Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Scandal: Khalilzad Negotiating With Killers

The Sunday Times’ Hala Jaber is out with a red-hot story tomorrow that says the following:

-US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad held secret meetings in the Jordanian capital Amman with insurgent leaders over a two month period earlier this year (January-March 2006)

-The insurgents represented, among others, the Ansar al-Sunna (a group allegedly affiliated with Al-Qaeda), the 1920 Revolt Brigades, and the Ba’ath Party wing under Saddam’s deputy, Izzet al-Douri.

-The meetings were solicited by the Americans and were organized by ex-PM Ayad Allawi, and were held at his villa in Amman.

-The insurgents demanded a US withdrawal, the rollback of de-Ba’athification, re-instating the ex-regime’s leadership, and handing the security portfolio back to them. In addition, democracy would have been suspended and a ‘Unity Government’ under Allawi declared.

-The talks broke down after the insurgents failed to deliver on a cease-fire, and the Maliki cabinet was formed.

Here’s my take:

-Were the Americans absolutely sure that these ‘leaders’ were indeed speaking on behalf of those they were claiming to represent, or did they only have Allawi’s word and Jordanian intelligence vouching for their credentials? [Hint: I think the ‘insurgent leaders’ oversold their clout.]

-The insurgents were essentially demanding America’s surrender; what took Khalilzad so long to realize that there wasn’t much common ground to agree on? The insurgents must have concluded that the Americans felt ‘defeated’ by the fact that they asked for the meetings to be held.

-The story was ‘leaked’ at this time to suggest that all that the insurgents ever wanted was to keep Iran and the Shi'as in check, and that this latest talk coming from Washington over siding with the Shi'as would only further inflame the insurgency.

-I wonder how the Iraqi political class will take this news about Allawi's role in facilitating these meetings. Many have had loved ones and colleagues killed by these groups. Allawi is cooked, in my opinion.

-Why are some Americans negotiating with those who have American blood on their hands? How will the families of US soldiers take this news? How will they respond to any prospects for a career promotion extended to Khalilzad? Is negotiating with Al-Qaeda affiliates a new trend in America's foreign policy? What's next, talks with a 'resurgent' Taliban? Why stop there? Why not amnesty for OBL?

Disgusting. Khalilzad and whoever else is responsible for this policy decision are the real 'defeatists.'

Hala Jaber has done some shoddy reporting in the past (…the Atwar Bahjet story, for example) but I think the basics of this story are valid. Around that time, a source told me that Khalilzad had met Harith al-Dhari in Amman. I did not believe my source back then—sorry.

[Full text of the Sunday Times (UK) story is posted in the comments section.]


Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

The Sunday Times

December 10, 2006

Secret American talks with insurgents break down

Hala Jaber, Amman

SECRET talks in which senior American officials came face-to-face with some of their most bitter enemies in the Iraqi insurgency broke down after two months of meetings, rebel commanders have disclosed.

The meetings, hosted by Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s former prime minister, brought insurgent commanders and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, together for the first time.

After months of delicate negotiations Allawi, a former Ba’athist and a secular Shi’ite, persuaded three rebel leaders to travel to his villa in Amman, the Jordanian capital, to see Khalilzad in January.

“The meetings came about after persistent requests from the Americans. It wasn’t because they loved us but because they didn’t have a choice,” said a rebel leader who took part.

Last week the long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, a former congressman, called for America to seek to engage with all parties in Iraq, with the exception of Al-Qaeda.

However, the insurgents’ account of the hushed-up meetings reveals that concerted attempts to engage them in negotiations had already failed earlier this year.

Hopes were high when the insurgent leaders greeted Khalilzad in Amman. The Iraqis had just held their first democratic elections for a permanent government and the US ambassador hoped to broker an enduring political settlement.

Feelers had been put out to Iraqi insurgents before but not at such a high level. “The Americans had been flirting with such meetings for a while, but they needed to sit down with people who carried more weight in the insurgency,” said one leader of the National Islamic Resistance, an umbrella organisation representing some of the main insurgent groups.

The trio of Iraqi negotiators claimed to represent three-quarters of the “resistance”. It included Ansar al- Sunnah, the group responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 22 in a

US army canteen in Mosul in December 2004, and also the 1920 Revolution Brigade, which has carried out many kidnappings and claimed to have shot down a British Hercules aircraft near Tikrit in January 2005, in which 10 people died.

At the first meeting with Khalilzad on January 17, the insurgents expressed concern about the emergence of Iran as a new regional power. With America equally worried about Iranian interference, the two sides appeared to have found some common ground. The talks continued in Baghdad for about eight weeks, sometimes on consecutive days at Allawi’s home.

