Ignatius on Optimism in Iraq

"Khalilzad told me in an interview in his office after Wednesday’s session that the talks had produced tentative agreement on two basic points: First, the parties endorsed the idea of a unity government that would include all the major factions. Second, they agreed that this government should have a top-level "national security commission" that would include representatives of all the major political parties. Operating by consensus, this body would frame the broad outlines of policy, subject to the Iraqi constitution."  Ignatius

"One seeming obstacle to unity has been fear about the role of Iran. To finesse that issue, Hakim said he is urging Iran to talk with the United States about Iraq’s political future. Khalilzad himself has been quietly exploring what he calls the "modalities" for such U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq."  Ignatius


David Ignatius has a lot of access to government figures.  Maybe that is not always a good thing.

The civil war among the various ethno-religious and political communities has prevented the creation of a government of unity for the last several months.  The reason for that is clear.   These people don’t feel unified.  Community interests still prevail and so the process of allocating power through cabinet positions is seen in Iraq as a definition of who will rule in Iraq and who will be prosperous.

Khalilzad is "stuck" with the problem of squaring the circle in this desperate situation.  In the column above, Khalilzad tells Ignatius that to overcome the inability of Iraqi leaders to share power within the framework of the Iraqi constitution, he is advocating the creation of an un-elected "junta" of the leaders of the very factions that have been unable to agree on power sharing legally.  This "National Security Commission" would set policy for the government by consensus (ijma’).  In effect, the "junta" would rule the country.  This kind of rule by consensus of an oligarchy of factional leaders is a familiar pattern in the Islamic World.  In many places, the legal constitutional forms are a "Potemkin Village" covering over the actual political and economic rule of the "notables" (ayaan).  The members of such "nomenklatura" groups can be business men, military officers, religious figures, etc.  Sometimes, one of the "notable" manages to seize enough power to make himself THE ruler but behind him there is always the oligarchic group sustaining him in power and sharing in the loot.  "The more things change, the more they remain the same."  Will such a "junta" be able to bring a halt to the fighting?  It would be interesting to find out.


And then there is this business of US-Iranian negotiations over Iraq.  Does this mean that we are admitting that the major contest in the region is really between us and the Iranians over the body of Iraq?  What happened to the administration policy position that Iran is the "main enemy?"

Pat Lang


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16 Responses to Ignatius on Optimism in Iraq

  1. Mac Nayeri says:

    Imagine you had the ear of both the decision-makers in D.C and Tehran – how would you counsel the respective parties?
    A penny for your thoughts….

  2. nykrindc says:

    Does this mean that we are admitting that the major contest in the region is really between us and the Iranians over the body of Iraq?
    Let’s hope so, because we desperately need to find a way to live with Iran. If we can come to a modus vivendi with regard to Iraq, we can negotiate other things and beginning opening up Iran to the world. We do that, and the soft kill on the Iranian regime can finally begin. When that’s done, it won’t matter much anymore that Iran has the bomb.

  3. ckrantz says:

    I wonder what it will take to get the administration to see the reality on the ground. Iraq as a state is gone. What is needed is a new longterm strategy/policy for the middle east but that would mean acknowledge previous failures.

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I seriously doubt that there will be any changes in the situation between US & Iran. US is in its neconservative fantasy world led by a minority president and Iran is trying to live its Islamic Utopia fantasy. We need new and imaginative governments in Washington, tehran, London, and Paris for any serious movement in the improvement of bilateral relations. Even then it is a long shot.

  5. jonst says:

    Can’t speak for the rest of you of course, but yesterday the President reminded us, once more, of his so called ‘pre-emptive doctrine’. And on the same day his Rep to the UN made reference to Iran hitting us like we were hit on 9/11 “accept this time it will be nuclear”. We are going to attack Iran is my gues. And pretty soon.

  6. Norbert Schulz says:

    My gut feeling when I heared about the U.S.-Iranian negotiations heared was ambiguous.
    First, the renewed national security strategy (confirming the pre-emption nonsense) and the attack on Samrra ring like a face saving gesture in face of the declaration of talks with Iran.
    It may be the beginning of the insight that atm the U.S. has no way of dealing with Iran except through threatening. The initiation of talks is in itself a good idea and might even bring progress, if someone can give Bolton and the jolly loonies a gag and prevent them from torpedoing talks.
    My second thought was that they tried to suggest that Iran is to blame for the self-made mess in Iraq as a ploy for the home front: Wouldn’t Iran be to blame for the violence in Iraq, why negotiate with them?
    Just in case, the Bushies still keep Iran as a scapegoat uptheir sleeve. Another questionable argument in their case for war.
    Having observed the U.S. foreign policy (or the attempt thereof) over the last 5 years, I’m more cautious than optimistic.

