Across the Bay

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Maliki's Visit a Bust, as Expected

As expected, Maliki's visit to Syria, like Talabani's before him, was a failure.

The goals of the visit, and the forecasts of its failure, were laid out in the media by both sides ahead of it.

On the Iraqi side, it was clear that the main concern was for Syria to cooperate on security, by halting its "open door" policy with terrorists who, using Syria as a transit point and "rear base," arrive at Damascus Airport and flow into Iraq to kill innocent civilians and coalition troops, and to hand over wanted former Saddamists harbored by Damascus.

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told the AP, "We will discuss the files of the wanted from Saddam's regime."

Talabani had tried to raise these same issues before and came back empty handed. Maliki didn't fare any better.

AKI reports, quoting a Syrian source, "Syria will not hand over to Iraq any political refugees that reside there or any of the wanted from the Baath Party or the officials of the Saddam regime."

At least now the Syrians admit they are harboring these people. When Talabani visited, in classic Assadist humor, they denied even harboring them! Furthermore, the Syrians pointedly refused to sign security treaties, preferring vague "understandings" instead.

But the failure of the visit was more extensive. Basically, the Iraqis repeated the same offer Talabani made during his visit: cooperate on security and we'll give you economic incentives, like working to reopen the oil pipeline, especially now that Syria is dealing with a massive deficit in the oil sector, as its oil is running out and it's well on its way to becoming a net importer. No security, no oil.

One should add here that there are massive hurdles to the reopening of the pipeline. 1- It needs extensive rehabilitation (which cannot be done without proper security). 2- Export capacity is limited (and southern oil gets out much more easily through Basra). 3- Syria's refineries are not equipped to deal with it (they've been talking about fixing the refineries for 20 years, meanwhile, the bill for fixing the Banias refinery has gone up to $1 billion. As for the talk about Iran helping build new refineries, it is rather comical, given Iran's woes in this area).

Meanwhile, the regime's water carrier at Al-Hayat regurgitated the Syrian official talking points, as he always does, and reported that the Syrians told Maliki that there would be no security cooperation without "a political umbrella" and "economic bloodlines." No decoder is needed for that. The bottom line is clear: Maliki got nothing, as expected.

The regime's water carrier also reported that the regime "demanded" that Maliki ask for the withdrawal of US troops, and "demanded" revising the constitution to remove federalism.

Now, of course, the Syrians had already said this before Maliki even came to Syria.

Here's the regime's flack Sami Moubayed, for instance:

[...] stressing that talks must deal with ... amending the de-Ba'athification laws and articles in the Iraqi constitution that deal with federalism - a concept that the Syrians curtly refuse.

These were not conditions, the Syrians stated, but points of discussion.
Maliki, who was a guest of the Syrian government for many years, is expected to pay back the Syrians. He is expected to show the same degree of friendliness, warmth and gratitude shown by Talabani, who since coming to power has refused to criticize Syria or let his country be used for anti-Syrian propaganda.

This (what Hamidi and Moubayed regurgitated) is the "political umbrella." And you will pay us also, and shut up about us sending and harboring your killers, thanks. After all, it's all "propaganda." We will kill you, and you will like it, and shut up, and even pay us on top of it. This is the Syrian MO on full display: the mafia racket at its finest.

There were grumblings ahead of the visit that the Syrians were already imposing conditions to ensure the failure of the visit, or even dissuade Maliki from coming. This is what the regime's mouthpiece Moubayed was referring to when he wrote, hilariously, "[t]hese are not 'conditions'."

The regime also put out its official communique in Arabic through the mouthpiece who runs the, er, "independent" Cham Press, Ali Jamalo. Jamalo penned an "open letter" (more like, official talking points) to Maliki ahead of his visit.

The main two points of the letter echoed Moubayed's communiqué (after all, the source for both these official propagandists is the same): 1- stop accusing Syria of exporting terrorists to Iraq (and we distinguish between terrorists and resistance anyway [when Assad condemned attacks against civilians after his meeting with Maliki, he pointedly made that distinction]) and 2- demand the withdrawal of US troops.

Yeah, all that will happen! And so, as you can see, it was a very useful meeting indeed. Just like Talabani's, or rather, just like any diplomat who meets and deals with the mafia racket in Damascus.

Once again: it's in Syria's interest to continue its policy of support for terrorism. In fact, that's its entire policy. No amount of economic incentives (or even so-called political incentives short of complete and total capitulation) will make a difference.

Update: A report from AKI today:

The joint declaration issued Wednesday night at the conclusion of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's visit to Syria is general and recurrent. It is the same final declaration that was issued after the visit of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to Syria in 2004, with the addition of a single article dealing with the one and a half million Iraqi refugees in Syria.

And despite Allawi at the time reaching agreements with the Syrians on security and combating terrorism, putting these agreements into effect is still modest and unsatisfactory from the perspective of the Iraqis, who are demanding (and the Americans behind them) more Syrian effort on security, and are interested only in this side of cooperation to begin with. Whereas the Syrian authorities have declared more than once that they have fulfilled everything they have committed to in these agreements.
A member of the Iraqi delegation accompanying al-Maliki told AKI, "The Syrians were understanding of Maliki's points of view, and understanding does not mean accepting at any rate." As such, the success of Syrian-Iraqi negotiations "is judged by intentions and not public declarations," according to him.