, support and finance the Iraqi resistance. Although the Jordanian government prefers to maintain the polite fiction that Iraq's resistance has no base in Jordan, it does. And Jordan's rebuff of Iraq means that even this erstwhile American ally is prepared to challenge the U.S.-Iraqi regime of quislings in Baghdad.

Jordan's stance makes it even clearer that no end to the fighting can occur until and unless an international conference is convened to involve Iraq's neighbors (including Iran), the Arab League and the United Nations (including Russia and China) in helping to stabilize Iraq politically. Part One of ending the war is a deal with the resistance, and Part Two is the internationalization of the peace. So far, there is not the slightest hope that the Bush administration is prepared to accept either. "We will stay. We will fight. And we will prevail," Bush told troops at Fort Bragg on Sunday.

And if the leaked audio from an encounter between Secretary of State Condi Rice and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is any indication, the United States is stonewalling any international role in Iraq, too. When Lavrov suggested an international effort to help stabilize Iraq, Rice explicitly rejected the idea of other countries getting involved. There followed this sobering, and testy, exchange:
Lavrov: What I did say was … the involvement of the international community in support of the political process.

Rice: What does that mean?

Lavrov: [Long pause.] I think you know.

Rice: No. I don't.
But Rice understands all too well, and she (like her boss) rejects anything that undermines U.S. primacy in Iraq. That, as President Bush indicates, means continued war. In a rare moment of candor, an American military man declared last week what continued war means. "It's my belief that we are going to be in Iraq for a long time," said Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey. "It's open-ended."

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