Wednesday, January 17, 2007

# Posted 6:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

HASHING IT OUT: Chatham House kindly invited me round yesterday to attend the visit of Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (Wikipedia, CFR, NPR), as part of his short trip to London.

Mr Hashemi is a clever man, capable of resonant rhetoric and poignant appeal on behalf of his country (one example from my notebook: ‘I repeat, there is a chance. Let us work for professionalisation of the security sector, a comprehensive settlement, comprehensive reform, and there is a chance for my country to be salvaged’). His Iraqi Islamic Party was the lone Sunni group to participate in the 2005 elections; he thus represents the argument for political engagement among Sunnis, while in turn gaining for his community as propitious a deal as possible as possible in a final national settlement (see his advocacy of reversal of de-Ba’athification, and removal of Shi’i militiamen from the armed forces). He most recently has garnered headlines for accusing Blair of first being convinced by his proposal for a deadline for withdrawal, then backtracking when convinced otherwise by Bush; at any rate, he regards Whitehall as a more favourable channel of influence than Washington.

Three points. He is sanguine on Syria; has retreated from earlier calls for a timetable for British and American withdrawal; and supports the surge, being particularly fearful of British withdrawal from Basra. He wants no part of an invasion of Iran, though regarding it as a meddler and an evildoer. To turn to the notebooks,

On Syria: I think we could work in agreement with Syria, Syria is an Arab country, in the Arab league, we recognise why they have done what they have done; the relation can be normalised in one year. I foresee no problem about Syria. I am in full agreement with the bipartisan recommendation given by the committee chaired by Baker. Each sign from Syria is that they are doing what they are promising. It is not the same for Iran. I hope it will follow.

On Sunni insurgents: The Sunni communities backing the drawing down of foreign troops in Iraq – the nationalists, what you call insurgents – they are tired of fighting, many of them are looking for an inducement to lay down their arms. They need to see meaningful result for their participation. I want to market democracy, the political process; I need inducements to offer.

On the timetable for withdrawal: As a patriot, I don’t want to see even one soldier on my territory in the future, I want these brave soldiers back to their families in the future. However, if you want to create another grave instability, by withdrawing these troops before the Iraqi forces are trained and professional, and creating a security vacuum, my country may slide into a chaos, a civil war, to draw in our neighbouring countries. As far as when, we should shelve the question for the time being until my country completes more reform of its security forces. It could be done in a year, perhaps.

On an invasion of Iran: To use Iraqi territory to invade a neighbour, that is against the Constitution. We do not want to see neighbours exposed to war, invasion. We would like to see our neighbours joining forces, we do have more or less common interest with our neighbours.

On the surge, and whether 21,000 American troops would be more fuel to the fire: I think it is based on sound analysis of what is going on in Baghdad, and an acute shortage of manpower.

Analysis: Judging by his appearances on NPR and the Washington Post, Hashemi plays the media well. His hand is furthermore potentially strong as a principal point of political engagement to his Sunni community. He knows to count his cards, and will expect to leverage his strength into patronage for his community. His views toward neighbours - suspicion toward Iran, warmth toward Syria - cohere with where he sits, but might reflect views elsewhere in the councils of government. This is perhaps why his acceptance of more troops, and plea against withdrawal, strike doubly - uniquely in what I have written, it runs against the grain of what, writing his speech for him, you or I might predict. It says something profound about the degree of fear in the political establishment, and consensus there as regards need for more boots. His skills as a media courtier, and his political canniness combined with his eye on the ball of political patronage (something spectacularly lacking in weak would-be nation-builders such as Abu Mazen and Karzai), mean if he can continue to duck when best suits, he could be someone to watch.
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Great post.

I'm sorry that Mr. Hashemi doesn't correctly identify that it is Sunni rejectionist attitudes that are responsible for much of the problems for the Sunni in Iraq today, not "foreign troops".

This pattern in the region has a long history. The religious officials decide that they should reject something and then, later on, they want 'concession' because they are 'tired'.

Seriously, their rejectionist attitudes have greatly scuttled the opportunity that they might have had to live in peace with their families for a long time to come.
I agree. But also would point out Mr. Hashemi is a very brave man to be advocating Iraqi national democracy among the Sunnis today. He is much less invested in national chaos following a U.S. withdrawal than are the Democrats in Congress. If there is one class which cannot stand a U.S. victory of any kind it is our Democrats.
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