As a complement to my recent analysis, "WHITHER IRAQ? The US occupation and the antiwar movement after the election," here is the latest news about Iyad Allawi's (i.e. Washington's) political strategy in Iraq.
Juan Cole, in his Informed Comment blog dated 3/3, under the title "Allawi Slams Sistani" translated some harsh comments by Allawi against Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, complaining against his interference in politics, after the latter gave his blessing to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who has been designated by the United Iraqi Alliance [UIA] as its official candidate for the post of prime minister -- a post which Allawi is maneuvering to keep for himself.
"Allawi also expressed amazement at the vindictiveness some were showing toward former Baathists, which he said had reached the point of being a sort of hysteria. He said it was as though the intent was to spread a devotion to continual revenge and bloodletting. He said he was against turning enmity toward the Baathists into a permanent complex."
On March 3, Al-Hayat quoted Allawi's conditions for any agreement on the government:
"to keep the security apparatuses in their present formula; no interference from the [Shia parties'] militias in their functioning; to prevent regional and neighboring states [not the US, of course!] from interfering in Iraq's domestic affairs; to recognize the [Bremer-devised]Transitional Administrative Law as the main reference of the state, and not to allow its revision."
According to the same article in Al-Hayat, Allawi is offering Chalabi's group within the UIA -- Ahmad Chalabi, formerly Washington's man, is bitter against al-Jaafari's designation as the UIA's candidate to head the future government, after having tried to get himself nominated -- to form an alliance which could try to get the two-thirds majority in alliance with the Kurdish bloc.
Allawi is very active at trying to form a two-thirds bloc (he even offered the Iraqi Communist Party 2 MPs to join -- the ICP is considering the offer!), though this prospect is quite difficult to achieve and, if successful, would lead to a severe deterioration of the already strained relations between the Shia parties and Sistani, on the one hand, and the occupation, on the other.
Allawi's offensive involved a phone conversation yesterday with George W. Bush, described as follows by the White House spokesperson:
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan [excerpt]
The White House, March 3, 2005
Q: When the President talked with Allawi this morning, you said that they talked about Iran possibly influencing the change of government. Is there new information that Iran is trying to intervene or interfere in the process?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, leaders of the interim government in Iraq have expressed concerns that Iran is trying to influence the shape of the transitional government. We take those concerns very seriously. That's why you're hearing not only us, but leaders in Iraq saying to Iran, stop trying to influence internal politics in Iraq. It's for the Iraqi people to decide who their leaders are. They elected their transitional government; they were the ones who showed the determination and courage to defy the terrorists and go to the polls in large numbers and elect representatives to serve as they transition to democracy. And those representatives are the ones that should be choosing the leadership of that national assembly. And that's the message that we were sending -- this should be an Iraqi process.
Q: Scott, can you be more specific on how they're trying to influence?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. These are concerns that have been expressed by the leaders in Iraq. You might want to ask them for some more details, if they can share those with you. But we know that they are continuing to meddle in Iraq's internal political process. And Iran made some commitments not to do that; they made a commitment to play a constructive role in helping the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful and democratic future.
Obviously, Allawi's gambit (I'm borrowing here the title that Juan Cole aptly put on his excerpt from my last dispatch) involves primarily an effort to "convince" the Kurdish Alliance to enter into a bloc with him. His phone conversation with Bush dealt also very probably with the exercise of Washington's "persuasive" power on the Kurds.
The Kurdish Alliance is enjoying greatly this state of affairs, in which its share of the seats in the National Assembly puts it in a strategic position due to Bremer's rule of two-thirds for key decisions. They are putting forward their own conditions for a deal with either the UIA or Allawi. These are: legalizing their Peshmerga militias to be put on the payroll of the state; including the town and oil-area of Kirkuk in the Kurdish Region (3 provinces) and reversing their Arabization enforced by the Baathist regime; maintaining the Bremer-designed two-thirds rule and veto right for a minimum of 3 provinces. These are quite legitimate conditions from the angle of the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination.
The paradox is that Allawi's line of recuperating the Baathists apparatuses (a spokesperson of his group stated yesterday that they insisted in their talks with the UIA on "carrying on the policy of reinstating the dissolved Iraqi Army in the ranks of the armed forces") conflicts more with these Kurdish demands than does the position of the Shia parties. The UIA has some obvious and great difficulty accepting them, but less than the Arab Sunnis (there are some people in the UIA, Chalabi one of them, who advocated a federal Iraq with three autonomous regions -- North, Center, and South -- whereby Southern Shias could take full advantage of the resources of their region which includes most of Iraqi oil reserves, after having been deprived for so long).
The main problem for the UIA is that they don't want to alienate the Sunnis, having been keen until now on preventing any deterioration of the situation in a sectarian direction -- for instance, by refraining from retaliating for the murderous sectarian attacks they have suffered.
