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The Cairo meeting A possible shift in the Iraqi political process

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Representatives of Iraq’s Shiite, Sunnite Arab, Kurdish and Christian parties agreed to condemn terrorism, recognize the right to resistance and push for an eventual pullout of foreign troops.


Analyst Sateh Noureddin welcomed the return of Arab involvement in Iraq and argued it stemmed mainly from a shift in strategy on the part of Washington, which was not represented in the talks.

“For me the significance of this conference is that the US government has finally ruled out the idea of a Shiite state. They are really trying to involve the Sunnites and asking for Arab help in countering Iran’s influence”, he said.

“It may signal the start of a new exit strategy for the US but it will take time because they have yet to come up with a new model for Iraq”, Noureddin told reporters.

The United States has consistently refused to give a timetable for withdrawal, which Washington argues is conditional on the assessment of the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over.

The meeting’s final statement included requests from “brotherly” Arab countries to cancel Iraqi debts, help train officials, improve their diplomatic presence in the country, aid reconstruction and help Iraq control its borders.

Observers also predicted Arab countries would be expected to use their influence on Iraq’s different groups to urge Sunnites to take part in the December 15 elections.

“What this conference could achieve is some level of civility and consensus which will allow Sunnites to vote. This is something crucial to the stability of Iraq, if it isn’t too late already”, analyst Joost Hiltermann said.

According to the final declaration read by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa last week, a wider reconciliation conference will take place in late February or early March in a bid to end the current wave of deadly sectarian strife.

“This weekend’s meetings took place in Cairo and the weight will be back on Iraq now. It all depends on which government is elected”, said Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group.

But he predicted that the religious Shiite parties that currently dominate the government could lose ground, paving the way for a secular alliance between the former Shiite Premier Iyad Allawi and the Kurdish parties.

“There could be a protest vote against the religious parties”, he mused.

Sunnites massively abstained in the January 2005 general elections, which saw the crushing victory of a religious Shiite alliance backed by the country’s top cleric, Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

In the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, editorialist Mashari Zaidi also welcomed what he saw as the “logic of realism” reclaiming its rights over “radical idealism”.

The Cairo discussions began amid a wave of anti-Shiite attacks in Iraq and bitter wrangling among participants before an unprecedented common stance was hammered out.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- a Kurd -- extended a hand to insurgents and voiced his hope that the political process initiated in Cairo would help win over Arab nationalists who had so far supported the armed struggle.

“Arabism may still be a valid idea for Iraq... and I think the Shiites will accept the invitation of the Arab world to establish a state based on Arab values”, Noureddin said.

Iraqis cautious but optimistic after Cairo meeting

Iraqis displayed cautious optimism on about future political reconciliation in the war-torn country in the wake of the Cairo meeting.

The conference called by the featured over 100 Iraqis from various political groups and was widely seen as an effort to bring Sunni Arabs back into the political process.

“It is one of the most important steps that has ever been taken,” Hajem Hassani, the Sunnite speaker of Parliament, told journalists. “I hope it will be followed by others, particularly concerning the elections in December.”

“Right now the dialogue is open, but we need to see real progress on the ground with the return of the delegations to Baghdad -- we cannot wait two or three months”, Hassani said referring to a major reconciliation conference set for February.

The Kurdish-linked newspaper Al-Iraq pointed out that the real question was whether “political forces can achieve an agreement that won’t isolate any single Iraqi faction”.

Following their boycott of parliamentary elections in January, Sunnite Arabs have been largely excluded from the political process. The conference could represent their reintegration into that process.

Despite initial wrangling between the factions at the conference, agreement over the final statement was unanimous.
Al-Zaman, an independent daily, applauded the “last-minute efforts that saved the Cairo conference from collapse after participants accepted a final declaration representing a compromise on the issue of the resistance”.

The final statement declared that “while resistance is a legitimate right for all peoples, terrorism does not constitute legitimate resistance”.

The conference also represents a return of the Arab League to the Iraqi scene after being largely excluded since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Infiltration of insurgents from neighboring countries has long been a sore point in Iraq’s regional relations.

Talabani: ‘Iranian support’

The week also saw a visit to Teheran by Talabani, who said he had won promises of support for his bid to end the insurgency ravaging his country.

Although he carefully avoided making direct accusations against his hosts, Iraqi officials remain alarmed over what they allege is ongoing interference in their country by Iran.

“Iran is interested in our security just as it is interested in its own security. We should use all means to establish security in Iraq”, Talabani said as he was seen off by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Talabani, the first Iraqi head of state to visit Iran in nearly four decades, said his series of closed-door talks with Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had at least seen pledges of support.

“They all said one thing to me: that there are no limits to Iran’s cooperation with and support for the Iraqi people and government”, Talabani said. He gave no details.

Kurdish figures like Talabani are influential in Baghdad’s new government, along with Shiites who were backed by Teheran during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

But relations have been damaged by allegations of Iranian support for insurgents and fears that Teheran is using Iraqi soil to wage a proxy war against the United States and Britain, the two powers leading the occupation of Iraq.

