No Diplomatic Tango for Rice at Iraq Conference

Instead of the one-on-one between US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and the Iranian foreign minister, the supposed piece de resistance of the two-day conference on Iraq’s future, the occasion ended Friday, May 4, on the harsh note of the Iranian minister’s denunciation of US policy. He called for a clear US plan for the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq.
He pointedly called for the immediate release of the five Iranians US troops detained in northern Iraq in January and, even more pointedly, fought shy of any direct contact with the US secretary.
Tehran was clearly miffed at Washington’s failure to reciprocate by freeing at least one of the five Revolutionary Guards officers held in Iraq, for the former FBI agent Robert Levinson held from March 11, whom Iran released Tuesday, May 1. Neither were the clerical rulers in Tehran delighted by the disclosure by US commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, in a press briefing the day before the conference that most of the 65 roadside bombs which exploded in Iraq in April were made in Iran.
Directed from Tehran, Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi spared exactly three minutes for the US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. At a Thursday night dinner, Manouchehr Mottaki excused himself and left when he saw he was seated opposite the US secretary. He complained the Egyptian female violist was immodestly dressed in red.
Rice settled for second best: 30 minutes with Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem, for what she later called a “professional and businesslike” meeting. It was the first direct encounter at this level in four years and not exactly constructive.
Syria’s expatriates minister Buthaina Shaaban remarked at a news conference later that the meeting was “proof of the recognition by the US administration that it finds itself at an impasse in Iraq.” She added” “It is also proof that the American administration needs the cooperation of Iraq’s neighbors and several other countries.”
None of this diplomatic dancing reflected the process rushing ahead Iraq, although it is well known to all its partners.
debkafile‘s Iraq sources sum up the latest developments:
Iraq is in the process of breaking up into three autonomous or independent entities: Shiite Muslim in the south – under Tehran’s aegis; Sunni Arab in the center and west, backed and massively funded by Riyadh; and a Kurdish entity in the north, under US patronage and a magnet for heavy American, Turkish, Israeli and, more recently, Iranian investment.
According to our military sources in Iraq, the objectives of the current US military effort go beyond securing central government in Baghdad and stemming sectarian hostilities; the troops are engaged in an all-out drive to prevent the rise of a fourth entity ruled by al-Qaeda in the western Anbar province.
If and when that battle is won, the next will be fought over control of Iraq’s oil wealth. The distribution of oil revenues will have to be built into any live-and-let-live accommodations among the autonomous entities; to work, any such an arrangement must be guaranteed by US, Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni military forces.
Kurdistan is the exemplar or prototype of the nationwide process, with impact also on Iraq’s neighbors.
This northern region is in an advanced development boom – buildings, roads, bridges, air fields and hotels are springing up with Turkish contractors leading the way. These firms have a vested interested in keeping the Turkish army from attacking rebel Kurdish PKK bases in northern Iraq. Indeed, the big Turkish commercial investment in the Iraqi Kurdish construction program has divided Ankara. The army wants to seize a slice of territory in the north as a bridgehead for striking at the rebel bases. Prime minister Tayyep Erdogan has other fish to fry in Iraq: he favors a Turkish military grab for a foothold in the oil town of Kirkuk as a bargaining chip for a cut in the region’s oil riches.
Tehran to the east and Syria to the west are also eyeing the dynamic developments in Kurdistan for a chance of profit.
The Iranians are wooing the Kurdish state’s president Masoud Barzani, hoping to win him by the prospect of large-scale investments.
On the other hand, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal that, just as the Americans have rehabilitated the Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin al-Khalq for operations inside Iran, so too Iran has resuscitated the radical Ansar al-Islam terrorist group, al Qaeda’s arm in northern Iraq before the 2003 US invasion. This group is being primed to be Iran’s “operational” arm in Kurdistan.
Damascus for the time being is concentrating military strength on the Syrian-Kurdistan border, mainly to cut off the PKK rebel route to Turkey, and watching the situation.
None of these happenings featured on the agenda of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference.

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