Looking for an out? Or a way to stay in?

Tom Hayden has published an article on the Huffington Post blog claiming that negotiations are occurring between U.S. officials and the Sunni resistance in Iraq. Hayden writes, “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.” More mysteriously, “It is not for holiday purposes that George Bush and Condoleeza [sic] Rice are meeting next week with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman while Dick Cheney rushes to Saudi Arabia.” The plan would consist of the following points (quoted from Hayden’s article):

  • The resistance groups reject the ability of the al-Maliki government to unify its government, and therefore wants [sic] 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  • De-Baathification edicts issued by Paul Bremer would be rescinded, allowing tens of thousands of former Baathists to resume military and professional service.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.

On Democracy Now!, Hayden explained that “over the past several years, but especially in the past month since the election, there have been contacts at a deniable level.” All this occurs while Iran reportedly offers “to help Washington calm Iraq’s escalating sectarian violence, if the United States drops its ‘bullying’ policy toward Tehran,” “[c]ongressional leaders displayed eroding patience in the Iraqi government on Sunday, adding pressure on President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to find a faster path to peace when they meet this week,” even as “Shiite politicians loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr … have threatened to boycott parliament and the Cabinet if al-Maliki meets with Bush” possibly because, as the London Sunday Telegraph reports, “The goal [of a weeklong, high-stakes diplomatic offensive for control of the Middle East] is to marshal a force of friendly Sunni regimes against the radical leadership of Shi’ite Iran, which Washington thinks is trying to develop a nuclear bomb,” and which is also widely believed to have gained considerable influence within Iraq itself. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, the Iraq Study Group’s “draft report on strategies for Iraq, which will be debated here by a bipartisan commission beginning Monday, urges an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative that includes direct talks with Iran and Syria.”

The upshot of all this is it looks like the Bush administration now seeks to play the Sunnis off against the Shi’ites–importantly including Iran–and seemingly seeks to do it before the Iraq Study Group releases its report. The trouble with this is that the Shi’ites, importantly including Iran, are capable of raising even more havoc than the Sunnis. This really doesn’t look to me like a plan for peace, but a way to provoke the wider war with Syria and Iran that I thought the Bush administration wanted when Hezbollah rebuffed Israel earlier this year.

“Look at all this mess,” said Timur Goksel, a former longtime spokesman for United Nations Forces in Lebanon. “The only one who has overall influence in the region with their military, ideology, money and propensity to cause mischief, are the Iranians.”

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