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Outside View: Russia Back In Iraq

Igor Ivanov

Moscow (UPI) Nov 23, 2005
Igor Ivanov, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, made a surprise visit to Baghdad earlier this month. It was the first visit by a high-ranking Russian official to Iraq since the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Before that, only delegates from the countries whose troops were stationed in Iraq visited the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that Ivanov's visit "opened up a new perspective" in bilateral relations. The Iraqi authorities will have no reason to complain now that Russian politicians have no interest in seeing what is happening in Iraq with their own eyes. Igor Ivanov wanted to see for himself, and he did -- his press conference in Baghdad coincided with a terrorist attack. In fact, the main issue on his agenda was the problem of terrorism.

"We support Iraq's efforts against terrorism and it can relyon our assistance," Ivanov said.

Russian government sources told RIA Novosti that Moscow differentiates terrorists from the fighters against occupation in Iraq. However, a clear line that could be drawn between them in the past became almost undistinguishable with time. As a result, Iraqi civilians have become the most frequent victims of terrorist attacks, and their relatives do not care who killed them, terrorists or fighters against the occupation.

But sources say that this does not rule out the possibility of negotiating with the so-called national patriotic forces of Iraq, who are fighting against the occupation forces.

"We should not close the door on them. The use of military force alone will not suffice in this case," the sources say. "History knows a number of examples when the past of certain political forces, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization or the Irish Republican Army, was forgotten in the name of stability. At the same time, there can be no negotiations with mercenaries and members of international terrorist organizations."

Russia and the Arab states have long called on the political forces in Iraq to sit down at the negotiation table. One more attempt will be made soon. Early next year, the Arab League is organizing an inter-Iraqi conference on reconciliation. The preliminary meeting took place on Nov. 19 in Cairo, less than a month before the parliamentary election in Iraq. It was attended by delegates from Iraq, the European Union and the United Nations.

Meanwhile Sunnis, the main social base of Iraqi resistance, have advanced several conditions for attending the conference. The key condition is the recognition of the Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation (as distinct from terrorists) and the adoption of a timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

RIA Novosti's sources note that the occupation of Iraq is formally over and power in the country has been turned over to the national leadership. But the reality is quite different. It is the multinational forces that regulate Iraqis' daily life, from the routes of their movement to the planning of combat operations, which they often do without coordinating plans with the Iraqi authorities.

In addition, to believe the sources, Americans still use the term "occupation forces" off the record and in semi-official correspondence. This may sound like a linguistic nuance, but such details shape the situation in the country. And one more crucial element is the principle of the distribution of offices in Iraq.

Candidates for the posts are selected not for their skills and talents but for ethnic and confessional reasons. Sources say that this reasoning is the basis of the current state structure, which largely hinders positive efforts.

The idea of an ethnic and confessional parity is not new, and Iraq is not the first country to try to create it. The underlying desire is to restore stability in a multinational and multi-confessional state. But this system is lop-sided in Iraq.

Unlike Kurds and Shias, the Sunni political heavyweights are not in demand. The Sunnis, although officially involved in the political process, do not determine the situation in the government or in the opposition that persists with resistance efforts. The task is to invite the fighters to participate in a dialogue; otherwise stability will never be achieved in Iraq.

International mediation, including by Russia, could play a positive role in this case. An international mechanism on Iraq modeled after the Middle East Quartet of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations would be much more effective and objective than the mediation of an individual country. But the Iraqi authorities are not eager to create it, and therefore we are yet to see the outcome of another reconciliation attempt.

Marianna Belenkaya is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.

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Walker's World: New Crisis For Blair's War
Washington (UPI) Nov 23, 2005
This was not going to be a happy Thanksgiving for President George Bush, but he only had to look across the Atlantic to know it could be worse. His only reliable ally, Britain's Tony Blair, now seems to be facing the full-scale parliamentary inquiry into the Iraq war -- its justification, conduct and aftermath -- that Bush has been able to avoid.







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