Juan Cole on the "Reconciliation Conference"

The long-awaited “reconciliation conference” was finally held in the Green Zone on Saturday, with 200 Iraqis of various persuasions present. But the Sunni guerrillas were not represented, and even most Sunni Arab parties were not there. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Baathist guerrilla leaders, who were not invited, are saying that al-Maliki has gone back on his earlier promises to them. Al-Hayat says that the Association of Muslim Scholars (hardline Sunnis), the Congress of the Iraqi People of Adnan Dulaimi (fundamentalist Sunnis), and Salih Mutlak’s Dialogue Front (ex-Baath secularists) all boycotted. Moreover, opposition figures living abroad, who had been invited, mostly declined to come. And Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite clerical leader, turned down an invitation. So it doesn’t sound to me as though this conference will amount to anything.

The Baathists were miffed and said that the conference “does not concern them.” Guerrilla leader Abu Wisam al-Jash’ami told al-Hayat that he thought he had an agreement with al-Maliki, that the PM would ask parliament to debate the question of debaathification. Instead, al-Maliki foreclosed the debate by just asking parliament to consider abolishing the debaathification law. (Most Sunni Arabs had a connection to the Baath Party, which has been used by triumphant Shiites and Kurds to throw them out of government and military service.)

Al-Hayat also says that Secretary of State Condi Rice has sent envoys to the major Arab countries informing them that Washington will not talk with Syria about Iraq (with the quid pro quo that Damascus gets a free hand in Lebanon), and will not talk to Iran (with the quid pro quo that they get a pass on the nuclear research program).

Neith Bush nor Maliki knows what any successful diplomat knows, which is that you have to talk to your enemies if you are to succeed. Well, you could theoretically crush them, but that isn’t what is happening. In fact, I think crushing them is impossible short of use of WMD. Even Bush won’t do that.

Read it here.

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