Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Anbar Opportunism

By Cernig

Despite the cheerleaders of the pro-occupation Right repeating administration talking points like kids clapping harder at a Peter Pan pantomime, the so-called Anbar Awakening isn't any kind of long-term victory.

Evidence? The words of Ibrahim al-Shammari, spokesman for the Islamic Army, in an interview with the London Times today:

The Islamic Army is one of Iraq’s best known resistance groups, made up largely of former members of Saddam Hussein’s army and security forces. In a turnaround that heartened proponents of the US troop surge, it has lately been firing its weapons at Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of American soldiers. The US military has been discreetly putting out feelers to the Islamic Army in the hope of winning it over permanently.

But Shammari had an uncompromising message for the Americans. The Islamic Army and other armed factions would agree to talks only if they accepted that the “Islamic resistance” was the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people and agreed to set a clear timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

The government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, was finished, he boasted. “The final countdown has started. It has lost the support of Iraqis and the American people.”

...According to Shammari, however, the gains in Anbar will be shortlived. He said the Islamic Army had signed a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The country was to be carved into spheres of influence where the Islamic Army and Al-Qaeda in Iraq could operate independently of each other. It would represent an enormous setback for the surge.

Shammari admitted Al-Qaeda in Iraq was unpopular. “Local people consider them enemy number one. They tyrannised people and killed and assaulted tribal leaders. They lost their bases and supporters and provoked the clans into rising up against them,” he said.

But the Islamic Army resents the way the Americans have tried to turn the infighting in Anbar to their advantage. “We’ve had big problems with Al-Qaeda ever since they began targeting and killing our men,” he said. “Eventually we had to fight back, but we found American troops were exploiting the situation by spreading rumours that exacerbated the conflict.”

The Islamic Army has also noted President George Bush’s comments about the success of the surge. “Bush foolishly announced to the world that all the Sunnis in Iraq were fighting Al-Qaeda so he could claim to have achieved a great victory,” Shammari said. “It’s nonsense.”

The Islamic Army is considering resuming the kidnapping of foreigners as a sign of renewed militancy, Shammari said. In the past, it was responsible for murdering Enzo Baldoni, an Italian journalist, and a number of foreign workers. It also kidnapped two French journalists who were later released.

“Every foreigner in Iraq is a potential target for us no matter what his nationality or religion,” Shammari said. “If he is proven to be a spy, he will be punished and an Islamic court will determine his fate.”

The purpose of taking hostages would not be to kill them, he added. “We want western governments to listen to the Iraqi people and stop supporting the occupation by sending their citizens to Iraq.” [all emphasis mine - C]
Taken in concert with reports that other Sunni insurgent groups, including the 1920 Revolution Brigade, that have turned opportunist US ally for now are carving out lucrative protection rackets in their territories, extorting money from everyone who wants to do business there, and it's clear that the Anbar Awakening is anything but the happy pony that the Right wants everyone to buy.

Shaun Mullen writes:
Perhaps Shammari’s interview with a major Western newspaper was designed to clarify the Sunni position so the US wouldn’t exploit the anti-AQI strategy by remaining in Iraq longer. Surely that’s how the Bush Administration is planning to use the anti-AQI gains, so if Shammari has any political savvy he’d know that he has to either agree to a longer US presence (now “welcomed” by anti-AQI Sunnis) or he must make it absolutely clear that recent alliances with the US against AQI were purely tactical and short-lived. Like Sadr, Maliki, Petraeus and Bush, Shammari is seeking some clarity on the various politico-military fronts in Iraq. His interview, at the very least, suggests we take a skeptical look at all the happy talk floating around this coming September. The Sunni insurgents have proven for four years how powerfully destructive they are; we’d be well-advised to consider their long-term goals when assessing our own.
Indeed. Especially since the US military has been given these once-and-future-insurgents training and money to but more guns. The truth is that, in their eagerness to acclaim anything at all as "surge success" the panto kiddies on the Right haven't yet figured out that the next panto call is always "look behind you!" They're the only ones who haven't figured it out.