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IRAQ : daily stuff here please

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« Reply #40 on: August 23, 2010, 07:35:45 am »

Middle East
Aug 24, 2010 
A Syrian Taif for Iraq

By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Arab media are reporting talk of an upcoming conference for all political parties in Iraq, aimed at solving the haunting political gridlock that has gripped Iraqis since parliamentary elections last March.

Sources are referring to the conference as another Taif - similar to the 1989 meeting in Saudi Arabia that put an end to the bloody Lebanese civil war. If a "Syrian Taif" does materialize, reportedly in September, this would cement Syria's role as an ultimate broker in Iraqi affairs - the only regional heavyweight with both a will and a way to bring normalcy back to its strife-stricken neighbor.

Such a pivotal role is much needed, as US troops come down to 50,000 by the end of August, ahead of their complete withdrawal by 2011. A political vacuum already exists and is likely to intensify in the weeks to come unless solutions are devised immediately.

Reportedly, the "Syrian Taif" is backed by strong players in the neighborhood, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and stands unopposed by the Barack Obama administration, which is very worried over the political vacuum in Baghdad.

To date, nothing official has been released regarding a Syrian Taif, but such a conference seems all the more logical as scores of Iraqi politicians, from every end of the political spectrum, have been visiting Damascus in recent months for talks with top Syrian officials.

To date, ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi, who controls 91 seats in the newly elected parliament, has paid two visits to Damascus, and so has Ammar Hakim of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), whose bloc has a total of 70 seats, and Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who commands 40 of the 70 seats held by the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA).

Their visits remind the world of the endless trips made on a daily basis by scores of Lebanese figures to the Syrian capital in the late 1980s and early 1990s - notably among them being former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, parliament speaker Nabih Berri, then-president Elias Hrawi and current member of parliament Walid Jumblatt.

The only Iraqi heavyweight still expected to make the Damascus visit is incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who controls 89 seats in parliament, and whose relations with Syria were strained in the summer of 2009.

None of the Iraqis groups commands the 163-majority needed to form a cabinet, making a parliamentary alliance absolutely necessary to produce a new government. Given the tremendous amount of political bickering among various players, it seems only logical for them to rely on a regional heavyweight to help them sort out their differences.

Saudi Arabia, for ideological reasons, would find it difficult to accept for many Shi'ite heavyweights, while Iran is offlimits to Sunni hardliners. Egypt is too distant from Iraqi affairs to host such a conference and so are Lebanon and Jordan, making Syria the best - in fact only - option for such a reconciliation conference.
If we were to revisit the shuttle diplomacy that preceded the Taif Accords, we can find that the only prerequisite for attendance was acceptance of Saudi Arabia's impartial role in the Lebanese conflict, and a pledge to go to Taif with an open mind, and firm objection to reach creative solutions, at any cost.

That also would have to be a must should a Syrian Taif materialize and this rests on the wisdom of various Iraqi players. The Taif agreement was negotiated by surviving members of Lebanon's 1972 parliament and pledged to restructure the National Pact of 1943; a gentleman's agreement reached between the country's Maronite president and Sunni prime minister, over the division of power in Lebanon.

According to the 1989 agreement, certain powers long held by the Maronite community would be reduced, like the president's right to name his Sunni prime minister. After Taif, the prime minister became responsible to parliament and was to be named by a parliamentary majority.

The agreement also provided for disarmament of all militias, and increased parliamentary seats to 128, divided equally between Christians and Muslims. As a result, Lebanese lawmakers successfully elected then-president Rene Mouawad to power; 409 days after the post had been left vacant by ex-president Amin Gemayel.

The Iraqi premiership vacuum, only 165 days since March, seems suddenly bearable when compared to what the Lebanese went through back then.

Much of that can be revisited and implemented today in Iraq. Revisiting the distribution of power, in place since downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, needs to be done. According to the new Iraqi system, the president is a Kurd, the prime minister is a Shi'ite, and the speaker of parliament is a Sunni. Iraqi Sunnis, who have controlled Iraqi politics since the 1920s, are clearly unhappy with the new system, which gives Shi'ites the upper hand, often at their expense.

For seven years they have been demanding a restructuring of the political system, asking for greater representation in government, along with a general amnesty to set Iraqi Sunnis free, thousands of whom were arrested with no warrants, on the sole charge of having been members in the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.

They have been calling for disarmament of all militias, be they Sunni or Shi'ite, and for preserving the unity of Iraqi territory and Arabism of the Iraqi Republic. All suggestions of granting greater autonomy to the Kurds, or similar status to the Shi'ites, are curtly refused by Iraqi Sunnis. Such autonomy, they argue, would give the Kurds control of oil in the north, and Shi'ites of oil reserves in the south, leaving the Sunnis in central Iraq, where there is no oil. Legislators bracing themselves for a reconciliation conference - be it in Syria or elsewhere - have to take these demands very seriously.

A Syrian Taif would have to produce an absolute mandate for the Iraqi government to give more power to the Sunnis, revisit the balance of power in Baghdad, disarm militias from all communities, pledge to refrain from any further carving of Iraqi territory - and to find a replacement to Maliki.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

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