Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Enlists Other Nations in Efforts to Steer Iraqi Government ; the US Cohosts a European Conference Wednesday That Could Influence Iraq's Emerging Political Landscape

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Enlists Other Nations in Efforts to Steer Iraqi Government ; the US Cohosts a European Conference Wednesday That Could Influence Iraq's Emerging Political Landscape

Article excerpt

International conferences are often dismissed as gabfests with little impact, and the Bush administration has rarely looked on them favorably.

But the US attitude toward the international conference on Iraq set for this European capital Wednesday is different. The US believes the international community - and most notably the United Nations and the Europeans - can help influence Iraq's interim government at a crucial moment in that country's new formation.

The conference will highlight reconstruction, political reform, and the rule of law. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been touting the gathering of more than 80 countries and international organizationswith an unusual level of emphasis, will head the US delegation.

In the margins of the official agenda, the US will be looking for pressure from international players to encourage Iraq's new leaders to be more pluralistic and inclusive of all minorities and political groups. The US sees a broad international consensus on this issue as crucial as Iraq faces an Aug. 15 deadline for completing a constitution and as some leaders - primarily in the dominant Shiite population - show signs of impatience with minority demands.

"Broader international involvement with Iraq's interim government could lead to a wider circle of political participation," says Larry Diamond, an Iraq expert at the Stanford Institute of International Studies. "And getting the UN more involved is extremely important because it can play a decisive role with the Sunni communities."

At the same time, some regional policy experts are hoping the US uses the opportunity of the conference to undertake some of its own diplomacy in the margins - primarily with such crucial Iraqi neighbors as Syria and Iran. Both nations have poor to nonexistent relations with the US.

"Large gatherings like this can provide opportunities for smaller informal meetings with countries with decisive influence, and to the extent the US uses this [conference] in that way it has a potential to be very helpful," says James Dobbins, who worked with both the Clinton administration on Bosnia and the Bush administration on Afghanistan.

Iran has extensive political influence with a number of Iraq's Shiite leaders including Prime Minister Ibrahim al- Jaafari. But the question of Syria has taken on increased urgency as the Pentagon has determined that a growing share of the Iraq insurgency is composed of foreign fighters. Many of those are thought to be entering Iraq across the Syrian border.

The foreign fighters, often called jihadists because of their mission of fighting an Islamic holy war in Iraq, are considered the most troublesome segment of an insurgency the US estimates at between 10,000 to 20,000 strong. The US believes the jihadists are the most violent insurgents and are completely uninterested in any negotiable settlement. …

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