US Turns to Negotiations with Insurgents
As Riccardi points out, the Bush Administration has abruptly ceased its cowboy rhetoric and says it is willing to consider negotiated settlements to its problems in Sunni Arab Fallujah and in the Shiite south with the militia of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. This approach has surely been forced on the yahoos in the Department of Defense by political considerations. Perhaps it has penetrated to even Karl Rove (Bush’s campaign manager) and the National (“Nobody told me what to do”) Security Council that the punitive assault on Fallujah, in which there were significant civilian deaths, was making the Marines look like fascists and that the talk about “destroying” the Sadrist movement seemed rather grandiose for an administration that hadn’t even been able to deal with tiny Sunni Arab groups that continue to harass it.
Hamza Hendawi of AP points out that the US offensives in Fallujah and the Shiite south have been extremely costly politically. Interim Governing Council members grew openly critical, and one suspended his membership on the council. The minister of human rights resigned in protest. The appointment of a minister of human rights in Iraq was treated as a great propaganda victory by the Bush administration when it happened. But there has been virtually no reporting about the resignation, which is a dramatic critique of US policy. Hendawi quotes me, ‘ “No Iraqi likes to see an imperial power like the United States beating up on people who are essentially their cousins,” said Juan R. Cole, a University of Michigan lecturer and a prominent expert on Iraqi affairs. “There is a danger that the vindictive attitude of the Americans … will push the whole country to hate them. A hated occupier is powerless even with all the firepower in the world,” he said. ‘
What is going on now in Fallujah and Najaf is called in Arabic wasta or mediation. With a painless registration, readers who are interested can consult the valuable paper by George E. Irani entitled “Islamic Mediation Techniques for Middle East Conflicts”. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni fundamentalist organization cooperating with the US, appears to have taken the lead in negotiating with the resistance in Fallujah. A number of Interim Governing Council members are trying to talk Muqtada back from the brink, though he certainly is not going to allow himself peacefully to be arrested. In wasta procedures, it is important that a) both sides are seeking a way to save face and do want to back off from a confrontation and b) that the persons doing the mediating have the necessary social standing with both parties to be credible. That is, only if the US administrators give sufficient respect to their Iraqi colleagues is it likely that the mediation will be successful. Likewise, Arab conceptions of mediation require that all outstanding issues be resolved at once, since the party that feels victimized will be very suspicious if victimization is continuing in one sector even as it ceases in another.
Irani notes, summarizing the conclusions of a conference on the subject:
‘ Religious beliefs and traditions are also relevant to conflict control and reduction, including the relevant resources in Islamic law and tradition? Different causes and types of conflicts (family, community, and state conflicts) need to be considered, as do indigenous techniques and procedures, such as wasta (patronage-mediation) and tahkeem (arbitration). The rituals of sulh (settlement) and musalaha (reconciliation) are examples of Arab-Islamic culture and values and should be looked at for insight into how to approach conflict resolution in the Middle East . . . Conference participants were initially uncomfortable with and suspicious of the theory and techniques of Western conflict resolution. Mixed feelings were expressed about the applicability of conflict resolution in the Lebanese social context. A Christian banker who was educated in the United States noted that conflict resolution theory was initially forged in labor management relations in the United States and that later it was applied to business and then to community relations and academia. He raised an important methodological question: “How can a theory which is supposed to be dealing with definite, programmed, institutionalized relationships deal with the unprogrammed, informal, and random relationships characteristic of social and political contexts in a totally different society?” A Muslim academic and social activist declared that a better concept would be “conflict management”, because “it is impossible completely to solve conflicts; the existence of conflicts goes together with human existence.” He raised the related point that conflicts were interrelated, the resolution of one conflict was contingent upon the resolution of other conflicts. “The crisis of Lebanon and the Middle East are the best proof of what I am saying,” he concluded. ‘
The rumors going around Washington that Bush is going to meet Sharon and give away everything to him, allow him to annex 45% of the West Bank, build the wall, and put Palestinians in small Bantustans (all this negotiated by the criminal Likudnik Elliot Abrams, whom the Neocons got appointed to the National Security Council to deal with Israel-Palestine issues), bode ill for the future of the American occupation of Iraq. The two occupations are profoundly intertwined in the eyes of Iraqis, and the recent fighting in Iraq was in part sparked by the Israeli murder of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas cleric. Bush will never have credibility in Iraq if he rips up the road map and gives away the West Bank to Sharon. Sharon’s iron fist in the Occupied Territories is likely to ignite new anti-American violence in Iraq in the coming year if Bush goes supine this way.