At one point the insurgents offered Khalilzad a 10-day “period of grace” in which attacks on coalition forces would be suspended in return for a cessation of US military operations.

They called for a “timetable for withdrawal”, saying that it should be announced immediately although in practice it would be “linked to the timescale necessary to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces and security services”, according to one commander.

Other demands said to have been received sympathetically by Khalilzad, such as an amnesty for insurgents and a reversal of the “de-Ba’athification” process that stripped so many Sunnis of their jobs, have now been urged by the Iraq Study Group.

There was more. Brushing aside the results of Iraq’s democratic elections, the insurgents proposed that an emergency government be formed under Allawi’s leadership. Non-sectarian politicians should be appointed to the crucial ministries of defence and the interior, they urged, because they would be responsible for rebuilding a strong national army and security service. Under this proposal, the newly elected Iraqi government would, in effect, have been sidelined.

“I told Khalilzad that we had the know-how and the manpower to regain control of Baghdad and rid it of the pro-Iranian militias,” one of the insurgent commanders added.

“If he would just provide us with the weapons, we would clean up the city and regain control of Baghdad in 30 days.”

The atmosphere eventually soured at a meeting said to have been attended by Khalilzad and six US generals as well as tribal leaders from Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and other hotspots. Each side apparently accused the other of stepping up attacks during the supposed period of grace and the insurgents refused to have lunch with the generals on the grounds that they were military occupiers.

The talks were further complicated by the different demands of warring Sunni rebel groups. A close associate of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s former vice-president and the king of clubs in the US “most wanted” deck of playing cards, said that many of the insurgent groups were still being directed by Saddam’s former party and military leadership.

According to a senior Ba’athist representative, insurgent groups linked to al-Douri would not sit down with the Americans unless they first agreed to a series of other conditions ranging from compensation for Iraq’s losses during the war to the reinstatement of Saddam’s military.

The final blow to the negotiations came in mid-March when Khalilzad said that he would be willing to talk to Iran about resolving the conflict in Iraq. The news came as a bombshell to the Sunni insurgents, who complained to the ambassador at their final meeting.

Shortly afterwards the government of Nouri al-Maliki was formed with the support of pro-Iranian elements. The Sunni insurgents responded by sending a memo to Khalilzad — now tipped to become US ambassador to the United Nations — suspending all meetings and accusing the Americans of “dishonesty”.

According to one commander, the insurgent groups were told: “Place your faith in Allah, the gloves are off. Carry on with your resistance.”

A US embassy spokesman in Baghdad yesterday declined to comment on the talks but said America remained committed to the current government and to “an inclusive Iraqi political process, with representatives from all Iraq’s communities”.

7:55 PM, December 09, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note to the Muslims, Christians and Jews: Enough. Flush your holy books down the toilet, sit down in a quiet place, settle the mind, grab hold of the faculty of attention and direct it to the point from which attention arises and behold the Heart.

The holy one is not identified with any historical figure, rather, the holy one is none other than the unqualified, unconditioned touch of beingness.

As for Iraq, It will become all one thing or all the other.

As shall we all, each unto his or her own.

3:58 AM, December 10, 2006

Anonymous ahmed said...

So Zalmay is hankering back to his old 80s pro Jihadi days? If he could see them as part of the solution once - why not again?

11:22 AM, December 10, 2006

Anonymous lester said...

god forbid he talk to the people who actually live in the country rather than some pampered monarchist "exiles". and are you really one to talk about having americans blood on one's hands?

so the meeting didn't come off. it was worth a shot

2:52 PM, December 10, 2006

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Hi Ahmed,

Well said. What's worse, Iraq is likely to get Ryan Crocker to replace Khalilzad. Nevermind that Crocker was one of Bremer's top deputies who bears, at least, some responsibility in totally mismanaging the CPA (...including the billions of dollars that went missing and that no one is talking about anymore). And the fact that Crocker, as current ambassador to Pakistan, had utterly failed in pressing Gen. Pervez Musharref to halt the aid given by Pakistan's security services to the neo-Taliban in Afghanistan, should not be at all worrisome to anti-insurgency Iraqis.

Crocker also served at the US embassy in Baghdad during Saddam's era, which is where he met his wife. He may inadvertently suffer from romanticising the Ba'athist past.

Crocker is the variety of State Department official that can be said to be worse than an 'Arabist'; he's a feckless 'careerist.' What Iraq needs is a deal-maker acting as US ambassador. Why not Jim Baker?



4:25 PM, December 10, 2006

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