According to Steve Negus, Iraq Correspondent for the Financial Times, Iraq went into today's meeting in Baghdad with expectations that it would be concrete, rather than ceremonial:
Iraq says it will propose concrete measures to help stabilise the country at Saturday’s conference in Baghdad, which brings regional powers to the table alongside the US and Britain.
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said on Friday the conference would produce “actions...not [just] statements of solidarity or support”, adding: “We have developed some ideas how to hold” neighbouring countries to such commitments.
Reading the account at Al Jazeera English, one has to wonder how satisfied the Iraqis were with how the day proceeded:
"What the conference achieved was exploration and preparation, explorations of the different positions of people attending this conference and preparation for the upcoming conference in Istanbul," Jasim Azawi, the presenter of Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq programme, said.
Somehow, having a conference to prepare for another conference does not sound particularly concrete. Nevertheless, one has to give Nuri al-Maliki point for trying to put substance on the table:
Al-Maliki said that Iraq needed the support of its neighbours and the world in stopping the sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims, which he said could spill over to other countries in the region.
"We call on all to take moral responsibility by adopting a strong and clear stance against terrorism in Iraq and co-operate in stamping out forces of terror," al-Maliki said.
He demanded that "regional or international states refrain from interfering or influencing Iraq's state of affairs through supporting a certain sect, ethnic group or party".
"Confronting terrorism means halting any form of financial support and media or religious backing, as well as logistical support and the flow of arms and men who transform themselves into bombs that kill our children, women and elders, and destroy our mosques and churches."
This is certainly more concrete than focusing on preparing for the next meeting, but did anyone respond after al-Maliki was so explicit? An agreement to honor his demands would have been "concrete" (as, for that matter, would have been any country at the conference saying, "We cannot accept these demands because …").
Those who know their ballet history know about the men in masks on either side of the green table that dance the prologue and epilogue to Kurt Joos' "dance of death," conceived in the years between the First and Second World Wars (and called "The Green Table" as a way of saying the diplomacy frames atrocity). We seem to be watching another performance of "The Green Table," just without the music and the choreography. Al-Maliki could not have spoken in plainer language; but that did not seem to be enough to get the men in masks to offer any more than the ceremonial applause that was part of Joos' choreographic vision.