Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Insurgents vs al-Qaida Not Good News For US

I want to flag up a perceptive op-ed in The Guardian today. Marc Lynch makes the case that, far from being the happy story for the "surge" and the US occupation that the Right wants it to be, Sunni infighting between indigenous insurgents and Al Qaeda in the Anbar province may yet turn out to be bad news.
The insurgency factions publicly turning against al-Qaeda in Iraq express no interest in reining in their war against the occupation. Indeed, their main complaints are that the Islamic State of Iraq's attempts to dominate the insurgency have proven internally divisive and are weakening the insurgency. They also complain about the ISI's globalist discourse, calling for jihad everywhere rather than focusing on the Iraqi jihad. The new Council of Ulema immediately authorised the battle against the American military and the Iraqi government, while the Islamic Army's communique addresses Osama bin Laden approvingly, asking him to intervene with his Iraqi representatives to correct their course. In short, the factions breaking with al-Qaida are doing so in the name of fighting a better jihad - not in the name of packing it in.

There is a silver lining here, but only if the United States gets serious about withdrawing from Iraq. The factions complaining about al-Qaida emphasise the Iraqi front, and deny any intent of turning Iraq into a base for a wider jihad. While these statements seem primarily aimed at reassuring their Arab neighbours, they also rebut one of the Bush administration's most frequently invoked reasons for staying in Iraq - the "phantom menace" that al-Qaida would establish a mini-Emirate in the Sunni areas which would become a new Afghan-style base for the jihad. What is more, while the Islamic Army of Iraq stoutly denies having negotiated with the Americans (despite pervasive rumours to the contrary), it refuses to rule talks out as long as an American withdrawal is the topic of discussion. It has been clear for over a year that at least some of the insurgency factions (unlike al-Qaeda in Iraq) are ready to talk about a political settlement, if it involves the US leaving and the interests of the Sunni community being protected from Shi'ite domination.

While most people would be delighted to see al-Qaida lose ground in Iraq, it's important to recognise these developments for what they are rather than what we wish they were. This insurgent turn against al-Qaida could smooth the way towards an American withdrawal, if the Iraqi government could find a path towards the elusive political reconciliation which American commanders admit is necessary. But if neither Sunni-Shia reconciliation nor an American withdrawal are in the offing then it could well result in a more united and effective insurgency.
Absolutely right in my opinion and one that leads to a very unusual possible scenario. Given recent statements by Shiite figures who are also fervent Iraqi nationalists opposed to the occupation, I would suggest that if the Sunni insurgency can defeat or at the very least drastically reduce Al Qaeda's ability to mount attacks then that would effect attacks on Shiites as much as it would effect attacks on coalition forces. At that point, nationalists on both sides of the sectarian divide might yet find common cause against the US again. That would work to defuse Iraq's ongoing civil war and reunite that nation, but to the detriment of the Maliki government and the US-led occupation.

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