Talking with the `Insurgents`

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Conflicts And War, Iraq Views: 3658

Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied that the United States is losing the war in Iraq, he admitted that the United States is negotiating with important groups in the insurgency. Pursuing such talks is a good start but not enough.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Rumsfeld showed his continuing flair for "spin": "Foreign troops are not going to beat the insurgency. It's going to be the Iraqi people that are going to beat the insurgency and Iraqi security forces. That's just the nature of an insurgency, and it may take time...."

Yes, lots of time. If the best army in the world cannot defeat the insurgency, the inexperienced and oftentimes hapless Iraqi security forces are unlikely to do so. Negotiations with rebellious groups are a tacit admission by the Bush administration that the war is being lost and run directly counter to Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that the insurgency is in its "last throes." The talks implicitly acknowledge that the insurgency cannot be extinguished by military means and that dialogue with the rebels is an attempt to find a political solution to the conflict.

But advocates of peace should let the Bush administration save face, at least the portion that doesn't already have egg on it. Admitting-at least tacitly-that a problem exists is the first step toward a solution, and negotiating with the insurgency is the right move.

Unfortunately, the ongoing talks are unlikely to succeed. The Sunni Arab rebels are unified in demanding a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, according to the Sunday London Times. Fearing the loss of leverage over Iraq's future, the administration has resisted making such a commitment. Ideally, the administration would like to use U.S. troop withdrawal as a bargaining chip to win Sunni participation in the Iraqi political process.

The Sunnis have been extremely uncomfortable with that political process because they fear that the Shi'a and Kurds-who control the U.S.-backed Iraqi regime-will use the central government's power to pay them back for their past oppressive rule of Iraq. The Sunnis, with some justification, fear that democracy in Iraq could result in a "tyranny of the majority."

The Sunnis know that the only thing propping up the Shi'ite-Kurdish government is U.S. military power. If the U.S. forces leave, the Sunnis have a better chance of again taking over the central government to prevent its use against them. If they feel really threatened, the Sunnis may not honor any agreement to lay down their guns after the United States withdraws. And that is precisely the administration's fear.

But a way out exists for the United States. Although they are battle-hardened, the Sunni guerrillas would not automatically win back control of the central government in a post-U.S. Iraq. The Kurds have formidable militias that have been trained by the best armies in the world, and the majority Shi'a have their own militias, some of whom have combat experience, as well as a pool of potential recruits that dwarfs the other groups. Although the potential for civil war exists after a U.S. withdrawal, it might be avoided if the administration is open to radical new ideas, such as a decentralized government.

Because the Sunnis fear Shi'ite domination, they may have an incentive to quit fighting if this fear is eliminated. The only way that can be done is by making the Iraqi central government weak or nonexistent. That way, no group fears that any other group will gain control of the Iraqi security forces and use them to oppress the other groups. In any decentralizing settlement, those security forces would need to be dismantled and security provided by local militias or police forces.

Decentralized governance-a confederation or a partition-would immediately satisfy only the Kurds, who experienced a de facto state of independence from the rest of Iraq for more than a decade. Like the Sunnis, the Shi'a would like to control all of Iraq. Although the Shi'a have the numbers, their community is fractious and their militias are probably the weakest. Without U.S. military power, the Shi'a are not strong enough to dominate all of Iraq.

So although decentralized governance may not seem the perfect solution for all of the main Iraqi groups, they may be willing to accept it because they are each individually too weak to control all of Iraq but want to ensure the security of their own peoples and territory. Even potential reactions by Iraq's neighbors to a controlled weakening of the central government have probably been overstated. The Turks would likely be constrained from reckless military action by their overwhelming desire to get into the European Union, and the export of Persian Iran's failed theocratic rule to Iraq's Arab Shi'a would probably have at most limited success.

Decentralized governance is not a panacea. The administration is so far in the hole that civil war remains a distinct possibility. And the issues of oil revenue sharing, the status of Kirkuk, and the boundaries for areas of self-rule would have to be settled. Despite these challenges, however, a negotiated U.S. withdrawal and agreement among Iraqi groups for a decentralized solution are the best hope for salvaging Iraq. Because the U.S. public will eventually demand a U.S. withdrawal, a controlled decentralization of Iraq is better than one arrived at later in chaos or civil war.

Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.

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Most Americans don't think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. In The Empire Has No Clothes, Ivan Eland, a leading expert on U.S. defense policy and national security, examines American military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Buy It Today >>

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Conflicts And War, Iraq
Views: 3658

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Older Comments:
Americans have the gall to even suggest they want to talk. I can understand if this was a valid war and the Americans represented an honourable opponent - but they are not. They are pirates and maruders and there can be no "talk" with them.

Talk - You must be kidding. Over 13,000 Iraqi children burnt and horribly mutilated by US bombings, 43,000 childern blinded, 26,000 thousand children slaughtered, over 100,000 orphaned, families destroyed, homes destroyed, city infrastructure destroyed, 110,000 iraqis in US jails in Iraq, many tortured for no other reason than sadism by US soldiers - and the Americans want to talk ? You must be kidding.

There is no need for any talk. Talk is cheap and useless and also a great way for Americans to put electronic markers on the leaders of the insurgency so they can be tracked and assassinated later. The answer to the problem should fairly straightforward and obvious to the Americans - maybe I can spell it for them, though English is not my language - L.E.A.V.E.

Yo! Sameena --- let's be clear it is the United States slaughtering Muslims - and the only reason there is such large scale violence in Iraq is because of the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, get it?

Large majorities of Sunnis are not involved at all in killing Shi'as --- you are talking as if the entire Sunni population of Iraq are killing Shi'as --- that just shows your shallow understanding of the situation. Sadr's (according to polls the most popular Shi'a leader ) forces are allied with the Sunnis ---

There are a few fanatic Saudi and United States funded military groups that are probably targeting Shi'as so as to create a civil war.

These also include American funded university "intellectuals" who are more interested in creating a divide and conquer civil war.

See also RAND Report written for the airforce that includes using these divisions to serve the US interests:

Altaf (A Shi'a)

I didn't have a comment but seeing Sameena's confused mind I felt urged to answer to her crass simplistic system of thinking.

1) What is this? "it is Sunnis killing and Shias dying". Are you insane? Who died in Falujah? Who died on the battlefields defending Iraq's authonomy? There isn't an issue of Sunni against Shia. Iraqis are in majority Arabs and Shias are Arabs. The Shias were deprived rights under Saddam? Did you live in Iraq? Not only the Shias had their rights but also Christians and other ethnic minoritites. Saddam was a Baathist, a secular socialist of Stalinist orientation, he cannot be described as either Sunni or Shia. The Saddam government had members of all kinds, Sunnis, Shias, Christians, communists, name it, t5hey needed only one commitment: Full service to Saddam. Well, neither of the 2 branches of Islam, Sunni or Shia were at ease with this state of affairs. Simply because the commitment of an honest Muslim(Sunni or Shia) belongs to Allah/God.

2) Sameena you must be on Mexican mashrooms to say this:"The vast majority of the violence is directed by one community against another" You are wrong as always, the violence is perpetrated by the freedomfighters against the occupation and the servents of the occupation who in the eyes of the freedomfighters are traitors and collaborators. If Sunnis would have been accepting the role of bitches for the US Army, they would have been targeted as well. The violence is clearly directed, namely, against any foreign intervention or supportl, period, you don't need to be a brain-surgeon to understand this.

3)"We Sunnis have no business complaining about prejudice from Christians, Hindus, Jews etc. if we do the same thing to the minority within our community" Sameena, are you Muslim? If you call yourself a Muslim how can you at any time justify the violence agaist Muslims by outsiders? Islamophobia is not directed against Sunnis, it is directed agaist Islam as a whole, Sunni and Shia the same.

Hey guys, lets be clear about this: it is Sunnis killing and Shias dying. The vast majority of the violence is directed by one community against another. We Sunnis have no business complaining about prejudice from Christians, Hindus, Jews etc. if we do the same thing to the minority within our community. I have no problems with freedom fighters fighting against occupation but I am disgusted with the violence towards our Shia brethren. As a majority community of Islam, their protection and safety is our duty. We have to be vigilant in recognizing in ourselves and those around us the kind of prejudices and biases that leads us to discriminate/hate our Shia brothers. For years they had been suppressed in Iraq. Now that Saddam is gone, Shias are trying to regain the power they were denied all these years. Sunnis have a right to make sure that thier rights are also protected in the new Iraq, but they dont need to hurt their fellow Shias to achieve that goal. This kind of violence is 'sectarian bullying': there is no excuse whatsoever for it.