  7. Norbert Schulz says:

    as for Bolton and his loonies:

  8. john says:

    President Bush has severely limited options in the real world, but unlimited options in the neoconservative fictitious world. As leader, Mr. Bush cannot admit any errors. One of the normal mechanisms for a president to admit error is through a cabinet reshuffle. However for Mr. Bush the officials he should replace he cannot replace because they are the architects of his mistakes, Rumsfeld, Rice, and their supporting cast in the case of Iraq and the GWOT, and Chertoff in the case of homeland security and Katrina (not a direct part of the neocon fiction but symptomatic of Mr. Bush’s infallibility problem). Therefore, Mr. Bush must ignore the real world and work in the fictitious world of the neocons. Mr. Bush can manipulate this world since facts are unimportant. The most important single fiction of this world is an enemy or enemies to focus blame upon. Examples: Al-Qaeda is now exporting roadside bombs to Afghanistan (blurs the point of origination of Al-Qaeda in the GWOT; keeps the Iraq-Al-Qaeda/911 connection alive). And, of course, Iran prevents the Iraqis from forming a unity government (the Shiis, Sunnis, and Kurds have very different agendas and goals thus Khalizad’s ploy of a national security commission and US-Iran meeting about Iraq’s future as if the insurgents have no voice in the discussion).
    But hey, under the cover of an offensive on the eve of the third anniversary of “mission accomplished” maybe that old Bush magic will still enthrall. It’s hard work motivating the public to support failure.

  9. Glen says:

    As much as US/Iran talks would seem to be a good thing, I think Babak has called it. We don’t have the right players in place to make progress. Both parties would kill their own political future by making the necessary compromises for success. I honestly hope I’m wrong as the US must embrace regional talks in order to ensure the long term future of Iraq, and Iran is the key regional player.
    If we did have more flexible options, the obvious play is for the US to put a large enough carrot on the table to get Iran to drop it’s nuclear ambitions. One wonders what Iran would want.

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    There appears to be a certain atmosphere in this that reminds of Aeschylus ot Sophocles. pl

  11. Charlie Green says:

    My oil stocks are gonna go outta sight when the first bomb falls on Iran.
    I just gotta time my sell calls before there isn’t any more stock market. And get the returns in commodities since the $ is gonna plummet.

  12. Norbert Schulz says:

    There we are again: Because Iran is evil, they cannot be trusted, so when they offer talks – it’s clearly a ploy – sais the Whitehouse.

  13. taters says:

    Quote from Bolton on Norbert’s link…
    UNITED NATIONS – The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, Wednesday compared the threat from Iran’s nuclear programs to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
    “Just like Sept. 11, only with nuclear weapons this time, that’s the threat. I think that is the threat,” Bolton told ABC News’ Nightline. “I think it’s just facing reality. It’s not a happy reality, but it’s reality and if you don’t deal with it, it will become even more unpleasant.”
    I don’t have to tell anyone here why Bolton was pulled away from Libya via Straw or the mess he helped create in N Korea. This time in 2005, Halliburton was still in Iran. GE had just pulled out despite sanctions against doing business with Iran. I haven’t read anything about Halliburton pulling out – but I’ll assume they have. Does anyone know if they did or when?

  14. taters says:

    John – well said.
    Its not like there aren’t well qualified, extremely competent people to replace the current cabinet, particularly Rumsfeld and Rice. I’m a lib but I would certainly be very pleased to see a Scowcroft, Armitage or Baker. its not like those guys aren’t a phone call away. In my dreams it would be Lang, Zinni, Holbrooke and Zbig.
    Unfortunately, its rather unlikely and we seem to be following the footprints of failure again. Any thoughts on this old Holbrooke piece from the NYT via global security?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke said today that the United Nations must transform its civilian-run peacekeeping department into a larger and more effective military-style operation if it is to avoid repeated humiliations in the riskier missions it is undertaking around the world.
    The peacekeeping efforts need to be bolstered with military professionals, in New York and in the field, Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview reflecting on his first year as the United States representative to the United Nations. He said that the reliance on polyglot pick-up armies must stop, and that the United Nations be allowed to resume “borrowing” experts from national militaries, a practice a third-world majority of nations curtailed several years ago in the interest of creating more jobs for their candidates.
    Toughening up the peacekeeping department, which Mr. Holbrooke says he intends to promote along with his campaign to get economically healthy nations to foot more of the peacekeeping bill, is not an easy task here or a welcome policy in Washington. Conservatives in Congress see the specter of a United Nations army on American soil. Developing nations, with a majority in the General Assembly, can block any substantial reform of a department they cannot control.
    Which is obviously a different type of UN reform than what Bolton wants.

  15. canuck says:

    Nice piece about the role of NATO by Richard Holbrooke and Ronald D. Asmus
    Next Step for NATO
    Tuesday, March 14, 2006
    Washington Post

  16. taters says:

    Canuck – yeah, its a nice piece. Thanks.

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