Iraqi Insurgents Seeking Negotiated Peace?
Edward Wong reports that several insurgent factions are asking for negotiations with the Iraqi government.
Several Sunni-led insurgent groups have approached the Iraqi government to try to start negotiations after the Iraqi prime minister’s presentation on Sunday of a limited plan for reconciliation, a senior legislator from the prime minister’s party said Monday. The groups have made no demands yet, but wanted to express their views to top government officials, said the legislator, Hassan al-Suneid. “There are signals” from “some armed groups to sit at the negotiating table,” said Mr. Suneid, who, like the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, belongs to the Islamic Dawa Party, a conservative Shiite group.
The groups, made up of Iraqi nationalist fighters, have floated their proposal through Sunni Arab negotiators, Mr. Suneid said in a telephone interview. Although he described the groups as armed, he said they “are not implicated in the bloodletting of Iraqis.” Mr. Suneid declined to say how many groups wanted to open talks, who they were and how big or influential they were. There are indications that seven insurgent factions are involved.
The development was welcomed by a prominent Sunni politician. “This is a good and affirmative step from the armed groups,” said Ayad al-Samarraie of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which holds some of the top posts in the government. Referring to Shiite militias, many of them backed by political parties, he added, “We are now looking for other armed groups and militias joined to parties to see how they will work with this project.”
American and Iraqi officials say Mr. Maliki has a small window in which to bring Sunni-led guerrillas to the negotiating table and persuade them to lay down their arms. That opportunity was widened by the killing this month of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who had been stoking sectarian clashes between the majority Shiites and Sunni Arabs, who had governed Iraq for generations before the American invasion. American officials have long accused foreign fighters like Mr. Zarqawi of pushing the insurgency to more extreme measures than those preferred by Iraqi nationalist guerrillas. Many of the Iraqi fighters are disenfranchised Sunni Arabs bitter at their ouster from power and fearful of the rise of Shiite fundamentalism backed by Iran. American officials say that it could be easier to negotiate with the nationalists, many of them from the formerly ruling Baath Party, now that Mr. Zarqawi is out of the picture and his group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, is thought to be in some disarray.
The latest effort by insurgents to open talks can be traced to a process that began at least as early as last fall and continued with Mr. Talabani’s efforts. Around the time of a constitutional referendum last October, American and Iraqi officials stepped up talks with insurgent groups to exploit a rift that had opened between the homegrown insurgency and groups like Al Qaeda. Months later, during elections for a new Parliament, some Iraqi guerrillas actually protected polling stations in volatile areas like Sunni-dominated Anbar Province to ensure that Sunni Arabs would have their say in the vote.
Bruce McQuain takes a look at the groups purported to be among the six or seven taking al-Maliki up on his offer and notes that many of them see the Iranians as a greater threat than any internal forces. That strikes me as plausible.
More importantly, I think, they see participating in the political process as their best hope of achieving their aims. While the insurgency has had many successes from a tactical and public relations standpoint, it’s been rather clear for some time that they aren’t going to “win” anything. The best they can hope for is perpetual violence and the eventual departure of United States forces. The latter, however, will almost certainly happen more quickly in a peaceful enviroment than a violent one.
Given the fractious nature of the coalition of guerrillas and terrorists lumped together as “the insurgency,” a negotiated settlement with even the key groups will not end the fighting. It doesn’t take a particularly large group to set off the occasional car bomb or carry out political assassination. Still, the less support the insurgents have, the harder it will be for them to sustain large scale operations.