The Guardian has an important report today which says that several Sunni insurgent groups are planning to band together to form a political alliance.
In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups - responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police - made clear that they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians.They aren't going to get most of their platform, but then again it's a first position in a haggling culture, not a poker player's final bid.
Speaking in Damascus, the spokesmen for the three groups - the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas - said they planned to hold a congress to launch a united front within the next few weeks and appealed to Arab governments, other governments and the UN to help them establish a permanent political presence outside Iraq.
Abu Ahmad, spokesman for Iraqi Hamas said: "Peaceful resistance will not end the occupation. The US made clear that it intended to stay for many decades. Now it is a common view in the resistance that they will start to withdraw within a year. "
The move represents a dramatic change of strategy for the mainstream Iraqi insurgency, whose leadership has remained shadowy and has largely restricted communication with the outside world to brief statements on the internet and to the Arabic media.
...Leaders of the three groups - who did not use their real names in the interview - said the new front, which brings together all the main Sunni-based armed organisations except al-Qaida and the Ba'athists, has agreed the main planks of a joint political programme, including a commitment to free Iraq from all foreign troops, rejection of any cooperation with parties involved in the political institutions set up under the occupation, and a declaration that all decisions and agreements made by the US occupation and Iraqi government are null and void.
The aim of the alliance - which includes a range of Islamist and nationalist-leaning groups and is currently called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance - is to link up with other anti-occupation groups in Iraq to negotiate with the Americans in anticipation of an early US withdrawal.
Eric Martin correctly calls this development good news.
This is good news because it is essential that the Sunni insurgents forge a political presence that can, eventually, lead negotiations on an effective power-sharing arrangement with the rest of Iraq's major factions (think Sinn Fein and the IRA). Further, the exclusion of al-Qaeda type elements is a necessary and constructive step (those espousing al-Qaeda's worldview would not likely be amenable to any negotiated settlement, nor could they be counted on to live up to any should they initially accede).These insurgency leaders speak for every major group except for the Ba'athists and Al Qaeda. That's an impressive line-up of armed and experienced fighters - and they have a dim view of Al Qaeda.
The best possible outcome here would be for this political front to gather and unite the lion's share of Sunni resistance groups such that it forms as unified and non-factionalized a voice as possible. If the Sunni resistance's political front can speak for, and bind, the vast majority of the armed wing, then effective negotiated settlements will be made more possible. This, despite the fact that even with these conditions satisfied, it is likely that some period of increased conflict may play out regardless before negotiations become attractive enough to the various combatants.
...Expanding the Sunni political presence, at the same time that the resistance gains a political voice, would at least set the stage for the curtain call, even if such a resolution remains many bloody acts away. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the good news.
Abd al-Rahman al-Zubeidy, political spokesman of Ansar al-Sunna, a salafist (purist Islamic) group with a particularly violent reputation in Iraq, said his organisation had split over relations with al-Qaida, whose members were mostly Iraqi, but its leaders largely foreigners.So has the U.S. At present the best think America can do is get out of the way and let the Iraqis sort out their differences. It would defuse a large portion of the violence while, now, there's another key group that can be negotiated with to ensure that the Sunni insurgency does not allow Al Qaead a safe haven in Sunni areas.
"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without any aims or goals. Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. We are against indiscriminate killing, fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy," he said.
He added: "A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that."
The insurgent leaders had something interesting to say about the involvement of Iran and other nations too:
The insurgent groups deny support from any foreign government, including Syria, but claim they have been offered funding and arms from Iran and rejected it because of suspicion of Iranian motives. They say they have been under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to unite and claimed to have had indirect contacts with France about creating the conditions for establishing a political presence outside Iraq.So it appears that Iran quickly failed in its intention to procure the Sunni insurgency as proxies, just as it appears to have failed to procure Al Qaeda - the umbrella group for AQI affiliates having threatened to attack Iran only recently. That's a double blow to the recent narrative put forward by those who want to drum up war with Iran, who have alleged Iran is arming and funding every Iraqi and his donkey.
Update Marc Lynch at Abu Ardvark links to a Guardian companion piece and notes:
These moves by the major insurgency factions over the last several months don't fit well within the preferred American narrative. Their actions are not motivated by the 'surge', but rather by the belief that the US will soon leave. Their hostility to the Islamic State of Iraq/al-Qaeda does not translate into support for the United States or the current Iraqi government. They vow to continue armed struggle until the US forces leave, and to stop the violence when they do. And they have clear demands for changes to the Iraqi political system on behalf of Sunni interests - demands which may be unacceptable to other Iraqis in their current form but at least offer a starting point for real political talks. These factions have been articulating these positions very clearly and consistently for several months now. But they repeatedly seem to be marginalized or discounted because they don't fit the American narrative, in which al-Qaeda is the primary enemy and most Sunnis and insurgency groups are switching to the American side. I really hope that American officials don't really believe their own propaganda and are paying attention to the really significant developments on the Sunni side - because if not, then the political resolution which everyone seems to agree is needed will never be achieved.Hat tip to Kevin Drum, where commenter t-rex makes the gap between the White House narrative and reality plain:
Iran has been accused of arming just about every militant group in Iraq: the Shi'ite Madhi Army, Badr Corps, and Fadila -- who don't get along -- the Sunni insurgents and Ba'athists -- enemies of the Shia -- and the Islamists and Al Qaeda in Iraq -- pretty much enemies of everybody.That all these disparate groups might not realise that and tell Iran where to stick any offers is a big stretch of credibility and is now seen to be a stretch too far. While I've no doubt Iran offered assistance to all and sundry (as the U.S. would in similiar circumstances) they surely also knew many offers would be rebuffed. From there, allegations that Iran isn't just funding and arming but also directing and planning all thse groups fall apart in short order on the rocks of mutual distrust. Occam's explanation that homegrown ingenuity and black-market entrepreneurs from various nations - several probably Iranian officers enriching themselves by selling their nation's arsenal on the sly - explain the evidence in its entirety without inventing huge conspiracy theories, continues to hold.
Assuming Iran is arming all these groups then their apparent goal is to have everyone in Iraq kill everyone else, despite allegations by the administration of their cozy relationships to all of these groups...including the ones who see the Iranians as heretics.