1. Allawi Applies for Outside Arab Help
Iraq’s first experiment in democracy looked like being a shambles, or at best, the same sort of perfunctory affair as the ceremony at which outgoing US administrator Paul Bremer transferred the instruments of sovereignty to Iraqi president Ghazi al-Yawar a month ago. In the event, it was postponed until August 15, very much against the interim Iraqi government’s will and under pressure from the former UN Iraq envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who threatened to withdraw UN endorsement of the event if it was held on time.
The plan was for 1,000 representatives of all walks of Iraq’s religious, ethnic and tribal life to gather in Baghdad Saturday, July 31 and spend two or three days picking a 100-member interim national assembly to oversee government and prepare the first general election in January. The organizing committee headed by Faud Masoun – and made up of Iraqi government, US, British and UN representatives – set up local electoral committees in almost every important town and village in the country to select a representative group of 1,000 delegates.
Tuesday, July 27, the UN representatives asked for a postponement. He explained: “There hadn’t been enough time to address the selection of delegates to the conference and their safety.” Masoun refused, saying: “Any delay will have a negative effect on this committee, and we don’t want to raise problems in this critical period… Whoever attends we welcome them. If they have other ideas, we respect their ideas.”
The main thing, in other words, was to get the assembly started on time, no matter who came.
However in the meantime, Masoun’s selection practices had set up animosities. DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources report that 50 pro-government parties were approved to send delegates, while 85 religious groups and factions were disqualified. The orderly countrywide process for launching Iraq on its first step on the road to a democratic election began crumbling in a welter of arguments. Three days before the scheduled date of July 31, less than half the 18 provinces had chosen delegates.
The first dissenter was the Islamic Party of Kurdistan, which is in opposition to the senior Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani. Ten days ago, the IPK published a letter calling for a boycott of the convention. The call quickly sparked an avalanche of refusals from diverse ethnic, religious and regional groups, some very influential, who decided they had no real interest in sending delegates to the convention or being represented in the national assembly. In fact, they did not see much to gain from a general election. Other district groups could not agree on a slate.
Nevertheless, Allawi in the middle of his first tour of Arab capitals, ordered Masoun to stick to the timetable while he lobbied hard among the Arab rulers, appealing for their strong support behind the democratic process he was attempting to initiate by setting up an interim assembly representative of a crosscut of Iraqi society. He explained that an Arab seal on the venture was crucial for it to be accepted as authentic rather than imported from America.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources, two of his hosts, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan advised him to hold the convention at all costs on time. (This Allawi found to be unfeasible.)
However, the most interesting proposition came from Syria’s Bashar Assad whom the Iraqi prime minister saw on Sunday, July 25.
Assad proposes Syria-Iraq-US deal
Those same sources unveil here for the first time the details of a deal proposed by the Syrian president to the Iraqi prime minister. Two days later, on July 27, he flew to Cairo to lay it before the Egyptian president:
Damascus would develop collaborative ties with the Allawi government that would evolve in stages into relations as close as those that existed between Syria and Iraq during the Saddam regime.
The key to this improvement was to be found not in Baghdad but Washington. Assad suggested that his Iraqi visitor call the Americans and tell them how keen he was on the Syrian proposal, stressing that it would be introduced at the same pace as the Bush administration eased its pressure on Damascus.
Once the dual process gains momentum, Assad pledged to withdraw – also in stages – the foreign and Arab fighters he permitted to cross into Iraq. DEBKA-Net-Weekly notes this was the first time the Syrian ruler ever admitted to sending fighters into Iraq and to being in sufficient control of the traffic to pull them out whenever he so decided. Al Qaeda did not come up in the Assad proposition.
If the Bush administration accepts these terms and Assad sees American doors opening, then he will break away from Tehran’s line of action in Iraq, though not in other spheres of operation. According to our intelligence sources, before Allawi embarked on his Middle East tour, he sat down with President Ghazi al-Awar and defense minister Mahmoud Hazem Shaalan to study incoming secret data which revealed that Iran continues to pump into Iraq thousands of agents with orders to stand by for the signal to embark on a terror offensive against Iraqi and American targets. The three top Iraqi officials agreed that Iran was Iraq’s Number One enemy. The way the Syrian ruler phrased this part of his offer indicated he had seen this intelligence data.
Our sources describe Alawi as answering Assad very carefully. He said he had no authority to reply on the spot and must first consult with his colleagues upon his return to Baghdad. With regard to the suggestion that he call Washington to report on the Syrian president’s terms, the Iraqi prime minister proposed a short cut: US secretary of state Colin Powell was due in Cairo Wednesday, July 27. So why should Assad himself not pop over to the Egyptian capital a day earlier and lay the plan before Mubarak who would then present it to his American visitor?
Our sources add the Syrian president took up the suggestion, throwing in a Lebanese perk for good measure.
Assad appeared to honestly believe he had acquired a tool in Baghdad for breaking through Washington’s deep freeze on relations with his regime.
If the Americans met him halfway, he told Mubarak, Syria would make sure that Emil Lahoud – who is unpopular in the US capital – was not re-elected president of Lebanon. The Egyptian president promised to refer the Syrian message to Powell but warned that the secretary was coming to the end of his term of office and would have to refer any decisions to the White House.
In the event, Mubarek, who still does not look well, miscalculated. The Egyptian president had just begun laying out the Syrian proposal, when the secretary cut him short with brusque advice to stay out of American-Syrian affairs. If the Syrians had anything to say to the United States, let them say it themselves, he said, adding: Damascus keeps an ambassador in Washington called Imad Mustafa and he knows exactly who to address in the Bush administration.
One of Mubarak’s advisers ventured to suggest that Powell might wish to insert a sentence on the Syrian issue in his statement to the media after meeting Mubarak so as to leave a door open to future contacts. Powell brushed this aside and the Egyptian press corps was advised by the president’s aides to refrain from putting Syrian questions to the American visitor.