Leave Iraq and the Iraqis alone, but NOT before accounting for the every single Iraqi killed during the occupation and NOT before paying for the damages inflicted on every single Iraqi and NOT before returning to the Iraqis what was looted from them.
Is the so called Coalition capable of paying for the damages? A big NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO, NOT here in this world, and NOT in the Hereafter. Certainly, the perpetrators of this Massacre of massacres shall have a reckoning with the King of the kings, the Judge of the judges. No rewards for guessing who that is.


All what was happend and is happening in Iraq are pre-planed. And those who put the plan for the destruction of Iraq can solve every thing in short time,in case if they decided to leave the country. See in Vietnam, when they left, the people united.

The Iraqi shia and sunni do not have this level of animosity as this article is attempting to present. It sounds a lot like divide and rule to me...typical colonial strategies. There is a very high level of marriages and communities that have both Shia and Sunnis in Iraq-

It is a way to divide the country - this is why the US insists on portraying the resistence as "Sunni."

Why dont Sunni and Shiates live like brothers. Why are they after each others blood and killing each other. If Muslims kill Muslims, than we cannot blame anybody. Why dont they follow the example of Imam Ali bin Abu Talib, if he would use his sword "Zulfiqar", did anyone have the guts to stand against him, but he was tolerant because he didn't want one Muslim killing another Muslim, and ashaming my beloved prophet Habib-e-Allah, Muhammadal Mustafa (SAW).

Allah huma salle ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad wabarek waslim.

Well, the brain-dead American ranch-boy would do anything....the insurgents are NOT terrorists any more...they are ,all of a sudden, freedom fighter...

Americans are feeling the pain at the pump...hence, willing to talk with so called "terrorists"....The U.S. is all about hypocrisy and cheap oil...

US could not find anybody to negotiqate in Afghanistan (how could US negotiate with Mullah Omar); so US has decided to leave Afghanistan over the next few months and have asked Pakistan to take over the situation. Guess what will happen -- Here comes Taliban who will invite AlQuida and Osama Bin Laden back and provide full protection, a repeat of 1990's. That will be considered a defeat for US.

US wants to leave Iraq so that it can spare forces to attack Iran. Nobody in Iraq is going to negotiate with US because nobody trusts US and the insurgents don't trust each other either. Moreover, US is not talking to ZarQawi; in any case, ZarQawi is not going to talk to US; he has got the upper hand. Everybody in Iraq wants US to leave and leave quickly -- but US cannot leave without making a defeat for itself, a political suicide for Republican party. And insurgents will not allow US to leave without making a defeat for US; insurgents can hold on for a few years.

At least GWB has recognized the hoeplessness of the situation quite early; Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon never realized the hoepelessness in Vietnam for about 6 years, but then it was too late and eventually were defeated.

Talking with the insurgents? I thought this "administration' does'nt negotiate with 'terrorists'.

The heat is on, and as the phrase goes, he who laughs last...

This is a recycling of the same old argument for dividing up Iraq into tiny little pieces so that it can never be strong again. The whole notion is based on the faulty premise that Iraq is divided up into Sunni and Shia tribes - who are at each others throats. It totally ignores the fact that there are very significant sections of Shi'as who are fighting wtih the the Sunnis against the United States' occupation.

It also assumes that Sunnis and Shi'as are totally distinct from each other - while serious animosity exist amongst Sunni and Shi'a in places like Pakistan - the target killing of Shi'a Muslims is very new phenomena. Such animosity did not exist amongst Iraqi Sunnis against Shi'as --- who have lived for decades, and centuries together, married each other, and have relatives in both communities.

This kind of analyses is nothing more than a recipie for divide and rule - may unintentionally on part of this particular author - but based on some very serious mis-information about Iraqi society.

The United States has to leave - period. The Iraqi people are well equipped to handle their own affaris without American puppets.