Posted by Joshua on Friday, December 1st, 2006
The White House and the State Department are still wedded to the isolation of Iran and Syria, despite the growing momentum behind the idea of regional outreach, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Her article: "U.S. Considers Ending Outreach to Insurgents," chronicals the terrible divisions in the Bush administration over how to move forward in Iraq. Whereas present US policy led by Ambassador Khalilzade in Baghdad is to bolster the Sunnis, some in the State Department have been proposing backing the Shiites and Kurds and jettisoning attempts to bring the recalcitrant Sunnis into a deal.
This is called the "80% Solution," and was proposed by the State Department's counselor Philip D. Zelikow, who resigned two days ago [See our own Charles Coutinho on this at his new blog "Diplomat of the Furture". Nevertheless, Zelikow's ideas have many backers, according to Wright. He proposes the US should abandon efforts to win over Iraq's Sunni population and settle for good ties to Kurds and Shiites.
"State Department officials argued that intervening in Iraqi politics is increasingly counterproductive, particularly after elections for a permanent government last December. Reconciliation, they also argued, is now exceptionally unlikely and could actually jeopardize U.S. relations with Iraq's Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population, according to sources familiar with the debate."
Sunni Arab states are outraged by this line of thinking, which they claim will only cede Iraq to Iran.
Roula Khalaf, writing in the Finacial Times, [Nov 29, 2006] explains
"According to Jordanian officials, the message likely to have been delivered to Mr Bush on Wednesday by King Abdullah was that containing the civil war in Iraq was "not a matter of engaging with Iran and Syria", but rather involved more empowerment of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority that dominates the insurgency.
From the Sunni Arab regimes' perspective, the US invasion of Iraq handed the country to Shia parties allied to Iran, dangerously upsetting the balance of power in the region. Some Arab states – Saudi Arabia in particular – have launched their own dialogue with Tehran. "Saudi Arabia doesn't want to enter into a confrontation with Iran. But the Saudis have made clear that they will not accept that Iraq falls into the hands of the Iranians," says one person close to the Saudi government.
Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi security analyst and government adviser, wrote in the Washington Post on Wednesday that if the US left Iraq "one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shia militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis".
Nor are the pro-western Arab states clamouring to rehabilitate Syria. Indeed Saudi Arabia has virtually frozen ties after an August speech by Syria's President Bashar al-Assad ridiculed Arab leaders as "half-men".
Syria's role in Lebanon is the most immediate concern: Riyadh, Cairo and Amman want to shore up the pro-western Siniora government and derail Syrian-backed efforts by Hizbollah to bring the government down.
Here is an extract from Saudi advisor Nawaf Obaid's article:"Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves," November 29, 2006; Wash Post, A23
Just a few months ago it was unthinkable that President Bush would prematurely withdraw a significant number of American troops from Iraq. But it seems possible today, and therefore the Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance — funding, arms and logistical support — that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years.
Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias. Finally, Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today's high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran's ability to continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias in Iraq and elsewhere.
Both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite death squads are to blame for the current bloodshed in Iraq. But while both sides share responsibility, Iraqi Shiites don't run the risk of being exterminated in a civil war, which the Sunnis clearly do. Since approximately 65 percent of Iraq's population is Shiite, the Sunni Arabs, who make up a mere 15 to 20 percent, would have a hard time surviving any full-blown ethnic cleansing campaign.
The Saudis are letting it be known that they will not accept the 80% solution. Neither do they back the Baker-Hamilton plan which recommends pulling American troops back to bases.
Lebanon may look like a side-show to the Iraq dilemma, but it is integral. Riyadh, Cairo and Amman want to shore up the pro-western Siniora government and derail Syrian-backed efforts by Hizbollah to bring the government down. Lahoud, Aoun and Nasrallah are determined to being it down for this reason. Lahoud said yesterday: the government led by Fouad Siniora is a puppet administration controlled by the United States and France. "This government is no longer legal because it is not representative of all the country's religions," Mr Lahoud told The Daily Telegraph. "It must be replaced, but what is holding it together is pressure from the United States and France.
Megan Stack writes in the Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2006, Lebanon builds up security forces, in order to take on Hizbullah. "The move is seen as a bid to counter Iran and ally Hezbollah. Some fear it may lead to a militia — and civil war."
The Lebanese government has nearly doubled the size of its security forces in recent months by adding about 11,000 mostly Sunni Muslim and Christian troops, and has armed them with weapons and vehicles donated by the United Arab Emirates, a Sunni state.
The dramatic increase in Interior Ministry troops, including the creation of a controversial intelligence unit and the expansion of a commando force, is meant to counter the growing influence of Iran and Hezbollah, its Shiite ally in Lebanon, Cabinet minister Ahmed Fatfat said in an interview this week.
The quiet, speedy buildup indicates that Lebanon's anti-Syria ruling majority, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, has been bracing for armed sectarian conflict since the withdrawal of Syrian forces in the spring of 2005. It also reflects growing tensions across the region between U.S.-allied Sunni Muslims who hold power in most Arab nations and the increasingly influential Shiite-ruled Iran and Hezbollah.
Other than the Lebanese military, there seems to be a general proliferation of militant groups in Lebanon, reading themselves for combat. The main Christian militia of the Civil War, the Lebanese Forces was discovered to be rearming and training over the last week. Several militant Palestinian groups have been in the news recently because of their efforts at strengthening themselves with arms and men. It has been suggested that Syria is aiding this effort. Radical Sunni Lebanese groups have also been arming. (see the comment section two posts ago for coverage of these groups by T_desco and others) With the absence of central state authority, the paralysis of parliament, and the tug of war over the future of Lebanon spilling out onto the streets, Lebanese of every confession are preparing themselves for struggle of a more violent nature.
The US and Saudi Arabia are working together closely to support the Siniora government in Lebanon, which hangs on Sunni Lebanese support. The US has become increasingly dependent on Saudi support over the last several years, which will make it very hard for the US to pursue Zelikow's 80% solution in Iraq or the Baker-Hamilton Plan, even if many want to. There will be great pressure on Washington to fight the Shiite militias in Iraq, which will undermine Maliki's government further and exacerbate the civil war in Iraq.
Today the opposition demonstrations against the Siniora government began without violence.