Iraq’s international ‘Contact group’ becoming stronger?

The Security Cooperation and Coordination Committee of Iraq’s neighboring countries held its third meeting in Damascus Sunday. This ‘Contact Group’ brings together representatives of the UN, the US, Iraq’s neighbors (including Iran), and other relevant international actors. It has been quietly working behind the scenes since April 2007 to help stabilize Iraq and expedite an orderly transition to the country’s full independence. The two earlier meetings of the SCCC were also held in Damascus, in April and August 2007.
Who, consuming only the western MSM, would have known about Sunday’s landmark meeting?
The MSM pumps out a constant flow of reporting– and commentary that’s often very belligerent– on the matters of political difference between Washington and Damascus. But it seems to ignore the areas in which the two countries cooperate, altogether. Why?
Yes, certainly, there are some substantial differences. There are the (very poorly substantiated) US allegations that Syria has been doing illegal things in the nuclear field, and the US allegations that Syria was not doing enough to prevent anti-US militants from crossing its border into Iraq. Syria also has its own considerable grievances against the US, but these don’t get nearly as much of an airing in the western MSM.
Then, as recently as October 26, the White House authorized a U.S. Special Forces in Iraq to undertake a heavily armed incursion into Syria that killed eight Syrian citizens, reportedly civilians.
But on November 23 there was Maura Connelly, the Deputy Chief of Mission and therefore (in the absence of an ambassador) the highest-ranking US diplomat in Syria, taking part in the SCCC gathering hosted by the Syrian government.
That’s great news.
Also attending were representatives of Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, Japan, the UN secretary-general, the four non-US Permanent Members of the UN , the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Arab League. Saudi Arabia had been invited but did not attend due to its continuing bilateral disagreements with Syria.
Reuters tells us (HT: Josh Landis) about one of the more dramatic things that happened in the meeting:

    The United States stood alone at a conference on Sunday in accusing host Syria of sheltering militants attacking Iraq, while other countries adopted a more conciliatory tone, delegates said.
    No other state present at the conference on security for Iraq joined Washington in its open criticism, weeks after a U.S. raid on Syria that targeted suspected militants linked to al Qaeda, they told Reuters.
    U.S. Charge d’Affaires Maura Connelly… told a closed session that Syria must stop allowing what she called terrorist networks using its territory as a base for attacks in Iraq.
    Washington’s leading Western ally, Britain, has recently praised Syria for preventing foreign fighters from infiltrating into Iraq, and its foreign secretary, David Miliband, was in Damascus this week pursuing detente with Syria.
    “The American diplomat’s speech was blunt and short. The United States was the only country at the conference to criticise Syria openly,” one of the delegates said.

The fact that Syria agreed to host the conference even after last month’s military attack by the US was significant. Reuters’ Khaled Oweis wrote that Syria “decided to go ahead [with the meeting] after the Iraqi government condemned the strike.”
The participation of both Iran and the US in this gathering was also very significant. (But that development, too, was completely ignored by the western MSM. See my points on the MSM and Syria, above…)
So was the fact that the US was able to win support for the belligerent attitude it has adopted toward Syria from not a single one of the other delegates— not even the Iraqi government that it itself helped set up back in 2005-06.
Yes, the balance of power/influence between Washington and Baghdad regarding matters Iraqi has certainly shifted in Baghdad’s favor. All that’s left now is to work for the continuing retraction of US power from the region that is as orderly as possible. (Hence the great importance of this coordinating body, the SCCC.)
Oweis gave these additional details of what happened in the Damascus meeting:

    Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous said Syria was a “victim of terrorism” and that it would not allow any attack on any individual living in its territory…
    “Arnous chose not to respond directly to the U.S. charge, but emphasised that Iraq’s stability was in the interest of Syria,” another delegate said.
    Delegates said representatives of China and Russia had condemned the United States for using Iraq as a “base for aggression”. A joint statement issued by Iraq and its neighbours after the meeting said they opposed any offensive action launched from Iraq against its neighbours or vice versa.

… I have stressed for many years now that any substantial drawdown of US troops from Iraq (and especially the complete withdrawal that I favor) requires the active involvement in helping to facilitate and coordinate that of all of Iraq’s neighbors, including those with which the US has bad relations, as well as of the UN. The SCCC seems to be providing exactly this kind of coordination.
It’s been 15 months since the last SCCC meeting. Let’s hope it is not nearly as long until the next one, and that the non-US members of this body work hard to give it more real clout and political weight once the UN’s ‘mandate’ to the US in Iraq expires on December 31.