Bush administration factionalism seems to have returned, although media coverage thus far makes it very difficult to discern the contours of the debate and the key factional players.
On November 13, 2006, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed by a relatively unknown figure, Monica Duffy Toft, who argued that the US should pick a winner in the Iraqi civil war and–at least as I interpreted the article–US money should be on the Shia.
I also noted at the time that there were still many anti-Shiite voices arguing the opposite, including an author named Tim Greene, identified as Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman–currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.
At the same time, this Op-Ed “civil war” between Monica Duffy Toft and Tim Greene was also playing out at a much higher level in Washington.
The locus of at least some of the new factionalism seems to surround a series of “secret” Veteran’s Day meetings, first reported by Robin Wright on November 15, 2006 in the Washington Post. The meetings resulted in the launch of a formal “Iraq Policy Review,” distinct from James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and a military review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On November 16th, Laura Rozen published an Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times that cited unnamed sources suggesting that one option under consideration was a “tilt toward the Shiites,” and–implicitly, at least–an abandonment of efforts to court the Sunni insurgency. Rozen reported that the “Shiite option” was one proposed in a paper authored by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Although Rozen does not identify her sources, it is interesting that she does appear to have talked to Monica Duffy Toft who is quoted in Rozen’s article.
That same day, there was also news from Iraq that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Interior Ministry had issued an arrest warrant for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the central figures linked to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
About ten days later, on November 27, 2006 came news that another key insurgency figure–Izzat Ibrahim, Saddam’s former deputy–had publicly urged insurgents to reject US reconciliation efforts.
It was also at this time that the first signs began to emerge of a Bush administration split over James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and its call for direct dialogue with the incumbent regime in Iran.
Exhibit A in the sniper attacks on Baker’s Group was an extraordinary November 27, 2006 New York Times article that featured an unnamed “intelligence official” linking Iraq’s Sadrist Mahdi Army to Iran via Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Exhibit B was offered up in a November 28, 2006 Washington Post article by Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks:
[I]n a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead “pick a winner” in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. “That’s the price you’re going to have to pay,” he said…
And, this same intelligence official appears to have also talked to David Ignatius about the “pick a winner” approach and seems to be the same figure making allegations about the Sadr-Hezbollah-Iran link. This from the Wright and Ricks Post article:
The intelligence official said that he “never saw any evidence” that Sadr’s organization sent personnel to Lebanon this summer to fight against Israel, but said he had heard talk that some were sent there to be trained by Lebanese members of Hezbollah, an organization funded by Iran’s Shiite government.
He said there was evidence that the Iranian government this year had escalated its efforts inside Iraq.
“The whole year, yes, it has stepped up,” he said. “More training in and out of Iraq. More coordination with Hezbollah. More advisers.”
So, the key point here is that the so-called “Shiite option” is decidedly not a pro-Iranian option in the mind of the faction that wants the US to pick a Shiite winner.
If this plan is on the table again, it marks one more flip-flop on Iraq that seems to move to the rhythm of domestic US politics and confirms my pre-mid-term election sense that the final two years of the Bush administration might be the most dangerous of all.
David Ignatius named the so-called “80 percent option” back in November 2004, just after the Presidential election. What followed was the year of the Shiite–US-backed Iraqi elections in January 2005, a constitutional referendum in October 2005, and another election in December 2005, all of which enhanced the political power of Iraqi Shiites.
All of this took place over the objections of Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft who warned against elections in Iraq.
Today, however, there are complications and confusing signs regarding the factional politics of the 80 percent option.
Zelikow the Zelig
On the one hand, there is the November 28, 2006 abrupt resignation of Philip Zelikow, a top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a figure touted in the media as a Scowcroft-style Realist, i.e., a Right Arabist.
His resignation could easily be read as a protest against the Shiite option.
On the other hand, in a December 1, 2006 Washington Post article, Robin Wright–the Washington Post reporter most closely associated with the entire story of the Iraq Policy Review, the Shiite option, and the decision to back away from negotiations with Sunni insurgents–says that Zelikow is the author of the Shiite option plan and, presumably the leader of the faction championing such a plan.
The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.
The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed…
Some insiders call the proposal the “80 percent” solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people…
State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, author of the proposal, argued that the United States has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far, according to the sources.
At the same time, Wright reports that the “Zelikow” proposal has met with fierce resistance from all of the other Right Arabist, “Realist” factional players:
The proposal has met serious resistance from both U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country, the sources said…
Khalilzad, who has spearheaded U.S. outreach to the Sunni leadership, has developed a long list of steps to accommodate Sunni concerns, from a possible amnesty to changes in the hydrocarbon law that distributes oil wealth, which is located mainly in Shiite and Kurdish regions.
No surprise in Khalilzad’s position. But it is strange that Wright reports it is against Zelikow–a fellow traveling “Realist” that Khalilzad allegedly battles.
And Wright never mentions that Zelikow–presumably the “victor” in any move toward the 80 percent solution–has resigned!
So did Zelikow resign in protest against the 80 percent solution or does his resignation signal defeat for the 80 percent option that he allegedly sponsored?
Is it possible Wright simply has the facts wrong when she links Zelikow to the 80 percent option?
Finally, there is reference in the Wright article to the hydrocarbons law. As I have previously argued (here, here, and here), the hydrocarbons law is central to ongoing battles over Shiite (and Kurdish) demands for regional autonomy. Any new Shiite option would attempt to shift the balance of power in Iraq from Moqtada al-Sadr–the leading Shiite opponent of regional autonomy–toward SCIRI’s Ayatollah Hakim–he leading proponent of Shiite regional autonomy–who is scheduled to visit Washington this week.
One of Zelikow’s primary responsibilities has been the management–with Robert Kimmitt of the Treasury Department–of ongoing negotiations over a so-called “Compact for Iraq” that centers on the hydrocarbons law.
So, what does Zelikow’s resignation say about the hydrocarbons law?
Regarding the extremely contentious issue of control over the development of all new oil fields, were Zelikow and Kimmitt pressing for centralized Iraqi authority rather than regional autonomy, as favored by SCIRI and Hakim?
Did Zelikow resign in protest over a decision in Washington to allow regional, Shiite control over new oil fields?
What did the Saudis have to say about the 80 percent option when Cheney was in town?
Wright suggests an answer to that final:
A decision to step back from reconciliation efforts would… be highly controversial among America’s closest allies in the region, which are all Sunni governments. Sunni leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been pressuring the United States to ensure that their brethren are included in Iraq’s power structure and economy.
So, what is the relationship between Cheney and the “intelligence official” who has been talking to the press about the 80 percent solution?