It is probably with regard to this consideration that a delegation of the Kurdish Alliance visited yesterday the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) -- the most popular religious-political force among Arab Sunnis, believed to have a major influence on the legitimate national armed resistance. The AMS stated at the end of the meeting that they stick to the seven conditions put forward by the February 15 meeting of the "Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces," involving the AMS with representatives of Moqtada al-Sadr's Current, and other forces (see my comment on the importance of this Front in my "Whither Iraq?").
Because I don't think the statement from the Feb 15 meeting has ever been translated into English, I am enclosing below my translation.
Note that this alliance does not only involve Muslim forces, but also ideologically secular and left-wing forces, and even women groups -- a good sign undoubtedly, though one should not fall into some naive enthusiasm, especially in light of the real balance of forces overwhelmingly in favor of the religious-political forces. Moreover, the heavy Arab nationalist (anti-Kurdish) bias of this statement, signed by several Arab nationalist groups including former Baathists, is worrying. Narrow-minded Arab nationalism has been historically one of the major diseases of Arab anti-imperialism, and the support to the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination was and remains one of the touchstones (another obvious one being the attitude toward women's rights and their implementation) of truly emancipatory politics in the region. To be sure, any support by the Kurdish Alliance for Washington's plans could only aggravate this tragic problem.
STATEMENT OF THE ANTI-OCCUPATION PATRIOTIC FORCES
In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate
The anti-occupation Iraqi patriotic forces met in Um al-Qura Mosque on February 15, 2005 to discuss the present situation and its implications on all levels. The participants discussed proposals aiming at restoring Iraq's full independence, unity and sovereignty. The participant forces proclaim that they deal with the national reconciliation, which they were the first to call for since the beginning of the occupation, and with the writing of the constitution, on the basis of what follows:
1) A clear, precise, public, and binding under international guarantees, timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation troops from Iraq in all their aspects and forms.
2) Abolition of the principle of repartition according to sectarian, racial or ethnic lines, and adoption of the principle of citizenship and equality in rights and duties in front of the law.
3) Acknowledgement of the principle of the right of the Iraqi people to reject occupation; recognition of the Iraqi resistance and its legitimate right to defend its country and its resources; rejection of terrorism which takes aim at innocent Iraqis, facilities and institutions of public utility, and places of worship -- mosques, husseiniyyat [Shia religious centers], churches and all holy places.
4) Since the elections that took place lacked legitimacy due to the fact that they were based on the Administrative Law [the Bremer-designed TAL, contested by Sistani himself], lacked legal and security conditions, were boycotted by a large number of people and rigged, the administration that will result from these elections does not have the right to conclude any agreement or treaty infringing on Iraq's sovereignty, the unity of its people, its land and its economy, and the preservation of its riches.
5) Adoption of democracy and election as the only option for the transfer of power, and the preparation of conditions and laws allowing the political process to take place in honest and transparent conditions, under neutral international supervision.
6) Affirmation of the patriotic, Arab and Islamic identity of Iraq, and firm opposition to all positions that might lead to the loss of this identity.
7) Liberation of all prisoners and detainees in the jails of the occupation and the provisional government, in particular the women; cessation of the continuous search operations and violation of human rights in all Iraqi provinces; demanding the reconstruction of destroyed cities and payment of just and fair reparations to their inhabitants.
The participant forces call on the other patriotic forces that agree with them on these principles to sign this statement as a service to our patriotic cause and for the sake of regrouping all Iraqi patriotic forces and unifying their position.
The Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces
6 Muharram 1426 / 15 February 2005
Signatories: 1-al-Sadr's Current; 2-The al-Khalesiyya [Shia] School; 3-Association of Muslim Scholars; 4-Patriotic Front for the Liberation of Iraq [umbrella organization of several groups, predominantly Arab nationalists, including former Baathists]; 5-Iraqi Patriotic Founding Congress; 6-Popular Council for Culture and Arts; 7-Nasserite Vanguard Party; 8-Council of Woman's Will; 9-People's Unity Party [Communist]; 10-Movement of the Arab Nationalist Current; 11-Party of Reform, Justice and Democracy; 12-United Iraq Party; 13-Islamic Bloc; 14-Nationalist Democratic Party; 15-United Patriotic Movement; 16-Regroupment for Iraq; 17-Progressive Union of Iraqi Students; 18-Arab Regroupment in Kirkuk; 19-Popular Nationalist Party; 20-Arab Socialist Movement (Patriotic Command); 21-Union of republic's Women; and seven individual personalities.
An Iraqi correspondent adds the following note:
The People's Unity Party, which attended the meeting of anti-occupation forces on the 15th of February, is headed by Yusuf Hamdan, and was created during Saddam's regime -- with the support of the security services -- as an "official communist party" that held dialogue and cooperation with the regime. This group changed its name into People's Unity Party after the fall of the regime. Yusuf Hamdan is a former member of the Iraqi Communist Party, who had been excluded from the party.
Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms and Eastern Cauldron, both published by Monthly Review Press in New York.