Brussels Conference Inconclusive 32

Brussels Conference Inconclusive
32 Dead in Guerrilla Violence

The Brussels conference of foreign ministers on Iraq seems to me to have yielded little practical result. The real action will come at the donors’ conference in Amman, Jordan, next month. The world community has pledged billions to Iraq, but has only delivered about $2 billion, in large part because the security situation makes it impossible to send teams out to evaluate projects or to actually disburse the funding in a practical way.

The Iraqis say that they are $125 billion in debt (the US government estimates it at $110 billion), and want massive debt relief. Without it, it is difficult to see how the country can get back on its feet. The Europeans will forgive them $40 billion. But a lot of the debt is owed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who are less willing to give up their claims. In fact, neither had up to this point even sent an ambassador to Baghdad. The Kuwaitis suffered enormous damage at the hands of the Iraqi army to their petroleum fields at the end of a brutal Iraqi occupation in 1990-91, and are in no mood to forgive Iraq’s debts or forego reparations.

Some observers suspect that the Saudis are nervous about doing anything that would build back up Iraq too quickly with too much strength until they are assured that the victory of the Shiites in the Jan. 30 elections will not translate into a Baghdad-Tehran axis hostile to Saudi interests. But the Saudis did pledge $1 bn. in reconstruction aid at Brussels, and have promised to send an ambassador. Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait also said they would establish diplomatic missions in Iraq, and Egypt has already done so.

The rest of the world put pressure on the Jaafari government to be more inclusive of the Sunni Arabs. Jaafari is committed to deep debaathification, which punishes Sunni Arabs for simply having been a Baath Party member, regardless of whether he or she had done anything wrong. The guerrilla war, however, is being fueled in part by fears among Sunni Arabs that such attitudes will harm them for the long term. Back in Baghdad, al-Zaman reports that Vice-Premier Ahmad Chalabi visited Shaikh Hareth al-Dhari, leader of the hard line Sunni Association for Muslim Scholars. Chalabi later expressed shock at what he heard from al-Dhari about the excesses committed by Iraqi troops against ordinary Sunnis during the recent Operation Lightning. He promised to convey al-Dhari’s concerns to the cabinet.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi attended, and expressed confidence in the future of Iraq. The Tehran Times reports:

‘ Turning to economic cooperation with Iraq, Kharrazi said Iran’s project for promotion of tourism and visits to holy shrines for about 100,000 visitors a month to Iraq will generate $500 million annually. Plans are also being worked out for a swap operation of Iraqi oil up to 400,000 barrels per day. Credit facilities up to $1 billion have been allocated by Iran’s credit banks for exports of goods and investments. Iran is preparing to participate in oil and gas projects in Iraq and to invest in the banking and financial sector either bilaterally or through other countries. ‘

It is obvious that Iranian relations with Iraq are going to be central to the country’s economic development. This reality puts the Bush administration in a bind. They hate the regime in Iran and would dearly love to do something to it. But they need Iranian support for their Iraq venture. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is therefore constrained to say she wants good relations between Iraq and Iran. The Bushies have such a contradictory set of policies in the Middle East that everyone is confused about what they want, exactly.

That Iraq has been captured by leaders of Shiite religious parties was underlined dramatically when Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari declined to shake hands with women at the conference. He is a physician, not a cleric, but as a devoted leader of the Shiite al-Dawa Party, he respects the norms of gender segregation.

As if to remind the world of the real Iraq, guerrillas initiated a bombing wave in the capital. On Thursday morning they detonated three bombs, killing at least three policemen and wounding 15 others. On Wednesday eveing, guerrillas detonated four big bombs in the capital, killing 23 and wounding around 50. Three of the bombs, two at restaurants and one at a bus station in the Shiite Shu’la district, were coordinated and virtually simultaneous. A fourth hit an Iraqi army convoy in a Baghdad suburb. Veteran AP reporter Hamza Hendawi quotes an eyewitness to the restaurant bombings, ‘ “The body parts of the dead were scattered everywhere, along with fragments of broken glass from nearby shops and the meat from the meals,” said police Maj. Musa Abdul Karim, who was at the scene. “Blood was everywhere.” ‘

Perhaps even more significant were the assassinations of Jassim al-Issawi, a law professor and former judge who was a candidate for the committee to draw up a permanent Iraqi constitution. His son, a newspaper editor, was also shot down. The attack appears to have been part of a brutal campaign of intimidation aimed at discouraging Sunni Arabs from cooperating with the new order in Iraq.

Although Sunnis may have been successful in filling out the 25 slots alloted them on the constitution drafting committee, the committee’s work has been postponed for a week. Sabotage has left several Baghdad neighborhoods without water or electricity, and the parliament building is in an affected area, prompting the postponement.

(I have to say that when prospective members of the drafting committee are being shot down, bombs are going off all over the capital, and the parliament can’t meet because basic services have been sabotaged, the constitution drafting process seems a bit surreal and highly unlikely to amount to anything without an end to the guerrilla war.)

In Kirkuk, a major Turkmen leader narrowly escaped assassination. Four of his body guards were wounded.

The day before, 3 US Marines had been killed by guerrillas near Ramadi.

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