It looks more like a haggling session in a Middle East bazaar than conventional diplomacy between defined negotiators. Nonetheless, results may be in sight in the form of a five-point draft with the potential for halting the guerrilla war in Iraq. The final word will come down from Washington but an extraordinary amount of ground has been covered by a gaggle of volunteer peace brokers, facilitators, ambassadors, politicians, a national security official, a former prime minister, US military commanders, several terrorist chiefs, some of Saddam Hussein’s old Baath officials and a king.
Most of the action goes through Amman, Jordan, as we have reported before.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 210 of June 17, Amman Palace is a Hive of Mediation; debkafile June 28: What Makes Bush Upbeat about a US Victory? – See HOT POINTS)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly names the two men who hold most of the pieces on the spot: former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi and Jordan’s royal national security adviser General Saad Kheir.
The latter reports to King Abdullah who has a direct line to Washington.
Otherwise the initiative is fragile, unpredictable and clouded. But enough headway has been made for President George W. Bush to put money on the odds that America would eventually swim safely out of Iraq rather than sink there.
Our Iraqi sources disclose for the first time here the five points that appear to have been hammered out in draft form:
1.The Sharia (Muslim law) will be affirmed as one of the basic principles of the new Iraqi constitution – which must be completed by August 15 for a national referendum. This means that the Iraqi legislature will be barred from enacting laws running contrary to the Sharia codex.
2. Iraq will be proclaimed a democratic republic with a pluralist society.
3. Iraq will be divided into 28 voting constituencies ahead of the December 2005 general election instead of the 18 last January, each with no more than one million eligible voters. A candidate supported by a minimum of 100,000 votes gains a seat in the new parliament. This would ensure the seating of Sunni candidates even in constituencies where they are outnumbered by other religious or ethnic groups – as long as they attain the 100,000-vote threshold.
Kirkuk is the key
4. The United States will defer decisions on the status of Kirkuk and Iraq’s northern oil fields until well after the general elections – that is to mid-2006. The Iraqi government will also delay drawing electoral constituency boundaries in the mixed ethnic Kirkuk region, which is undergoing an explosive population upheaval. Kurds displaced by Saddam’s Arabization program are returning and pressuring Sunni Arab inhabitants living there for decades to leave. They are also at loggerheads with the mostly Shiite Turkomen inhabitants.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources rate this point the key element of the entire document. Kirkuk has proven oil reserves of 10 billion barrels. If this deal goes through, it will open the way for Sunni Arabs to claim a stake in the control and revenues of Iraq’s biggest oil fields and throw a spanner into the Kurdish-Shiite plan to share national oil resources between them.
Our oil industry sources add that a top-level meeting took place at the Paddington Hilton in London this week of executives from BP, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton with top-level officials of Iraq’s oil ministry. They spent two days wrangling over the future of the Iraqi oil industry in the light of the developing US-Sunni deal.
5. Apart from a freeze on the status quo in Kirkuk, the Americans are also willing to put on ice Kurdish claims to slice off segments of the provinces adjoining Kurdistan for annexation. They are eying Nineveh, Mosul, Diyala – including Baquba and Salah-e-din – including Tikrit. The Kurds would be stalled in their bids for land in these key Sunni provinces to set up a security belt around their region.
These points, tentatively agreed between Allawi and certain Sunni leaders, have also been endorsed by Egypt, the Arab Gulf emirates and Syria – albeit not yet Saudi Arabia.
Their final confirmation by all the embattled parties of Iraq would pave the way for the first time since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War for a reciprocal cessation of hostilities between American forces and Sunni-backed guerrillas.
Sunni Arab factions would win a place in Iraqi politics and government under an inter-Arab aegis. Key Arab states would also buy influence in Baghdad and so end the American monopoly over Iraqi politics.
Given its role in aiding and abetting the Iraqi insurgency, Syria’s support for the five-point plan would be pivotal. It may be forthcoming – as the next article in this issue shows.