Rice’s Stillborn Talks with the Iraqi Resistance
Over the last three months, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her top aides have scrambled to build a “new security architecture” for the Middle East — one that will maintain pressure on Iran at the same time that it provides a cover for U.S. efforts to salvage some respectability from its collapsing position in Iraq. This “GCC-plus-two” security front is hardly news, but what is news is that it has been used as a potential back-channel by the Secretary of State to open talks with representatives of the Iraqi resistance — talks that, in spite of Rice’s best efforts, have been stillborn.
The most important meetings with the “GCC-plus-two” have taken place in the region: in Riyadh, Amman and Cairo; and the most important of these meetings — and the one that included a potential opening to the Iraqi resistance — took place in Cairo in early October. Just last week our reporter in Baghdad talked with Iraqi officials, one of whom provided details of Rice’s efforts to use her meetings with the “GCC-plus-two” ministers to explore an opening to Iraqi resistance leaders. Our reporter obtained the following details of that early October meeting in Cairo and the results of that opening:
On October 3, 2006, in Cairo the U.S. Secretary of State met with ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan, and Egypt. Afterwards the ministers from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar received unexpected phone calls from one of Rice’s assistants asking them to attend a private meeting with Rice in a secure location in Cairo that same evening.
One of the ministers who attended that evening meeting with Rice in Cairo later met a senior member of the Iraqi Muslim Council (the MUC, Muslim Ulama Council, also known as the Association of Muslim Scholars) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He briefed the Muslim Council representative on the meeting’s topics the most important of which was an offer from the Bush Administration to open talks with the Iraqi resistance movement. This was in accord with Rice’s express desire that the Muslim Council be informed of U.S. views. At her meeting in Cairo, Rice told the four ministers that she wanted to talk to them about the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. The U.S. administration, Rice said, understood that they had “committed mistakes” in Iraq. She said that the president was very concerned about these mistakes and wanted to set them aright. “You are our friends and I want you to help us,” she told the four ministers. “Please forget the past and its complications. I admit that we made mistakes and we ignored your warnings and did not take your advice. But let us cooperate to sort out all problems in Iraq. I invited you to this meeting here in Cairo in order for us to discuss this, and after I contacted the White House to make sure that they knew we were going to discuss this issue in this more private setting.”
After Rice’s short introduction, apology and plea for help, a Saudi diplomatic official asked Rice in what way the Arab governments could help the United States. She replied, without hesitation, that the U.S. administration “wants extensive and detailed talks with Iraqi Sunni resistance leaders about ways to end the insurgency and bring stability to Iraq.” She said that she wanted those present at the meeting to return to their countries and “use their influence” to convince the Sunni resistance to participate in talks with the Americans. Rice went on to say that the Bush Administration is ready to talk to Sheikh Harith Al Dari, Secretary General of the MUC, in addition to “any senior member of the Baath Party or any ex-senior high-ranking commander of the Iraqi Army” about finding ways to stabilize the situation and ending the resistance. Rice said that the United States would speak with any high-ranking official of the resistance, but would not speak with any officials of al-Qaeda.
In the wake of this meeting, Sheikh Harith al-Dari visited Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Emirates and had several meeting with senior officials in these countries on Rice’s proposal. Even so, after these briefings al-Dari flatly refused the idea of conducting any direct meetings with U.S. officials until the United States had responded positively to six “decisive demands” of “the Sunni Resistance and Opposition to the American Occupation of the Nation of the Two Rivers.” The six demands were put in writing — apparently by al-Dari — and delivered to U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley during his visit to the Saudi capital in December. After reading these demands, Hadley paid a surprise visit to Irbel, in northern Iraq, where he met the president of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, Masoud Barzani, and Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, to seek their advice on how to respond to the demands.
The six demands are:
1. The United States must agree to enlarge the current national reconciliation endeavor to include all political parties, including the major parties of the Iraqi resistance movement;
2. The Iraqi government should without any preconditions grant and adhere to a national pardon and full amnesty for those who were part of the resistance;
3. The United States and the Iraqi government must agree to abolish all aspects of the current de-Baathification law and return Baathist officials to their positions in the government and in the military;
4. Starting immediately the United States and the Iraqi government must agree to the dismantling of all militias and death squads and bring their leaders to justice;
5. The United States and the Iraqi government must agree to abolish all programs aimed at federating the country into three regions;
6. The United States and the Iraqi government must approve a plan to equitably distribute oil revenues fairly to all Iraqi provinces.
We have subsequently been informed that the Muslim Council has held several talks with representatives of the Iraqi resistance who emphasized their intention of fully participating in the political process if these demands are achieved. A representative of the Muslim Council noted, however, that he and the leadership of the council doubted that either the United States or the Iraqi government would agree to these demands and further, that the Iraqi Shiite Alliance would firmly veto any such proposal.
It seems unlikely, in view of the substance of these six demands, that the U.S. search for a diplomatic solution to its crisis in Iraq will be successful. Certainly, senior U.S. military officers in Baghdad do not believe that such a solution is possible. Moreover, most if not all of those in the higher echelons of the U.S. military in Iraq disagree with both the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff plan for a troop “surge” to bring stability to the country.
This is not the first time that the U.S. has attempted to deal with the Iraqi resistance, or has requested or even held meetings with resistance leaders. One such meeting was held in Amman in 2004, but officials at the Pentagon later determined that the individuals they met did not truly represent the most powerful groups operating against the Americans. The same was true of several meetings held in Iraq in 2005 — where U.S. officials later determined that the delegation with whom they spoke actually had little influence in ending resistance activities. Since that time, and at the insistence of Rice, the U.S. has determined that it will use go-betweens in communicating its desire to Iraqi resistance leaders, as they are in the best position to identify the resistance leadership. Nevertheless, American willingness to directly or indirectly engage with the resistance has resulted in little progress in bridging the political chasm that still divides the U.S. and its opponents in Iraq.