The Financial Times of London reported that Iraqi politicians fear the Iraq Study Group report, whose release is imminent, will "undermine the elected government" of Iraq.[1]  --  "Iraqi leaders have underlined in recent days their opposition to any proposal for an international conference and warned that they, rather than the U.S., should lead any direct engagement with Syria and Iran," Roula Khalaf reported early Wednesday, hours before the Iraq Study Group report was to be released.  --  "To underline that the government should be the only party engaging with neighbors, [Iraqi Foreign Minister] Mr. [Hoshyar] Zebari recently invited Walid al-Muallem, his Syrian counterpart, to Baghdad, while Jalal Talabani, the president, held talks in Tehran," she noted.  --  But since the Iraqi government has been singularly incapable of making its writ run outside the Green Zone, its efforts to assert itself are likely to be ineffectual....

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In depth

Iraq in crisis

BAGHDAD WANTS CONTROL OF TALKS WITH NEIGHBORS
By Roula Khalaf

Financial Times (UK)
December 6, 2006

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/7c9544a0-8484-11db-87e0-0000779e2340.html

LONDON -- Baghdad has been trying to take ownership of regional policy ahead of the Iraq Study Group report, fearing that changes in U.S. policy will undermine the elected government.

Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, said yesterday he was sending envoys to neighboring countries to improve security co-operation and that he would call for a regional conference.

Iraqi leaders have underlined in recent days their opposition to any proposal for an international conference and warned that they, rather than the U.S., should lead any direct engagement with Syria and Iran.

Direct U.S. talks with Syria and Iran as part of a broader regional initiative is said to be among the policies that will be advocated today by the bipartisan group co-led by James Baker, the former U.S. secretary of state.

While another core proposal may be a gradual redeployment of U.S. combat troops, the Iraqi government has sought to focus the military debate on the need to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi forces and on giving greater authority to Baghdad to command and control military operations.

"We have our own views," Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, told the FT. "We have concerns about an international conference because we're past that stage."

Iraq "should involve the neighbors instead of the U.S.," he added. "The elected Iraqi government should take the lead and hold neighbors to account."

Both the Shia coalition that dominates government and the minority Kurds worry that broader regional involvement will bring new demands on how power should be shared in Iraq.

Sunni Arab states, which would have to be brought into any discussion, for example, are urging a larger political role for Iraq's Sunni community.

"We the Iraqis are not ready to allow neighbors to dictate the form of political system we have and how we should act," said Mr. Zebari.

Iraqi officials fear that direct U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran could embolden the two neighbors and enhance their regional standing, without necessarily bringing an end to their alleged support for violent sectarian groups.

To underline that the government should be the only party engaging with neighbors Mr. Zebari recently invited Walid al-Muallem, his Syrian counterpart, to Baghdad, while Jalal Talabani, the president, held talks in Tehran.

Mr. Zebari said he was pushing for a February gathering in Baghdad of foreign ministers from neighboring countries.

The escalation in violence in recent months had alarmed the whole region. "Everyone is starting to understand that what's going on has reached a certain level that it could be out of everybody's control and could spill over," said Mr. Zebari.