What is going to happen in Iraq?

Secret story of US retreat in Iraq
Daily Times Monitor: November 23, 2006

LAHORE: According to credible Iraqi sources in London and Amman, a secret story of America’s diplomatic exit strategy from Iraq is rapidly unfolding, The Huffington Post reports.

The report says that key events include: First, James Baker told one of Saddam Hussein’s lawyers that Tariq Aziz, former deputy prime minister, would be released from detention by the end of this year, in hope that he will negotiate with the US on behalf of the Baath Party leadership. The discussion recently took place in Amman, according to the Iraqi paper al-Quds al-Arabi.

Second, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice personally appealed to the Gulf Cooperation Council in October to serve as intermediaries between the US and armed Sunni resistance groups not including Al Qaeda, communicating a US willingness to negotiate with them at any time or place. Speaking in early October, Rice joked that if then-Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld “heard me now, he would wage a war on me fiercer and hotter than he waged on Iraq”, according to an Arab diplomat privy to the closed session.

Third, there was an “unprecedented” secret meeting of high-level Americans and representatives of “a primary component of the Iraqi resistance” two weeks ago, lasting for three days. As a result, the Iraqis agreed to return to the talks in the next two weeks with a response for the American side, according to Jordanian press leaks and al-Quds al-Arabi.

Fourth, detailed email transmissions dated November 16 reveal an active American effort behind the scenes to broker a peace agreement with Iraqi resistance leaders, a plot that could include a political coup against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Fifth, Bush security adviser Stephen Hadley carried a six-point message for Iraqi officials on his recent trip to Baghdad: include Iraqi resistance and opposition leaders in any initiative towards national reconciliation; general amnesty for the armed resistance fighters; dissolve the Iraqi commission charged with banning the Baath Party; start the disbanding of militias and death squads; cancel any federalism proposal to divide Iraq into three regions, and combine central authority for the central government with greater self-rule for local governors; distribute oil revenues in a fair manner to all Iraqis, including the Sunnis whose regions lack the resource.

According to the report, Prime Minister Al-Maliki was unable to accept the American proposals because of his institutional allegiance to Shiite parties who believe their historic moment has arrived after one thousand years of Sunni domination. That Shiite refusal has accelerated secret American efforts to pressure, reorganise, or remove the elected al-Maliki regime from power.

The backstory: Underlying these developments are three American concerns: first, the deepening quagmire and sectarian strife on the battlefield; second, the mid-year American elections in which voters repudiated the war; and third, the strategic concern that the new Iraq has slipped into the orbit of Iran, The Huffington Post report says.

It remains to be seen if Iran will exercise influence on its Shiite allies in Iraq {the Grand Ayatollah Sistani was born in Iraq, and the main Shiite bloc was created in Iran by Iraqi exiles]. But that is the direction being taken by Baker’s Iraq Study Group and former CIA director John Deutch in a New York Times editorial. The principal US track, in addition to a declared withdrawal plan, should be to work towards a hands-off policy by Iran, at least for an interval, according to Deutch.

This possible endgame has been in the making for some time. Even two years ago, US officials were probing contacts with Iraqi resistance groups distinct from Al Qaeda. Recent polls indicate sixty percent Iraqi support for armed resistance against the United States, while approximately eighty percent of Iraqis support some timetable for withdrawal, an indispensable indicator for Iraqi insurgents laying down some arms.

Even before the 2003 US invasion, peace groups like Global Exchange and the newly-forming Code Pink sent delegations to create people-to-people relations with Iraqi opponents of the occupation and members of civil society, the report says.

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