A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending February 11, 2005:

Allawi Scores Well in First 15% of Tabulated Iraqi Votes


4 February: Although it is early days for extrapolation, debkafile‘s Iraq specialists list interesting preliminary results:

App. 42% = 123 seats was picked up by Ayatollah Ali Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance list and expected to pass the 50% mark for 140 seats.

App. 34% = 85 seats went to the United Kurdish list.

Of the 8 million Iraqis who took part in the voting, 2 million were Kurds who managed to bring 95% of all eligible Kurdish voters (almost double the estimated national average) to the polling stations. Their group enlisted a further 400,000 overseas voters in the United States and Europe. Altogether, about 28% of the ballots were cast by Kurds, far in excess of their community’s 16-18% weight in the general population.

The Kurdish lead is treated as a useful asset in interim prime minister Iyad Allawi’s moves to form a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s chair.

App. 20% is a better-than-predicted gain for the group headed by pro-American Allawi and outgoing president Ghazi Yawar and has raised Allawi’s hopes of staying in office.

This windfall owes much to Allawi’s successful performance as prime minister and his widespread popularity. But he also profited from the support of Ayatollah Hussein Sadr of Baghdad, a moderate who takes issue with the way Sistani leads the Shiite community.

Another surprisingly strong showing was made quietly (in preliminary results) by the almost unknown “Islamic Operation Organization” which quietly stole into third place in all the Shiite districts. Composed of Shiite independents and liberal intellectuals, this list is headed by ayatollah Mohammed Taki Mudrassi, Sistani’s leading rival in the Shiite clergy.

The voters of the largest Iraqi Shiite city, Basra, who oppose the US and British presence, took a stand against Sistani by returning to commanding positions two lists that ran nowhere else, Al Fadillah Ismailiya (Islamic Charity) and the United Democratic Front (an amalgam of communists and non-religious liberals).

The overseas vote was of prime significance for their numerical impact on election results. The Assyrian Christians, for example, would have been denied representation in the national assembly – particularly as a result of Kurdish strong-arm tactics in Kirkuk and Mosul – without a strong turnout of thousands in Australia, Michigan, Detroit and Los Angeles.


Shin Beit Chief Warns Israel‘s Negotiating Posture Is Fraught with Danger


6 February: The Egyptian venue of Sharm el-Sheikh was to have been the stage for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ first real conversation with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon after his election. But debkafile‘s diplomatic sources report the agenda has shrunk: The delegations will arrive at the resort Tuesday at 10.30 a.m. Abbas and Sharon will talk privately before being joined by Mubarak and Abdullah, then lunch and departure at 2.30 p.m.

Part of the problem is the prisoner issue in which the preparations for the summit have bogged down since Israel offered to release 900 jailed Palestinian terrorists. Friday, February 4, Abbas put in a personal request for an additional three veteran convicted murderers to be freed. Then the Hamas handed in their list to Abbas claiming that the 900 were all Fatah members and none of theirs. (Israel refuses to release Hamas prisoners because they are committed to returning to terrorist activity.)

Both the Israeli chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon, and the Shin Beit domestic intelligence director, Avi Dichter, feel strongly on this key issue. After all it was their painstaking efforts over years of fending off terrorist warfare that put the Palestinian terrorists, one by one, behind bars and out of action.

According to debkafile‘s military sources, General Yaalon has been saying in private that Israel need hope for nothing from Abu Mazen. But his successor is bound to be worse. Therefore it is worth keeping him in play, even to meeting his request on prisoner release.

Dichter agrees essentially with the chief of staff that Abu Mazen will never take firm control of the reins of power and will soon be gone. He asserts that the so-called ceasefire is nothing but a pipedream now and in the foreseeable future. Therefore, Israel would be ill-advised to strip itself of security assets and squander its concessions for the sake of a transient leader and an illusory halt in violence. So alarmed is the intelligence director that he demanded an urgent meeting with the prime minister and was granted a hearing the day before the Tuesday summit meeting.

It is Dichter’s intention to go on the record before Sharon and his aides with his professional evaluation of the gravity of the situation. He will voice his conviction that the Sharon government’s negotiating strategy vis-a-vis the Palestinians is leading the country into great danger.


Will US General William Ward Succeed Better than the Coordinators and Mediators Before Him?


7 February: The ringing tones of Condoleezza Rice’s call for a “viable contiguous Palestinian state” had toned down by the time she landed in the Middle East. In the intervening two weeks, she had been briefed on Mahmoud Abbas’s frail hold on Palestinian rule and the diminishing expectations from the Sharm summit. To hedge the bet it has riding on the new Palestinian leader, the Bush administration decided not to send a top official to Sharm.

debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that Lt. Gen William E. (Kip) Ward, the American security coordinator just appointed by Washington is no stranger to international crises and terrorist environments.

