U.S. Retreat from Iraq? The Secret Story

According to credible Iraqi sources in London and Amman, a secret story of America's diplomatic exit strategy from Iraq is rapidly unfolding.
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According to credible Iraqi sources in London and Amman, a secret story of America's diplomatic exit strategy from Iraq is rapidly unfolding. The 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 Defense 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.

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, re-organize, 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. 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 op-ed. 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. This writer met with Iraqi exiles in London, who suggested further meetings in Amman. Those contacts were facilitated in 2005 by a former Jordanian diplomat, Munther Haddadin, who supported open-ended discussions with Iraqis in exile, Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan, and with intermediaries from the insurgency who made the dangerous 15-hour drive from Baghdad to Amman on more than one occasion. A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Rob Collier, also interviewed Iraqi insurgents and was helpful in providing contacts. Earlier this year, an American peace delegation, including Cindy Sheehan, found themselves in two days of meetings with Iraqis of every political stripe. US Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) was crucial in making these contacts by his persistent efforts at mid-east dialogue. Dal LaMagna, a self-described "frustrated peacemaker" made both trips to Amman, and provided this writer with videos and transcripts of the interviews on which this article is based.

It must be emphasized that there is no reason to believe that these US gestures are anything more than probes, in the historic spirit of divide-and-conquer, before escalating the Iraq war in a Baghdad offensive. Denial plausibility - aka Machiavellian secrecy - remains American security policy, for understandable if undemocratic reasons.

Yet Americans who voted in the November election because of a deep belief that a change of government in Washington might end the war have a right to know that their votes counted. The US has not abandoned its entire strategy in Iraq, but is offering significant concessions without its own citizens knowing.

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