Iran Rejects Rice Overture Arab League

Iran Rejects Rice Overture
Arab League Mission in Iraq

How mean do you have to be to fire mortar shells at a school and kill a child? A car bombing killed four Iraqis and wounded 14; there may have been American casualties. A lawyer defending a relative of Saddam was kidnapped. This is further evidence that it is impossible to hold a proper trial of Saddam in Iraq in present circumstances.

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League is on a mission to Iraq to explore ways of negotiating an end to the violence. The Arab League has a chance of reaching out to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, since most of its member states are Sunni Arab and the ideology of the organization tracks with the kind of Arab nationalism common among them. The Arab League has had difficult relations with Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. On his arrival, his organization was criticized by Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for not clearly having condemned terrorism in Iraq. (Shiites suspect that the League has a soft spot for the guerrilla movement).

Secretary of State Condi Rice suggested Thursday that the United States talk directly to Iran about Iraq. I know about partisan politics and all, but Rice should really be congratulated and praised for daring to say this, and to buck the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on the issue. Alas, the Iranian response was not forthcoming. I have a suggestion for Rice: you can’t start at this high level. Start with a track two meeting in a neutral country, among academics from both countries who are well connected politically. Things might develop from there.

Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who spent two months in Baghdad this past summer, paints a bleak picture of the situation there. This information caught my eye:

‘ Galbraith warned about placing too much faith in the Iraqi army. He said of the 115 battalions that exist, nine are Kurdish, 60 are Shiite and the remaining ones are Shiite and none have any loyalty to anyone but their own religious ethnic groups. On top of that, he said at least 40,000 of the stated 80,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army do not exist except as names on a payroll sheet. “You can’t build a national army when there’s no loyalty to the nation,” he said. ‘

There appears to be an error in the transcription, since “60 are Shiite and the remaining ones are Shiite” makes no sense. Did he say that the “remaining ones are Sunni?” Or did he make a distinction between Badr Corps Shiites and other, unaffiliated Shiites? I’ll try to find out. [Up date: It should have been, “and the rest are Sunni Arab units.” Galbraith says there is only one mixed battalion!]

Galbraith wants to break up Iraq, which I think is a very bad idea. There would just be endless wars among the resulting small, weak states. The Sunni Arabs wouldn’t get any petroleum, and they would not accept that situation. As for Yugoslavia, it should be remembered that its partition involved the killing of 200,000 persons and lots of mass graves and displaced persons. The three main provinces involved in the fighting there had a population of perhaps 16 million at that time, so an equivalent struggle in Iraq might produce closer to half a million dead and literally millions wounded or left homeless. Moreover, there are still foreign troops there. And, it should be remembered that despite the partitioning of India and Pakistan, they have fought 3 major wars, a long-term guerrilla war in Kashmir, and came close to a nuclear exchange in 2002 that could have killed 10 million persons. Partition as a problem-solving strategy doesn’t always produce less trouble rather than more.

Rory Carroll, Baghdad correspondent of The Guardian, has been released unharmed. Yaaay! One thing this episode demonstrates is that even hard line Iraqi factions can sometimes be negotiated with, which is at least a somewhat hopeful sign.

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