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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. But … But … But the Iraqi Minutemen can’t quit now. Bush is almost defeated. The US is losing the war. Maybe the Sunni’s just haven’t heard the new slogan about mistaking stubbornness for determination. That’s got to leave a mark. What will the left run on if the brave Iraqi minutemen give in.

    These are the times that try men’s souls. Certainly we are just one beheading away from victory for the Iraqi minutemen.

  2. kevin says:

    Yetanotherjohn wrote:

    “What will the left run on if the brave Iraqi minutemen give in.”

    Here’s some things to run on:

    America’s word has been tarnished (no WMD)

    2,500 are dead.

    Terrorists are being created everywhere in the world because of our extremely prolonged presence. They have the cause they need to recruit.

    There is an untold amount of money that has been squandered. Millions unaccounted for because of little or no oversight.

    Did I mention 2,500 dead?

    Note: If it was Clinton that invaded and found nothing, the right would have removed him from office by now. Everyone knows that is true. It would be the right that would “cut and run.”

  3. McGehee says:

    Things Clinton defenders should avoid saying, #5,734,890:

    Everyone knows that is true.

  4. Kevin,

    If you haven’t noticed, the discovery of over 500 chemical weapons shells was recently announced. That would qualify as WMD. Imagine America’s word being tarnished if we cut and run now. Who would want to rely on the US as an ally? OBL specifically cited Clinton’s running away after a few losses as part of why he thought Aq could strike against the US. That we were a paper tiger who would not stand up for ourselves. Why would abandoning Iraq before they are ready not tarnish our reputation?

    I suspect your citing the 2500 dead is not to draw attention to the fact that the US has been incredibly successful in keeping casualties low. We have fought many battles (let alone multi-year campaigns) that have produced more casualties. But is the number some how of mystical significance? If we set a limit and say if you can kill this many US soldiers, you win, is that a good thing? If the 2500 service deaths is so bad, why is re-enlistment among those who have served in Iraq so high? Take a look at total US casualty rates from all causes. While the war in Iraq is certainly causing more casualties, we lost about as many people (2,392) in Carter’s last year of his presidency. That is one year of peace vs 3 years in Iraq. So your point on the 2500 is what?

    Did you notice the recent poll showing respect for OBL is down and that the thought that democracy could work in an Arab country is up. Is it just possible that the showing of liberty and democracy as an alternative to mid east tyranny is beginning to show fruit? While the total number of terrorist attacks are up, they are concentrated in Iraq. The trend line there is reduced numbers of attacks. The point of the post was that Sunni’s may be moving away from continued violence and towards the political process. So how would cutting and running help to discourage terrorist attacks? Do you really think that terrorists would have no cause to hate us and try to hurt us if we left Iraq?

    Piracy, like slavery, is in the dustbin of history. Not that it is totally gone, but that it has been reduced enough not to impact the vast majority of this planet. In fighting piracy, this fledgling country had a national cry of “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute”. Our current defense spending is less than 5% of GDP (Iraq and non-Iraq defense spending). This compares to a peak of 35% during WWII, 15% for Korea, 10% for Vietnam and 6% for the Gulf war. So is your problem that the Republican majorities in congress and the republican president have been able to keep the expenditures for the global war on terror so low?

    Arguing alternate history about what would have happened with Clinton might be fun, but I would prefer to do so with someone who has some historical context to make their argument from. You obviously do not.