Conference on Iraq

WHILE the two-day Iraq-conference under way in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt may not be able to provide for a foolproof plan for Iraq’s reconstruction or security, it may have a very significant, though indirect, bearing upon the matter.

On the surface, the delegates are meeting to endorse the much-debated five-year International Compact for Iraq (ICI), but more importantly the gathering would bring US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in close proximity with, among others, her Iranian and Syrian counterparts. And since all parties have indicated a meeting on the sidelines, the major conference is, for all intents and purposes, a last ditch effort by the West to engage with Iraq’s neighbours in an attempt to quell the violence once and for all.

So, after Iraq’s financial problems are debated, generous donations are made and the country’s massive $56 billion debt is fully or partially written off, the serious business will be discussed on day two. And there too, once foreign ministers of Iraq’s neighbouring countries, the UNSC permanent five, the G-8 and the Arab League have met in the open, there ought to be yet more serious behind the scenes talks pitting Condi Rice with foreign ministers of Iran and Syria.

Also, the political correctness notwithstanding, since it is more or less clear that the exchange is meant to provide for a platform for the US to discuss with Iraq’s neighbours reasons for their interference there (which they publicly continue to deny), it may well prompt an amicable barter. Such an outcome could see all sides walk home with some face-saving, while the Iraqis can look forward to a little less of others games on their ground. Therefore, it would have been more prudent to also invite various splinter groups wreaking havoc in Iraq. The momentum of the occasion should have been levereged to indulge in give-and-take with them too, rather than sticking to the "we don’t negotiate with terrorists" doctrine.

For her part, Condi Rice has been pleasantly forthcoming about meeting the Iranians and Syrians. The others, too, should keep the atmosphere conducive to reasoned debate and negotiations. So, while day one will be extremely important —because failing the international community’s generosity, much of Iraq’s work cannot be done – the real success or failure of the meet will come on day two.

More news from OPINION