I would love to say that the agreement reached yesterday by the Iraqi leadership is a huge step on the road to peace and reconciliation. But I don’t see how anyone who has watched this crew in action over the last year can honestly say what was agreed to yesterday by the major sectarian factions is anything except Washington-inspired window dressing:
Iraq’s top Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders announced on Sunday they had reached consensus on some key measures seen as vital to fostering national reconciliation.
The agreement by the five leaders was one of the most significant political developments in Iraq for months and was quickly welcomed by the United States, which hopes such moves will ease sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands.
But skeptics will be watching for action amid growing frustration in Washington over the political paralysis that has gripped the government of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
While certainly significant in the sense that they were all able to sit down in the same room and basically agree that there are things that must be done to start Iraq down the road to peace, the devil, as always, is in the details:
Iraqi officials said the five leaders had agreed on draft legislation that would ease curbs on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party joining the civil service and military.
Consensus was also reached on a law governing provincial powers as well as setting up a mechanism to release some detainees held without charge, a key demand of Sunni Arabs since the majority being held are Sunnis.
The laws need to be passed by Iraq’s fractious parliament, which has yet to receive any of the drafts.
Again, I hate to be a party pooper, but these laws have been in “draft” form for months – some of them for more than a year. The oil revenue sharing law was passed in the spring and has yet to be taken up by Iraq’s parliament. In fact, precious little has been taken up by Parliament which usually has trouble finding a quorum of members to conduct business.
And frankly, it remains to be seen how much sway these gentlemen have with their various factions. Maliki has only nominal control over the Shia coalition that runs the Parliament. Vice President al-Hashemi has problems with his own party, the Iraqi Accordance Front, who walked out of the government last month over Maliki’s rank sectarianism.
As for the Kurds, as always, they have their own fish to fry. Since their long term goal is an independent Kurdish state, they can afford to be generous to the Sunnis while cooperating with the Shias when it suits them. They will support any deal that maintains their virtual independence from Baghdad.
In short, the senior Iraqi leadership has given General Petreaus one more arrow in his quiver when he gives his report to Congress in about two weeks. In addition to some progress in the security situation about which Petreaus will be able to boast, he can now claim that his deals with many of the Sunni tribes and this latest accord in Baghdad proves that his counterinsurgency strategy is working.
Unfortunately, Petreaus and the military cannot address the huge political and security problem brewing in the south as the British continue their withdrawal:
Shiite militiamen from the Mahdi Army took over the police joint command center in Basra on Sunday after British soldiers withdrew from the facility and handed control to the Iraqi police, witnesses said.
Police left the building when the militiamen, loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, arrived, the witnesses said.
The British military disputed the reports, saying they had been in contact with the Iraqi general in charge of security in Basra, who has said the Mahdi Army was not there.
But the witnesses said the Mahdi Army emptied the building â€” taking generators, computers, furniture and even cars, saying it was war booty â€” and remained there in the early evening.
This is the tip of the iceberg. Until Maliki can enforce the will of the central government in the south, all the reforms and agreements between the factions wil largely be moot. The writ of Baghdad law does not run in Basra and other towns and villages where the Mahdi and other militias are fighting for control – an intolerable situation that has gotten worse since the British have pulled back their forces and allowed the militias to move in.
This means a final and direct confrontation with Maliki’s friend and supporter, Moqtada al-Sadr is in the offing. Will the Mahdi be the next target for Petreaus if Congress gives him the go-ahead to continue the surge? One would think that the General would be forced to deal with the Mahdi if for no other reason than to plug the holes that will be left by the British drawdown of troops. That would mean some very hard fighting for our boys.
Cynics will question the timing of these accords as well as their utility. Coming two weeks before Petreaus’s report to Congress, the agreement smacks of gamesmanship by both the Iraqi and American governments. The parties all know that the Iraqi parliament will be months, perhaps even years, examining, debating, and amending these laws. For that reason alone, Congress should give little weight to this agreement when the debate over funding the surge picks up next month.