Report: U.S. Secretly Met With Insurgents
U.S. officials held secret talks in Iraq with the commanders of several Iraqi insurgent groups recently in an attempt to open a dialogue with them, a British newspaper reported Sunday. The commanders “apparently came face to face” with four American officials during meetings on June 3 and June 13 at a summer villa near Balad, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, according to The Sunday Times. The Sunday Times said neither the Iraqi government nor U.S. officials in Baghdad would confirm its report about the talks.
Military officials in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment on the Times article early Sunday morning.
The story, which quoted unidentified Iraqis whose groups were purportedly involved in the talks, said those at the first meeting included Ansar al-Sunnah Army, which has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Iraq and an attack that killed 22 people in the dining hall of a U.S. base at Mosul last Christmas. Two others were Jaish Mohammed, or Mohammed’s Army, and the Islamic Army in Iraq, which in August reportedly killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, the newspaper said.
One of the Americans at the talks introduced himself as a Pentagon representative and declared himself ready to “find ways of stopping the bloodshed on both sides and to listen to demands and grievances,” The Sunday Times said. It said the official indicated that the results of the talks would be relayed to his superiors in Washington.
The U.S. officials tried to gather information about the structure, leadership and operations of the insurgent groups, which irritated some members, who had been told the talks would consider their main demand, a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the report said. The newspaper report follows accounts of indirect talks with the insurgents using Iraqi intermediaries.
A senior U.S. official said earlier this month that American authorities have negotiated with key Sunni leaders, who are in turn talking with insurgents and trying to persuade them to lay down their arms. The official, who did not give his name so as not to undercut the new government’s authority, did not name the Sunni leaders engaged in dialogue.
US ‘in talks with Iraq with Iraq rebels’ (Sunday Times of London)
At a summer villa near Balad in the hills 40 miles north of Baghdad, a group of Iraqis and their American visitors recently sat down to tea. It looked like a pleasant social encounter far removed from the stresses of war, but the heavy US military presence around the isolated property signalled that an unusual meeting was taking place. After weeks of delicate negotiation involving a former Iraqi minister and senior tribal leaders, a small group of insurgent commanders apparently came face to face with four American officials seeking to establish a dialogue with the men they regard as their enemies.
The talks on June 3 were followed by a second encounter 10 days later, according to an Iraqi who said that he had attended both meetings. Details provided to The Sunday Times by two Iraqi sources whose groups were involved indicate that further talks are planned in the hope of negotiating an eventual breakthrough that might reduce the violence in Iraq.
Despite months of American military assaults on supposed insurgent bases, General John Abizaid, the regional US commander, admitted to Congress last week that opposition strength was Ã¢€œabout the sameÃ¢€ as six months ago and that Ã¢€œthereÃ¢€™s a lot of work to be done against the insurgencyÃ¢€.
A rather disturbing account, if true. While talks with the leaders of the Sunni insurgency may prove productive, I can’t imagine what would be accomplished by negotiating with Islamist terrorists. Except incentivizing more terrorism, of course.
Update (0911): Ed Morrissey sees this as a positive development:
The Times reports that tribal sheikhs arranged the meeting between the half-dozen groups of native insurgents and the Iraqi government and American military. These community leaders have lost patience with the fighting and have decided that the violence is bad for business. They at least acknowledge that further fighting is pointless but don’t want to risk getting killed for saying it outright. The sheikhs want a way to bring these errant Iraqis back into the mainstream, allowing the new Iraqi army to deal with foreigners, most of which the Iraqis have detested all along.
In other words, in direct contradiction to what Ted Kennedy said in the Senate hearings this week, the sheikhs know that the insurgents have lost the war — and they want the residual fighting to stop to protect the innocent Iraqi civilians. The insurgents know they lost the war now, too; otherwise, they would not be satisfied with just an American promise to withdraw by any date we choose. For domestic Iraqi purposes, the Americans and the new Iraqi government would far prefer to find a solution short of complete annihilation for the far-larger native insurgency, which will give even more credibility to the political reforms already in place in the new government as well as allow the security forces to concentrate on the foreigners of the Zarqawi network.
The sheikhs, the terrorists, and the new Iraqi government all realize that the war is over and the good guys won. Can someone now please alert Congress?
May it be so. Of course, “negotiations” implies that it’s a two way street. Presumably, our side’s feeling the need to negotiate would indicate that the status quo is not to our liking, either.
As always, the constant barrage of suicide bombings can be seen as either a sign that the terrorists still have plenty of juice left or as a sign that they are so desperate as to have no other means of carrying on the fight. Either way, though, they’re continuing to murder, terrorize, and disrupt.