The new US defense secretary Robert Gates and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace did not travel to Iraq Wednesday, Dec. 20, empty handed. They brought with them the latest tentative White House plan for a new strategy to solve the Iraq crisis.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, the plan is based on the premise that Iraq has not been caught up in a civil war, only Baghdad. It is therefore necessary to stabilize the capital as the top priority. The idea is for the Americans to promise to secure Baghdad by persuading the leaders of both the Shiite and the Sunni fighting forces that neither can overpower the capital and they will have no option but to co-exist. The sooner they come to this point, the sooner the vicious cycle of bloodshed can be brought to a halt.
The task of persuasion has been assigned to the most influential leaders of the two communities: the most prominent Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and Sheik Hares al-Dari, head of the leading Sunni group, the Sunna Scholars Council. The plan consists essentially of two parts: a federal Baghdad and the rest of the country split up into three autonomous regions, Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim. The constitution must be amended to provide the Sunni minority with guarantees that the Shiite majority will never oust them from representative positions in Baghdad’s ruling institutions or alter the borders of their self-governing region.
Sistani has accepted the plan and agreed to bring the Shiites round to it. The United States offered him special protection against Iranian threats to harm him in order to derail the arrangement. He rejected the offer and demanded instead that US forces ceremonially hand over the Shiite shrine city of Najef to Iraqi security control so as to symbolize the Shiite assumption of self-government, an act which was carried out Wednesday, Dec. 20.
Iraq’s oil resources will be federally owned and managed and revenues distributed equitably among the three communities.
The Americans will guarantee not to allow the Kurds to seize the northern oil fields and the oil city of Kirkuk.
A supreme commission will be set up to manage the installations and exports. Revenues will be apportioned to regions, thereby assuring the Sunni community of one-third of the income from exported oil. Distribution will be in the hands of a non-Iraqi board appointed by the Iraqi government.
Some issues have been left pending, such as the wild ambitions of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and his rogue Mehdi Army militia. However, every plan carries some risks and Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace were directed by the White House to devote their visit to Iraq to spadework with local US commanders on the plan’s details. One early consequence was Washington’s decision to assign another naval carrier strike force to the Persian Gulf to deter Iran and Syria from interfering and sabotaging the process.
If it does not work, the White House developed an earlier blueprint as a fallback.