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Baghdad’s Conference: An Opportunity for Filling the Chasm | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The international conference held in Baghdad is significant in more ways than one. It firstly reflects an approach, and not necessarily a conviction, by the United States that the solution for the Iraqi problem is not done by straining the atmospheres with those around and involved with it but through a calm dialogue even with the parties most remote from the US stands. But on the other hand, it provides the US administration with a compromise between its internal need to demonstrate a larger measure of response to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which called for an international conference on Iraq and for a direct dialogue with Tehran and Damascus, and its external desire not to demonstrate any flexibility toward parties that might interpret this flexibility as a weakness on its part which is then applied to other pending issues. Therefore from the US viewpoint, this conference appears to be in a restrained accord with both approaches and hence will be less than an international conference, at least from the angle of the representation level in it, and larger than a regional one.

At the Iraqi level, the conference looks like a good opportunity for the Iraqi Government to prove that it has the initiative. After being just an “issue” at the others’ table of discussions, Iraq enters the conference today as an “effective self.” Instead of being subject to the others’ agendas, it prepares the agendas for their discussion. The Iraqi Government won, firstly by the deal to produce the conference, by wresting a tacit recognition of its right to take the initiative, and by foiling the attempts to internationalize the Iraqi issue, which it believes is a sidestepping of the democratic process. But it still must have enough acumen to manage this initiative and exploit it so as to come out with a bigger gain and make its solutions applicable.

Regionally, the conference appears to be in accord with several recent steps and moves in the arena toward the “calm” in various dossiers, particularly those that saw the emergence of an active Saudi diplomacy that reflected to a large degree a positive and increasing sensitivity toward the irrational options and volatile sparks from several sources threatening fires that would be difficult to put out. The Arab decampment toward Baghdad two weeks before Riyadh’s Arab summit could be the beginning of a change in the Arab handling of the Iraqi affair after a long time of self rebuke because of what many Arab politicians and intellectuals call “abandoning Iraq to be easy a choice morsel for Iran.”

Internationally, the conference looks like another way for saying that the United States is apologizing for excluding international participation in the Iraqi issue without actually apologizing. Producing the conference as an Iraqi “initiative” puts an end to the diplomatic interpretations that would result if it appeared to be an American “initiative”, particularly as the present US administration’s approach frequently avoided depicting the United States as one venturing to present “initiatives” to the others. It preferred to appear as one venturing to lay down the “conditions”, probably as a result of a misunderstanding of what the only superpower in the world could do under the concept of power’s prevalence over the international political settlements.

For all these reasons, the conference looks like a good “opportunity” for starting a new examination of the facts in the region, at the core of them the facts of the Iraqi reality. But to avoid being dragged behind the ceiling of high expectations, this opportunity should not be exaggerated or anything built on it because it appears in its structure, supposed agendas, and circumstantial nature a single step only on a road with many junctions. The conference looks like an opportunity for building a measure of trust in its environment where suspicions prevail, and being so, its parties would therefore enter it with a high measure of mutual suspicions. These suspicions would lead to a measure of reservations and a wait for the other’s initiative, who is in turn also waiting, and since the biggest player — in this case the United States — would not go with a clear initiative in its pockets then the others would not have many incentives for leaving their trenches.

But the conference remains in all cases an opportunity for drawing up a framework for regional diplomatic action and for solving several mental complexities, particularly that of an American-Iranian meeting at one table whose plan is to back the constructive solutions for the Iraqi issue. Iraq has remained since 2003 a stage for an open conflict between regional, international, and local wills that resulted in a catastrophic shedding of blood once destruction and killing became means for scoring political points against the adversaries. The Iraqi was crushed at the exact moment he was aspiring to restore his crushed dignity and deleted from the political equation despite his accumulated suffering over many years of totalitarian rule. This conference can help treat the case of this person by looking at his human identity away from any other gained identity or one imposed on him.

If the Saudi-Iranian summit in Riyadh led to real understandings and curtailed the factors of mistrust — and these are things that we still have to test on the ground of reality — the regional initiative might be in accord with an internal Iraqi initiative that Al-Maliki’s Government is seeking to take so as to formulate a plan for a solution under which everybody will be satisfied with at the least the minimum they have achieved and therefore the struggle against the extremist groups that are daily killing the Iraqi body becomes a joint regional determination that reduces what looked like a tolerance of the Iraqi bloodshed.

Al-Maliki’s Government is pressing ahead with its security plan, which, though it had achieved some progress in some areas, is facing a difficult challenge as the violence groups insist on proving that their violence would remain in the Iraqi civilian life. With the emergence of local political arguments over the plan’s priority and an American-Iraqi argument over each other’s seriousness about ensuring its success, this government realizes the need to combine between the language of power and the language of political settlements in a way that never allows the entrenched and sharp stands to prevail. Hence signs were given of a possible budge in respect of the deba’thification law that some Arabs believe is a means for marginalizing the Sunnis, of integrating the former army’s officers in the new military establishment and therefore bringing more assurance about this establishment’s doctrinal, sectarian, and ethnic structure, of constitutional guarantees of the fair distribution of resources and other constitutional amendments, and of a reconciliation policy that does not exclude or exempt anyone. For these initiatives to mature and turn into real action plans, they must be regionally and internationally embraced as a real plan for solution that ends a futile argument about legitimacy and quotas in favor of a constructive argument about the means of building the Iraqi civilian state that acts as a bridge which fills the regional chasms. And this is the conference’s principal role.