Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, June 24, 2006

  Iraqi insurgents reject Maliki's peace plan

The peace and reconciliation proposal that Nouri al Maliki plans to announce tomorrow reportedly has extraordinary provisions. The bad news is that tomorrow's Sunday Times, the paper that first described the provisions, reports that the leaders of the Sunni insurgency have said they'll reject the plan.

If the Times report is right, the process of negotiation to date has been some kind of theater. Allegedly, the insurgent 'leaders' whom Maliki's government and Ambassador Khalilzad have been meeting with are insignificant figures in the Sunni resistance. They control mere splinter groups. The actual leaders are rejecting the proposal in advance. Said one Sunni commander:

"The government is very aware that those it says it is negotiating with are not representatives of the main organisations. This whole so-called reconciliation plan is being exaggerated as a breakthrough to help to promote Maliki and his government as well as to aid the Americans to find a face-saving way out of Iraq."

Here is more from the Times:

Representatives of 11 Iraqi insurgent groups told The Sunday Times yesterday that they would reject the peace offer because they did not recognise the legitimacy of the government.

A senior commander authorised to speak on behalf of other groups warned that they would continue to fight. "As long as there is an occupation and an illegitimate government, the resistance and insurgency will continue," he said....

the groups that have taken part in the negotiations are understood to be relatively small. Those rejecting the peace offer include larger organisations such as the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Ansar al-Sunna.

These bodies have drawn up a separate set of demands. They want a more rapid withdrawal of foreign troops, the release of all prisoners from American and Iraqi jails and compensation from the United States and other coalition countries to fund the rebuilding of infrastructure and homes destroyed in the war.

The 11 groups have indicated that any future talks should be conducted with American officials under UN or Arab League supervision, but not with the Iraqi government.

Some observations: Maliki may be trying to give all sides the impression that he's really in charge of the country, the more so if Sunni and Shiite sectarian leaders are not really in the mood to dance to his tune. Maliki may have supposed that he might get momentum, or the appearance of it, by putting together any kind of deal with anybody who was willing to negotiate with him.

The fact that the other, main insurgent groups were able to cooperate and identify a spokesman to talk to foreign journalists, to put their own proposal forward, suggests that they believe they can circumvent Maliki, make him irrelevant, by appealing directly to Britain and the U.S. And in fact the nature of their proposal underscores that apparent desire to undermine Maliki. They want direct talks with the U.S., and in order to marginalize Maliki as completely as possible, they're nominating the U.N. or Arab League as the sponsors of the negotiations.

Some of their demands very probably are for domestic consumption, or mere starting points for negotiation. I imagine that the Sunnis are hoping for reconstruction funds from whatever source they can get them, but what they're really aiming at is a guarantee of income from Iraq's oil revenues.

In any case, it's noteworthy that they say they want a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops than Maliki does. This could be an authentic position. It could also be a negotiating ploy, something to hand back to the Bush administration in exchange for more favorable terms in regard to, say, oil revenues.

For we shouldn't forget that although the Sunni insurgency still is fighting U.S. forces aggressively, the Sunnis fear the Shiites much more than they do the U.S. occupation. Sunnis have been targeted for attacks and reprisals, and these might quite conceivably get much worse as soon as the U.S. withdraws. So the demands for rapid withdrawal could be part of the theater.

Why are the Sunnis trying so hard to make Maliki a figure of ridicule in Iraq, by destroying his peace plan in advance and shunting him aside in the negotiations on the future of Iraq? Because he is a notorious Shiite hardliner, as I commented when Maliki's candidacy was announced in April. Here is an AP report from the following day:

The tough-talking al-Maliki, who once managed Shiite guerrillas in Saddam's Iraq from exile in Syria, promised an inclusive government with "all components of Iraqi society."...

In his new role, al-Maliki must make overtures to the disaffected Sunni Arab community, the backbone of the insurgency. Sunni Arab politicians accepted al-Maliki despite his reputation as a hardline champion of Shiite rights.

Al-Maliki was deputy chairman of a committee formed to purge Saddam allies from political life. Many Sunnis believed the committee's goal was to deny them a role in Iraq.

He also was a tough negotiator in deliberations over Iraq's new constitution, passed last year despite Sunni Arab objections. He resisted U.S. efforts to put more Sunnis on the drafting committee as well as Sunni efforts to dilute provisions giving Shiites and Kurds the power to form semiautonomous mini-states in the north and south.

When Maliki was proposed to replace Ibrahim al-Jaafari as Prime Minister, it looked as if he was being shoved down the throats of Sunnis. Here was the NY Times:

Just one day ago, Sunni Arab leaders and Kurdish officials had expressed a preference for the other Shiite politician who had been considered a strong candidate for nomination as prime minister, Ali al-Adeeb. They had described Mr. Maliki as too sectarian and inflexible to win wide support among other political groups.

Well, Maliki did manage to grab the golden ring after all. But in Iraq, what goes around comes around. Maliki is deeply distrusted by Sunnis, and therefore any negotiations where he's running the show are likely to grind to a halt.


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