A blueprint for peace in Iraq has won praise from across the political establishment as senior figures from all parties urged a new strategy to bring states across the Middle East into the struggle to end the conflict.
Senior Labour figures joined opposition MPs in welcoming the plan, set out by Iraq's former defence minister Ali Allawi, for Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to be given a role in helping to end the increasingly bitter sectarian divisions in Iraq that have helped push the country towards civil war. Senior military figures and foreign affairs analysts also backed the intervention of Mr Allawi, a senior adviser to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose blueprint was revealed in yesterday's Independent.
It comes as Tony Blair and George Bush consider a new strategy for Iraq to quell the worsening violence and instability.
Mr Allawi proposed decentralisation in Iraq, with the central government acting as "adjudicators" between regions. He said a series of regional conferences should be called to start the process of establishing international bodies with Iraq's neighbours to encourage security co-operation and act as a guarantor of civil rights.
In London, the Foreign Office said it supported opening communications with Iraq's neighbours, insisting that the Government was already working to foster relations throughout the region. A spokesman said: "We have diplomatic relations with the countries in this area and we can use the diplomatic service to encourage dialogue and have officials visiting the region. We have an ongoing process of engagement."
Among those backing the proposals were Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader; Liam Fox, the Conservative defence spokesman; Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister; Tony Lloyd, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Conservative foreign secretary.
Support for Mr Allawi's plan came as it emerged that Mr Bush is replacing his top two commanders for Iraq. Lt-Gen David Petraeus - an expert in counter-insurgency - will take over from Gen George Casey as coalition commander on the ground in Iraq. US Navy Admiral William Fallon will replace General John Abizaid as chief of US Central Command, in charge of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The choice of Admiral Fallon was unexpected, given that these are both ground conflicts. But it may also reflect the importance of sea-based air power in containing Iran. Both appointees are understood to be supporters of the "surge" in US forces apparently favoured by Mr Bush, which would send as many as 20,000 troops to Iraq.
Politically, opposition to an increase in US troops in Iraq is widespread. A vast majority of the Democrats now in control of Congress are hostile - "No", was the blunt answer of Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House Speaker, to a question yesterday on whether she supported a "surge". Joe Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committeee, which begins hearings on Iraq next week, is also strongly opposed to the move.
Assuming he does announce the increase, Mr Bush is under pressure to set specific limits on the mission, along with clear benchmarks for political progress without which a "surge" would be pointless, and a subsequent initial timetable for a pull-out of US troops. White House officials say Mr Bush has not taken a final decision.
On Thursday President Bush held a meeting with Mr Maliki, apparently assuring himself that the Iraqi Prime Minister was ready to send more Iraqi security forces on to the streets of Baghdad, and trying to secure a political deal that would isolate radical Shia factions.
Word of the military changes follows the shift of John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, to the State Department where he will be deputy to Condoleezza Rice.
Zalmay Khalilzad, currently the US ambassador in Baghdad, will become Washington's envoy to the UN, succeeding John Bolton who quit last month after it became clear that he had no hope of confirmation. Mr Khalilzad's successor in Iraq is expected to be Ryan Crocker, currently US ambassador to Pakistan.
Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat leader
These coherent proposals [have] much of substance in them. The difficulty will be persuading President Bush and those around him to change their minds. The omens are extremely discouraging. Once again No 10 is waiting in the wings to hear what the principal actor in this tragedy is going to say.
Mike Gapes, Chairman of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee
There are elements which are sensible. I share the concerns about some kind of regional war. I agree with Mr Allawi we cannot sort the situation out. We can make it worse or assist. These and other ideas will inform the ideas we will be considering [when MPs question Margaret Beckett and Des Browne next week].
Denis MacShane, Former minister for Europe
These are positive proposals, but whether the fundamentalists will give away to democratic politics is a huge question. Resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is clearly a priority but bringing in all the regional powers and respecting them as sovereign states should now be the priority of British policy-makers and US and European diplomacy.
Sir John Walker, Intelligence chief and author of pre-war report on invading Iraq
Some of us had warned about the inherent dangers of the second Iraq war, but we had not anticipated the magnitude of the cock-up. The Americans have behaved irrationally in Iraq and a blueprint for a solution from an Iraqi public figure is welcome. I fully appreciate the need to engage neighbouring countries.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Former Conservative foreign and defence secretary
This is an extremely wise and perceptive analysis and I would agree with much of what Mr Allawi said. But he assumes that the alternative to Sunni ascendancy is a Shia ascendancy, albeit with safeguards. That would give the Sunnis little prospect of long-term stability. The single fundamental problem is sectarian.
Paul Beaver, Defence and diplomatic analyst who has acted as expert advisor to Commons Select Committees.
This seems a pragmatic approach to a situation which is not getting any better. The fact it comes from an Iraqi is also a breath of fresh air.
But the beauty of the proposals here is that Americans talk to the Iranians by proxy without having to lose face. The proof is in the eating.
Tony Lloyd, Former Labour Foreign Office minister
People in Iraq, the Middle East and the wider world would do very well to listen very carefully to this wise but practical counsel. The sort of proposals Mr Allawi is making are about involving the major powers. It would be silly to quibble about elements but the ethos of this is the kind of blueprint we need to work with. The difficulty is that trust is at an extremely low level.
Major-General Julian Thompson, Former head of the Royal Marines and now a professor of war studies
These are sound ideas and certainly avenues to pursue. At the end of the day, conflicts end with negotiations and this is something we must accept about Iraq. My only reservation is that there are so many opposing factions in Iraq it will be hard getting a consensus. But that does not mean it should not be tried.
Nadim Shehadi, Associate fellow, Chatham House
The main emphasis here is on the Iraq government taking the initiative. The whole conception of the plan changes the image of the Iraq government from a failed project the international community has to fix to the main engine for fixing the regional and world's problems. But you cannot fix the crises in the region - Iraq, Palestine or Lebanon - independently.
Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary
We owe it to our troops, just as we owe it to the people of Iraq, to be clear about the direction we should take. We must give priority to security and institutions to support democracy. As Mr Allawi has written, peace will depend on an internal political settlement. That will require the support of Iraq's neighbours, who must be persuaded their long-term interest lies in a stable Iraq.Reuse content