Failures on the battlefield and in the recent American elections are propelling the Bush Administration to consider significant changes in Iraq policy. Having placed the Shiite majority in power, the Administration now wonders if the country is being delivered to Iran. Having fought the Sunni-led insurgency for three years, the Administration wonders if negotiations are the only way to reduce American casualties. It is not for holiday purposes that George Bush and Condoleeza Rice are meeting next week with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman while Dick Cheney rushes to Saudi Arabia. The only question being kept from the American people is what the high-level talks are about.
On November 21 on the Huffington Post, I revealed that American officials have contacted Sunni nationalist insurgents to explore a cease-fire and even the possible replacement of the al-Maliki government with an interim one. This plan would reduce US casualties against the Sunni-led insurgency [recently one hundred deaths per month], while consistent with the Pentagon desire to focus firepower on the Shiite Mahdi Army, led by "radical cleric" Moktada al-Sadr, the most prominent Shiite leader calling for an American withdrawal from Iraq. The current obstacle to an all-out American offensive against al-Sadr's stronghold in Sadr City happens to be Prime Minister al-Maliki, whose governing coalition includes al-Sadr.
Today's car bomb explosions in Sadr City and the violent attacks against Baghdad's health ministry are aimed at two main al-Sadr power bases [his representatives run the health ministry].
Sensing that al-Maliki will agree to anything Bush demands, al-Sadr now is demanding that al-Maliki call off his meeting with the President.
Questions have arisen in the media concerning the evidence of my November 22 report that Americans have been involved in direct contacts with the Sunni armed resistance. The evidence is confirmed by a recent impromptu meeting in Amman between a resistance representative and US Congressman Jim McDermott, in the course of two days of discussions facilitated by a former Jordanian diplomat, Munther Haddadin.
More specific are documents dated November 13 and November 16 by an American adviser sketching detailed ongoing discussions with insurgent Sunni leaders aimed at a cease-fire. The plans can only be paraphrased and the adviser's name withheld for reasons of confidentiality. It is not clear that the blueprint awaited an okay at the highest level as of November 16, or whether it was moving forward with plausible deniability. But there is no doubt as to its authenticity.
Here is the plan, paraphrased briefly, as proposed by the source who serves as an authorized back-channel link to the insurgent groups:
Leaders of the organized Sunni resistance groups are seeking immediate meetings with top American generals towards the goal of a cease-fire. Meetings with lower-level US officials already have occurred.
The resistance groups reject the ability of the al-Maliki government to unify its government, and therefore wants an interim government imposed before new elections can be held.
The former Baathist-dominated national army, intelligence services and police, whose leaders currently are heading the underground resistance, would be rehired, restored and re-integrated into national structures under this plan.
Multinational Force [MNF-I] activities aimed at controlling militias to be expanded.
The US-controlled Multi-National Force [MNF-I] would be redeployed to control the eastern border with Iran.
A Status of Forces agreement would be negotiated immediately permitting the presence of American troops in Iraq for as long as ten years. Troop reductions and redeployments would be permitted over time.
Amnesty and prisoner releases would be negotiated between the parties, with the Americans guaranteeing the end of torture of those held in the detention centers and prisons of the current, Shiite-controlled Iraqi state.
De-Baathification edicts issued by Paul Bremer would be rescinded, allowing tens of thousands of former Baathists to resume military and professional service.
An American commitment to financing reconstruction would be continued, and the new Iraqi regime would guarantee incentives for private American companies to participate in the rebuilding effort.
War-debt relief for Kuwait and other countries.
These are essentially similar proposals to those offered by Sunni nationalists and armed resistance groups since 2005. Low-level contacts have been reported before. What is new, apparently, is the November American election result showing a public demand to disengage and sharply reduce American casualty levels. The American neo-conservatives have been discredited and, in their place, a faction of bipartisan "realists" has emerged in the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker. Condoleeza Rice is thought to have aligned herself with these realists. In an October speech, she urged America's Gulf allies to serve as intermediaries to the resistance, according to an Arab diplomat who was present.
Neither the Pentagon nor the realists are committed to bringing American troops home in the near future. Instead, they seek to reduce American casualties, check the influence of Iran, and redeploy US troops to permanent bases. The draft plan for a Status of Forces Agreement is based on the models of Germany and Japan.
An even more realistic position, though not yet an acceptable one, is that of former CIA director John Deutch, calling for an American troop withdrawal combined with a diplomatic initiative to Iran, seeking non-intervention by Teheran in exchange for the US leaving.
Secretive wars include secretive diplomacy. The American people will be the last to find out what future is being prepared in the flurry of events beginning now. But these documents offer clues. #
TOM HAYDEN is teaching a course on Iraq at Pitzer College. A former anti-Vietnam war leader and state senator, he has interviewed Iraqis from all major parties and associations during two visits to Amman, Jordan, during the past year. For more information go to www.tomhayden.com