Several Arab officials have also voiced concern over the confessional influence of the Shiite clerical regime in Teheran over events in Iraq, where the ousted Sunnite minority and the empowered Shiite majority are at loggerheads.
Iran has repeatedly denied such accusations,

“we are very sorry for what is happening in Iraq at the moment, and we hope that the establishment of a sovereign state in Iraq comes quickly”, Ahmadinejad said, asserting Iran was “thanking God that our brothers in arms are now holding high positions in Iraq”.

Khamenei also told Talabani that foreign troops were the cause of violence and that the Iraqi authorities should demand a timetable for a pullout.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran holds the American government responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people and all the crimes and assassinations now being committed in Iraq”, Khamenei was quoted as saying by official media.

“The presence of foreign troops is damaging for the Iraqis, and the Iraqi government could ask for their departure by proposing a timetable”, Khamenei said, adding that “the US and Britain will eventually have to leave Iraq with a bitter experience.”
In seeking to win Iranian help, analysts say Talabani has been taking a more diplomatic approach by avoiding public accusations and using his long-standing relations with Iran’s regime to open doors.

Talabani also promised to see that Saddam Hussein will face charges for crimes against Iran, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

“I promised to look into the charges being put on the tribunal’s agenda”, the Iraqi president was quoted as saying after meeting the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.

Iran’s judiciary announced last month it had sent its own indictment against Saddam, with the list of complaints including genocide and the use of chemical weapons during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

The complaints included “bombing schools, mosques, houses, and using chemical weapons... genocide, crimes against humanity, violating international conventions such those of Geneva and The Hague... violating all Islamic and ethical principles” as well as “killing clerics, women, children and innocent people”.

But Saddam has so far only been charged in relation to a relatively obscure case: the 1982 killing of 143 residents of the Shiite village of Dujail, allegedly as revenge for an attempt on his life.

The last Iraqi head of state to tour Iran was Abdelrahman Aref, Iraq’s president between 1966 and 1968. Iran and Iraq went on to fight a devastating war from 1980-88 following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the neighboring country with the covert support of Western powers, notably the United States.

War in Iraq ‘could drag on for decades’

A British non-governmental organization has suggested that the war in Iraq could last for decades with British troops unlikely to withdraw without a “highly unlikely” split with Washington.
The Oxford Research Group, which assesses constructive approaches to dealing with international terrorism and the “war on terror”, said the war in Iraq is only in its early stages.

“Given that the Al-Qaeda movement and its affiliates are seeking to achieve their aims over a period of decades rather than years, the probability is that, short of major political changes in the USA, the Iraq war might well be measured over a similar time span”, the report indicates.

It said the presence of coalition troops in Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion has been a “gift” to Ossama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda.

The network has gained recruits by portraying their presence as a neo-Christian occupation of a major Muslim country, the report said.

The group said an American pullout would be “a foreign policy disaster greater than the retreat from Vietnam”.
And there was no prospect of British troops coming home from the country unless there was an about-turn on Britain’s relationship with the United States.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a staunch supporter of the Bush’s Administration’s occupation of Iraq.
Defense Secretary John Reid said last week that British troops could start withdrawing next year.

The report said: “This would be a major policy shift for the Blair government, representing the sharpest difference in its relationship with Washington in the past eight years.

“In present circumstances it is highly unlikely, yet the war is likely to cast an increasing shadow over UK policy in the next year”.
Ensuring Iraq’s security and the presence of a friendly government in the country is an essential strand of American security policy, even if it means keeping a permanent military presence in Iraq, the report said.

That would allow the US long-term access to oil from the country, essential to the United States because of its increasing dependence on foreign oil, it said.

Before the invasion, sources in Washington suggested that as many as 14 permanent US military bases could be set up in Iraq.

The Oxford Research Group said in July that nearly 25,000 civilians had died in violence since the start of the war in Iraq, a third of whom were killed by coalition forces.

Bush ‘informed in 2001 of lack of Iraq ties with Al-Qaeda’

President George Bush was informed 10 days after the September 11, 2001 attacks that US intelligence had no proof of links between Iraq and this act of terrorism, The National Journal, a US publication, reported last week.

Citing government documents as well as past and present Bush Administration officials, the magazine said the president was briefed on September 21, 2001 that evidence of cooperation between Iraq and the Al-Qaeda network was insufficient.

Bush was also informed that there was some credible information about contacts between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda that showed that the Iraqi president had tried to establish surveillance over the group, according to the report.

It added that Saddam Hussein believed the radical Muslim network represented a threat to his secular regime.

Little additional evidence has emerged over the past four years that could contradict the CIA conclusion about a lack of a collaborative relationship between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, the Journal quoted a high-level government official as saying.

The magazine believed the evidence raises yet more questions about the Administration’s use of intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Created by anita
Last modified 2005-11-30 03:02 AM

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