Global Issues, US Politics

Iraqi peace deal?

I could start things off with a question and two observations on Iraq. Question: Why has there been almost no coverage of the proposed Al-Maliki government’s peace plan and the positive response from the Sunni insurgency groups?

Observations: 1. The proposed plan runs directly contrary to significant aspects of US Iraq policy. 2. The contrast between the US congressional debate on Iraq last week and the proposed Iraqi plan is extraordinary.

OK, let me elaborate (for the 5 of you who read something similar on my site last week, I apologize).

Is this proposed peace deal potentially one of the more striking (and potentially positive) developments from Iraq in some time? The 28 point package, developed by the Al-Maliki government, is aimed at including the Sunni insurgency in the political processes and isolating them from the international fighters.

The government concessions offered in return for insurgent amnesty are actually quite extensive, and I think are a pretty clear indication of how dire the situation really is. For example:

The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.

It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of “de-Baathification” and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Does this not run almost completely contrary to US policy over the past 2 years? Are they not suggesting a reversal of the majority of US policy and tactics? Are they not making the distinction between different types of terrorists, a distinction this administration is absolutist against? Imagine if a Democratic Senator were to propose such a deal.

Even more poignant is the call for a timeline for withdrawal. This coming from all involved in the negotiations, including Khalilzad, the US Ambassador. On timelines, the document states:

We must agree on a timed schedule to pull out the troops from Iraq, while at the same time building up the Iraqi forces that will guarantee Iraqi security and this must be supported by a United Nations Security Council decision.

This is in marked contrast to the current debate in the US congress, where any discussion of timelines is ridiculed.

The response from the insurgency to the Al-Maliki government’s tentative peace deal is no less remarkable – offering to halt attacks.

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered to halt attacks on the U.S.-led military if the Iraqi government and President Bush set a two-year timetable for withdrawing all foreign troops from the country, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The disconnect between the US domestic debate, and the negotiations IN IRAQ could not be more poignant. One has to wonder if the former, in an election year, will limit the success of the latter? Will the administration agree to a deal that goes against the bulk of its Iraq policy, makes a deal with elements of an insurgency it has refused to nuance, and sets a firm timeline for complete withdrawal (including the 12 permanent military bases), all of this in an election year? The thing is, they may not have a choice.

UPDATE: Phew – tough first day.

The Times piece linked to above details elements of a peace plan in progress. While early versions were quite widely reported, a significantly and hastily revised version was made public on the 25th. Despite my journalistic carelessness, the last minute changes to the deal do not substantially alter my argument.

First, overviews of this deal are found here, and here. The main thrust of the change is detailed in the latter Newsweek piece:

Under intense pressure from leaders of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a greatly softened national reconciliation plan when his National Assembly met Sunday. The UIA, which includes Maliki’s own Dawa Party, met in an emergency session late Saturday night to hammer out the changes, removing any explicit mention of amnesty for insurgents, or of a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces.
Four key clauses were taken out, including one that insisted on distinguishing between “national resistance” forces and “terrorists”, and another one that would reverse the dismissals of many former Baathist party officials under the country’s deBaathfication program. Explicit language about controlling party militias and “death squads” was missing as well from the final draft. That left a much vaguer statement of principles, but one that everyone could agree to put on the table.
Maliki’s aides insisted that they would press to restore the deleted principles as the National Assembly continues to debate the plan, and said that an amnesty is implicit in calls to negotiate with all segments of Iraqi society. (emphasis added)

A few quick points (I’ll address some of the other critiques in the opinions section):

First, these changes came “under intense pressure”. While we can of course debate where this pressure really came from, it’s pretty safe to say that this answers one of my questions regarding how the US would react to such a deal.

Second, the fact that the deal changed (at the last minute and under intense pressure), does not alter the fact that a close to finalized version does indeed contradict significant aspects of US policy in Iraq.

Third, the contrast between the negotiations in Iraq, and the US Congressional debate remains stark. This is not a partisan critique, as neither party line evolved much beyond “Cut and Run” vs. “More of the Same” nonsense.

Fourth, and related, there has indeed been very little coverage of this deal, at any of its stages.

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