In the early 1990s, he served in Somalia as commander of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light) Fort Drum when America sent the Marines in to quell the Somali militias attacking UN peacekeepers. Ward spent time with the US Embassy in Cairo as chief of military cooperation, and in early 2000 he was deployed in Sarajevo as commander of the Stabilisation Force, Operation Joint Forge, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On July 18, 2003, “Kip” told visiting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers that the day to day situation in Bosnia is stable and peaceful. “But that is not irreversible. What we need to continue to do in this country is implement those reforms that will make the country more stable.” The Bosnians need to reform their economic and tax systems, the country needs to implement defense reforms and stress the rule of law for all citizens.

By replacing “Bosnians” with Palestinians, he might as well have been talking about the task ahead in Ramallah. It is also important to note that in all the various trouble spots where Ward served with great distinction, terrorism has remained an abiding fact of life. The situation General will encounter in the Palestinian Authority is just as unstable. New PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas proudly claimed Monday to the US secretary of state that he was declaring a ceasefire on behalf of all the Palestinian organizations, adding euphemistically – “but there is still much to do.”

That was an understatement. The night before the Sharm summit, which was billed as the stage for a mutual ceasefire declaration, not a single Palestinian terrorist group had come out in support of Abbas’ truce initiative – whether the Hamas, the Jihad Islami, the Fatah’s al Aqsa Brigades, or the Palestinian “Fronts.”

An unresolved situation exists today in the Palestinian-Israeli war – tilting in Israel’s disfavor, because the Palestinian terrorist attacks and Qassam missile onslaught in January met no Israeli response. The Palestinian side was thus left with the last word.

The trouble is that these missions plant unrealistically high hopes. Rice left the false impression that the Bush administration was fully re-engaged in the Middle East after a long pause. However, in all her statements and interviews, she stressed that Washington wanted no more than a watching brief for the diplomatic initiative started up by Sharon and Mubarak. The parties must be left to negotiate directly, she insisted. By clearly defining the terms of US engagement, she also cut down the risk of failure.

Even General Ward’s mission is not unconditional. Abu Mazen has been presented with a tough rite of passage: He must display enough credibility and clout to arrest and put on trial the Palestinian bombers who murdered three American security agents escorting a US diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2003.


The Middle East Club of Four Is Founded in Sharm

debkafile Exclusive Analysis


8 February: The most significant feature of the four-way summit that took place on Tuesday, February 8, at the Egyptian Red Sea resort to Sharm el-Sheikh, was that it was the first time an Israeli leader was asked to join three Arab rulers at any forum without outside mediators or an international aegis.

The key to this unique event was embodied in President George W. Bush’s directive Thursday night, February 3, to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, not to show up at the Middle East summit. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the newly-elected Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, Jordan’s King Abdullah and their beaming host, President Hosni Mubarak, were thus thrown together alone and confronted with the task of forging a form of accord. With careful choreographing and expectations of little more than initial ice-breaking in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they succeeded quite well.

In this sense, the Sharm summit stood out as a landmark with two far-reaching implications:

1. A new Middle East Club of Four came into being. With a good measure of audacity and inventiveness, this bloc could dictate the next steps towards lifting the Israel-Palestinian dispute out of its stalemate – or even play a role in other conflicts, such as Lebanon and Iraq. Mubarak hinted as much in his closing speech when he urged Israel to embrace Syria and Lebanon in its peace diplomacy, an attempt to begin weaving other regional issues in with the conflict on the table.

2. The Middle East Club of Four cut themselves off from big power or even regional intervention. If the group endures long enough, it might even solidify into a distinct Egyptian-Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian defense-intelligence pact. A candidate for fifth member might be Iraq. The current abject state of Palestinian-Israeli relations after four and a half years of bloody terrorism and conflict makes such prospects seem like an impossible dream. However, according to debkafile‘s Washington sources, administration Middle East strategists have begun thinking on those lines and even taken the first exploratory steps in this direction.

The group of NATO naval officers which landed two days before the Sharm summit in Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat and neighboring Jordanian Aqaba to inspect naval facilities did not come out of the blue. As debkafile reported, the Israeli and Jordanian officers who received the visitors gained the impression that the plan was for NATO warships to dock in Eilat early next month.

The importance of the Sharm Four as the core of a new alliance also explains why Washington appointed an officer as senior as Lt. General William E. (Kip) Ward, deputy chief of US ground forces in Europe, as security coordinator between the United States, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians.

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