Interesting developments in Iraq
In the wake of yesterday’s suicide attacks in Iraq, Time‘s Michael Ware has an exclusive look at back-channel negotiations between U.S. officials and elements of the Iraqi insurgency. The highlights: The secret meeting is taking place in the bowels of a facility in Baghdad, a cavernous, heavily guarded building in the U.S.-controlled green zone. The ...
In the wake of yesterday's suicide attacks in Iraq, Time's Michael Ware has an exclusive look at back-channel negotiations between U.S. officials and elements of the Iraqi insurgency. The highlights:
In the wake of yesterday’s suicide attacks in Iraq, Time‘s Michael Ware has an exclusive look at back-channel negotiations between U.S. officials and elements of the Iraqi insurgency. The highlights:
The secret meeting is taking place in the bowels of a facility in Baghdad, a cavernous, heavily guarded building in the U.S.-controlled green zone. The Iraqi negotiator, a middle-aged former member of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the senior representative of the self-described nationalist insurgency, sits on one side of the table. He is here to talk to two members of the U.S. military. One of them, an officer, takes notes during the meeting. The other, dressed in civilian clothes, listens as the Iraqi outlines a list of demands the U.S. must satisfy before the insurgents stop fighting. The parties trade boilerplate complaints: the U.S. officer presses the Iraqi for names of other insurgent leaders; the Iraqi says the newly elected Shi’a-dominated government is being controlled by Iran. The discussion does not go beyond generalities, but both sides know what’s behind the coded language. The Iraqi’s very presence conveys a message: Members of the insurgency are open to negotiating an end to their struggle with the U.S. “We are ready,” he says before leaving, “to work with you.” In that guarded pledge may lie the first sign that after nearly two years of fighting, parts of the insurgency in Iraq are prepared to talk and move toward putting away their arms–and the U.S. is willing to listen. An account of the secret meeting between the senior insurgent negotiator and the U.S. military officials was provided to TIME by the insurgent negotiator. He says two such meetings have taken place. While U.S. officials would not confirm the details of any specific meetings, sources in Washington told TIME that for the first time the U.S. is in direct contact with members of the Sunni insurgency, including former members of Saddam’s Baathist regime. Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that “there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents” but that the U.S. has joined “back-channel” communications with rebels. Says the observer: “There’s a lot bubbling under the surface today.” Over the course of the war in Iraq, as the anti-U.S. resistance has grown in size and intensity, Administration officials have been steadfast in their refusal to negotiate with enemy fighters. But in recent months, the persistence of the fighting and signs of division in the ranks of the insurgency have prompted some U.S. officials to seek a political solution. And Pentagon and intelligence officials hope the high voter turnout in last month’s election will deflate the morale of the insurgents and persuade more of them to come in from the cold. Hard-line Islamist fighters like Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda group will not compromise in their campaign to create an Islamic state. But in interviews with TIME, senior Iraqi insurgent commanders said several “nationalist” rebel groups–composed predominantly of ex–military officers and what the Pentagon dubs “former regime elements”–have moved toward a strategy of “fight and negotiate.” Although they have no immediate plans to halt attacks on U.S. troops, they say their aim is to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis and eventually negotiate an end to the U.S. military’s offensive in the Sunni triangle. Their model is Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which ultimately earned the I.R.A. a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. “That’s what we’re working for, to have a political face appear from the battlefield, to unify the groups, to resist the aggressor and put our views to the people,” says a battle commander in the upper tiers of the insurgency who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Marwan. Another negotiator, called Abu Mohammed, told TIME, “Despite what has happened, the possibility for negotiation is still open.”
Read the whole thing. Ware’s story jibes with Patrick Quinn’s AP account of the Sunni response to both the election and the latest string of suicide attacks:
As the Shiite majority prepared to take control of the country’s first freely elected government, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands – including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution – after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote’s legitimacy. “We made a big mistake when we didn’t vote,” said Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative from northern Nineveh. “Our votes were very important.” ….Gathering in a central Baghdad hotel, about 70 tribal leaders from the provinces of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Salaheddin, Diyala, Anbar and Nineveh, tried to devise a strategy for participation in a future government. There was an air of desperation in some quarters of the smoke-filled conference room. “When we said that we are not going to take part, that didn’t mean that we are not going to take part in the political process. We have to take part in the political process and draft the new constitution,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Sunni Endowments in Baghdad…. Meanwhile, a powerful Sunni organization believed to have ties with the insurgents sought Sunday to condemn the weekend attacks that left nearly 100 Iraqis dead. “We won’t remain silent over those crimes which target the Iraqi people Sunnis or Shiites, Islamic or non-Islamic,” Sheik Harith al-Dhari, of the Association Muslim Scholars, told a news conference. Iraqis, he said, should unite “against those who are trying to incite hatred between us.” They include Iraq’s leading terror mastermind, the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Even in a best-case scenario, successful negotiations with the Baathist insurgents would not end the violence in Iraq that Zarqawi and others would generate. And, if memory serves, the Sunnis made similar noises about participating in the political process after Hussein’s capture. Still, these are very encouraging signs. Developing…. UPDATE: Be sure to check out Phil Carter’s post on the spontaneous creation of anti-insurgency militias in Iraq.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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