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An Accord On Iraq

Copyright AFP
by Roland Flamini, UPI Chief International Correspondent
Washington DC (UPI) Feb 06, 2006
An all-inclusive Iraq Reconciliation Conference that is expected to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops is scheduled to be held in Baghdad this summer, a United Nations source said Monday.

The meeting is a follow-on of the Arab League summit on Iraq in Cairo in November which decided on the conference and called for a gradual U.S. pullout. But a conference to formalize the emergence of the "new" democratic Iraq had also been proposed earlier by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as one of his last initiatives before his term ends in January 2007.

According to an Arab League statement, the conference will bring together leading members of all Iraqi political parties, and leading institutions.

An Arab source in Washington said Monday he understood that Sunni insurgent groups would also be represented so that their aspirations will be taken into account and they can be disarmed. The main purpose of the conference, as put forward by the Arab League, is establishing "the unity, independence and sovereignty of Iraq, and setting up a program to terminate the mandate of the multinational force."

But the U.N. source said the conference would be asked to call more generically for the withdrawal of "foreign forces" as a warning to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist group in Iraq, and other foreign Islamic fighters to leave the country, as the government would show zero tolerance for attacks on Iraqis once the country's total independence had been established.

The United States is keeping a low profile on the conference, and a State Department spokesman said Monday that planning the conference were being left to the Iraqis, but "we have made it clear that we support the goals such a conference would seek to achieve." That includes reconciliation with the Sunni "rejectionists."

The United States has "engaged with -- and we have supported other Iraqi officials efforts to engage with -- Iraqi rejectionists as a means of encouraging their inclusion in the Iraqi government," he said. Rejectionists is a generic terms that includes the Sunni insurgents. Moreover, since political stability is one of the U.S. objectives in Iraq, a successful conference could fit into the Bush administration's exit strategy.

The Arab source said the conference would order the release of all remaining detainees held without being charged, and would determine which Iraqi insurgents would or would not be covered by a general amnesty.

A tough issue will be what to do about the country's proliferation of militias and private armies? Regional militias, such as the Kurdish fighters responsible for security in the north are there to stay. Historically, these tough, disciplined units kept Iraqi Kurdistan safe from Saddam Hussein's army.

The Kurds are expected to be minority members in the new government in Iraq, but that doesn't mean they will drop their guard when it comes to protecting their oil-rich enclave, and the conventional wisdom is that an acceptable modus vivendi will have to be established between them and Iraq's regular armed forces.

Smaller armed bands may be forced out of business, but rooting out larger groups like the Mahdi army of the fiery Shiite churchman Moqtada al-Sadr is likely to be a non-starter, and may -- dangerously -- go unresolved.

Though a government has yet to emerge from the political horse trading between the Shiite Muslim, Sunnis and Kurds over the formation of the country's first democratically elected government in more than five decades, plans for the National Accord Conference are under way.

There is, however, no question of a fait accompli, or at any rate not much of a one, since most of the main Iraqi political groups attended the Cairo conference at which the idea of a reconciliation conference first surfaced. But the original Arab League date of the first week of March turned out to be too optimistic given the weeks of bargaining. The U.N. source says the conference is now likely to take place in early summer.

Source: United Press International

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