by Meteor Blades
Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 12:26:31 AM NZDT
The New York Times and other sources are reporting that Mister Bush will meet Monday at the White House with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI was founded in Tehran 24 years ago, and it has not been a favorite of the Bush Administration in the past.
The effort is part of a White House strategy that calls for reaching out to a wider circle of Iraqi politicians to give greater support to the weak government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and lessen his dependence on Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric.
But it immerses Washington even deeper into Baghdad’s byzantine coalition politics, and it risks being interpreted in Baghdad as a sign that Mr. Bush is hedging his bets.
"If you think Maliki may not survive," said one senior administration official, "you’d want to make sure that the president is talking to the guy who might well form the next government."
Bush's patronizing public appearance with Maliki on Thursday underscored the doubts the White House has about the prime minister's capabilities as expressed in a leaked confidential memo written for Bush by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and published by the Times on Wednesday.
Given the Saudi threat to become involved in the Iraq civil war monetarily and perhaps militarily if the U.S. doesn't find a means to quell the violence, particularly against Iraqi Sunnis, meeting with al-Hakim might seem a strange choice. He once headed the Badr Corps, SCIRI's paramilitary wing that has been involved in the killings of Sunnis since 2003. On the other hand, the Badr Corps has also been involved of late in Shi'ite-on-Shi'ite killings, many of these directed against the Madhi Army, the militia put together by al-Sadr.
Controversy was stirred early this week when the Arab media reported that al-Hakim had said Sunnis would be the losers in any civil war. Al-Hakim denied the reports. And on Friday, in a sermon at a mosque in Amman, Jordan, he said that a civil war would "burn everyone," according to Agence France-Presse.
"The eruption of a sectarian war will not only burn everyone but it will also undermine the security of the entire region and lead to the unknown," Hakim told worshippers at Jordan's largest mosque.
"We are attached to unity for Iraq and its people and we are opposed to any attempt to divide Iraq because our strength is in our unity," said the head of the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
During his sermon before hundreds of worshippers, including many Iraqi citizens, at the Sunni Muslim King Hussein Mosque, the Shiite cleric and politician stressed his support for a national unity government in Iraq.
"We do not want a Shiite government that sidelines the Sunnis and we don't want a Sunni government that marginalises the Shiites," said Hakim, whose SCIRI is a key part of Iraq's ruling coalition,
"We want a government in which everyone takes part and that is at the service of all the citizens"...
Whether Bush's meeting with al-Hakim is, in addition to get him to support Maliki, also an effort either to pry the cleric away from SCIRI's Iranian sponsors or to open backdoor talks with Tehran depends on who you talk to.
Whatever the case, as with Vice President Cheney's visit to Saudi Arabia, there's a different take on who asked for this meeting. According to the Times:
While administration officials suggested it was Mr. Hakim who sought the meeting, Mr. Hakim’s son, Amar al-Hakim, said in a telephone interview that the invitation came from Mr. Bush. The elder Hakim will discuss the Iraq situation with the president, conduct negotiations and visit Iraqis living in the United States, his son said, but he declined to talk in more detail. When asked whether Mr. Hakim was going to discuss matters related to Iran, with which Mr. Hakim has very close ties, his son said, "They’re only talking about Iraqi matters."
Appearances can be deceiving. But Mister Bush appears to be engaging in some of the diplomacy that critics have urged him to try since 2002. Whether that diplomacy is serious, window-dressing, or merely a way to get a jump on the recommendations coming Wednesday when the Iraq Study Group's report is officially released remains to be seen.