As A9 readers know, Khalilzad expressed a willingness to meet with Iran. We presume he also intends to meet with other regional powers, and has been quoted as open to talks with Sunni insurgents as well. This was the right time for him to pursue such a strategy, coming on the heels of what looked like political momentum for a hasty withdrawal. The negotiating leverage such a power vacuum and imminent civil war gave Khalilzad could have been used to pry concessions from competing regional powers and make a withdrawal possible as well as preferrable. Without such leverage, and without such talks, withdrawal is not preferred.
Today's headlines out of Iran are: no go on the talks.
ANKARA – Iran has no plans to negotiate with the United States to help make Iraq safe after U.S. troops start leaving, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Wednesday.The announcement in Turkey by Iran's foreign minister seems to have come just after the President's speech, and certainly not long after the "Strategy for Victory" document was released. Now that the talks are sunk, it appears the President has decided to "stay the course" afterall. God help us.
'Negotiating with America is not on our agenda or programme,' he told a news conference via a translator.
There is perhaps one other way to read this. Clearly open and direct talks with the Iranians would be unprecedented. Such talks could have already occurred. A deal could have already been reached in private. And Khalilzad could be announcing the talks in public merely so the Iranians could reject them, in public. This would give the President political cover with conservative hawks, and allow a withdrawal to be completed under a "stay the course" rhetorical campaign... under our nose essentially. It wouldn't be the first time Iran provided an American President with political cover, and of course, we've done likewise for them on occassion too.
How to tell which is the case? The most likely alliance between Iranian Qod force operatives and Iraqi militias is Sadr. Sadr's militias would give the Qod force ample support with which to operate in southern Iraq. We also know that the Qod force continues a presence in Kuwait. Without Iranian agreement, and assuming a Sadr / Qod alliance, withdrawing our troops through Southern Iraq would be a suicide mission. It stands to reason that if talks have occurred, Sadr will remain quiet until we leave. If they haven't though, and if Iran is still looking to destabilize the situation, Sadr and southern Shiite militias should begin activity again.
It is difficult to monitor, but it seems safe to assume if you hear Sadr's name anytime soon, or here about a step up in attacks in Southern Iraq, the talks were scuttled. If you don't hear about that, it could mean Khalilzad was already successful and safe passage for our troops has already been won, along with a more stabilized Iraq and regional cooperation. Both Iran and Syria stand to gain by dealing straight with the US here. Lets just hope we still understand that.