Tuesday, August 31, 2004

France's Foot In Baghdad's Door

Belmont Club has a thought-provoking post on the current crisis surrounding the two French hostages being held in Iraq. The current flurry of diplomatic activity to get the two reporters released, and the interesting tit-for-tat between Iraq's interim president Ayad Allawi and the French Foreign Ministry, may point to a quid pro quo being in the making between France and the Iraqi group holding its reporters.

But Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said bluntly that the kidnapping proved that France's position on Iraq, presumably its opposition to the war and the absence of a troop presence - offered it no protection from terrorism.
"Neutrality doesn't exist, as the kidnapping of the French journalists has shown," Allawi said in an interview with several European and American newspapers. "The French are deluding themselves if they think they can remain outside of this. Today, the extremists are targeting them too."
Paris was quick to respond:
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's declaration, which came after the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq and accused France's position towards terrorism, was "unacceptable," the French Foreign Ministry said Monday.

"This declaration seems in fact to have cast doubt on France's determination in the fight against terrorism ... France is leading untiringly a resolute action against this scourge and it is always bringing its support and contribution to all the initiatives of the international community in this field," said Cecile Pozzo di Borgo, spokeswoman of the French Foreign Ministry.

The spokeswoman reiterated her country's call for efforts to seek a "political solution" to the Iraqi crisis, adding that "the organization of free and democratic elections would permit to get together conditions of a real political and economic reconstruction of Iraq".
Belmont Club points to a whole host of nasty Middle Eastern leaders (and I'm just reading now that Hamas, right after claiming the twin attacks on the Be'er Sheba buses today, killing 16, is also calling for the reporters' release) pleading on behalf of France.

Belmont Club explains the quid pro quo as follows, mainly based on the comments of the French Foreign Ministry today:
This suggests that the French diplomats are attempting to link the release of the French hostages to changes in the method and manner in which the Iraqi elections will be held. The mere fact that France is negotiating implictly means there will be a quid for the quo.
The beefing up of the Baghdad embassy staff with heavyweights could point towards an opportune moment for the French to enter the foray, without any loss of face (Gallic pride is almost, well, ehm, Arab). Their plea to the terrorists holding the reporters could be that, apart from paying them a nice sum, France will do its utmost to ensure their political goals are met come the next elections. The beefing up of the embassy, and remarks to Allawi about the upcoming elections could be a first step, or proof of faith.

It works both ways this way, and their analysis is enticing, though a bit Machiavellian. France, over the captured reporters' backs, gains entrance to the Iraqi political process, covered by the 'we will stop at nothing to get our citizens released'. The captors gain status, the prospects of a strong backer in their corner, a true friend of terrorists everywhere, plus some cash with which they can immediately recruit and spread further terror.

Which in turn will enforce France's message to Allawi that something needs to change with the upcoming elections.

But I'm sure they'd settle for a few oil concessions to back off.