AMMAN, JORDAN–Iraq’s armed national resistance is willing to support an honorable American troop withdrawal and recognize “the interests of the US as a superpower,” according to a Baghdad source with intimate knowledge of the insurgents. He was interviewed this week in Amman, where he had driven twenty hours from Baghdad for conversations.
I interviewed this source, who insisted on anonymity, to explore the political aims of the resistance movement against the US occupation. Is theirs only a decentralized military strategy, or is there a shared set of demands that might lead to peace? The source, who is known and respected by several American media outlets, comes from one of Baghdad’s once-mixed neighborhoods of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians. In his mid-40s, he ekes out a living as a guide and translator for visiting reporters and occasional peace activists. The source spoke with urgency about the need for greater American understanding of the Iraqi resistance, so far faceless in the West.
While recent surveys show 80 percent of Iraqis supporting a US military withdrawal, opposition voices are rarely ever reported in American public discourse. Security conditions do not permit the insurgents to establish an overt political arm, like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, American officials celebrate the large Iraqi voter turnout in the December 15 elections while not acknowledging that most of those same voters favor a US withdrawal. Instead of heeding the Iraqi majority, Newsweek reported that American military officials accused the insurgents of “cynically using the election process” in a new strategy they called”talk and fight.”
The United States can be accused of the same designs, continuing its air war and offensive ground operations while attempting to co-opt local insurgents into an alliance with the “coalition” (a k a “occupation” forces against the jihadists linked with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The “sticking point” in this US gambit is the insurgents’ demand for a timetable for US troop withdrawal. If the United States secretly decides to withdraw, which is a distinctly remote scenario, an “invitation” might be arranged with a red carpet and flowers. Otherwise, the insurgency will continue to develop in response to the occupation.
While the insurgency is essentially decentralized and local, it seems capable of achieving a political consensus where necessary, as obviously demonstrated in the several-day cease-fire arranged so that Iraqis, including supporters of the insurgents, could vote on December 15. The source from Baghdad, who spoke knowingly of the various local resistance groups, emphasized that a consensus exit strategy already has emerged. It was in this context that he mentioned respecting such US superpower interests as access to oil and avoidance of humiliation. He also informally outlined a proposed framework for ending the conflict, including these steps:
§ Immediate inclusion of more opposition voices in the current discussion of how to reform the constitution. Groups like the Islamic scholars and clerics, and the newly formed National Dialogue Council, could politically represent the implicit demands of the resistance.
§ Citizen diplomacy, possibly including direct talks with some resistance leaders, outside of Iraq, if security obstacles can be overcome.
§ An announced US timetable for troop withdrawals, as voiced by the Cairo conference organized by the Arab League in November, which also endorsed the legitimacy of “national resistance,” as opposed to the jihadist path represented by Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia.
§ A transitional new caretaker government, including representation of the opposition as well as main Kurdish and Shiite parties now controlling the Baghdad regime.
§ A deadline for “free and democratic” elections for an inclusive parliament.
§ A peacekeeping force, under the United Nations, composed of units from countries not involved in the occupation–for example, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen and Morocco.
§ Renewed economic reconstruction, including contracts with American countries. As another Iraqi explained, “We don’t want to drink our oil. We want to sell it on the market.”
§ Removal of Saddam Hussein and high-ranked Baathists must not erase the Iraqi national state. The new government would determine whom to punish and whom to restore from the Baath era.
Most of Iraq’s half-million formal professional army personnel, rendered jobless by a 2003 US decree, would be restored to military service to insure stability and protection in Sunni areas. Recent reports in the New York Times confirm that Sunnis are underrepresented in Iraqi security forces, which are dominated by the Kurdish peshmerga and pro-Iranian Shiite Badr militias.
Failure to accept an agenda along these lines, in the source’s view, will guarantee a continued war of national resistance alongside the Zarqawi-inspired terrorism campaign. On the other hand, he said, if the end of occupation is negotiated politically, “the Zarqawi group would shrink and die, and if they didn’t all disappear, we would finish them off in six months.”
A somewhat similar perspective came from a royal and respected voice, that of Prince Hassan bin Talal, in an interview at his Amman palace. Currently the president of the prestigious Club of Rome, Prince Hassan is from the Hashemite family that once ruled Iraq, and which traces its descent directly from the Prophet Muhammad. Long expected to become Jordan’s monarch before his brother, the late King Hussein, made a deathbed decision to revert the succession to his son Abdullah in 1999, Prince Hassan remains widely respected in the region. Recently he published his views in London’s Sunday Telegraph, declaring in an essay he co-wrote with former military officials Tim Garden and David Ramsbotham that it is “time to change course” through a “sustained process of dialogue and negotiations to turn the rhetoric of Cairo into reality.”
Sitting next to Hassan was his son, the youthful Prince Rashid, who asked the question, “Does the US want a more representative government in Baghdad, which inevitably will be more anti-US, or a friendly, almost-patsy one?” The answer, which I heard over and over during interviews, is that the United States has unleashed, knowingly or not, a sectarian conflict that will divide Iraq into three or more de facto states, mostly under Iranian hegemony. In Prince Hassan’s words, the Iranians want to “fan the conflict, not only against the Sunnis but against the Arab Shiites as well.”
In the source’s analysis, “The US let the pro-Iranians in because they would help attack the Iraqi resistance groups, but now the Iranians are passing the limits set by the Americans.” The United States has swung into a damage-control effort after discoveries of death squads and torture centers with links to the Interior Ministry, itself directed by a pro-Iran Badr Brigade leader. Reminiscent of the “tiger cages” in South Vietnam and the paramilitary “301” units in Honduras under previous US occupations, more secret prisons will be uncovered, the source predicted.
My contacts repeatedly asked: Is the de facto dismemberment of Iraq a deliberate American strategy or a blowback based on ignorance, or both? The most reasoned answer may lie in Robert Dreyfuss’s new book, Devil’s Game, which documents how the United States has flirted with and funded a generation of Islamic extremists as an alternative to secular Arab nationalism, either as a divide-and-conquer strategy or a means to impose privatization of state-run economies. The current Shiite-Kurdish coalition, for example, immediately hiked the price of gasoline after the December election, and a greater privatization of the oil industry is expected. A more strategic danger is that the pro-Iranian elements controlling southern Iraq will expand their power to the Gulf States and Saudia Arabia’s oilfields.
The notion that the American military occupation can silence the armed resistance, I was told, is arrogant folly. The claim that the Sunni minority is too small to defy the Shiite-Kurdish majority is the premise of the occupation. But surveys show that two-thirds of Iraqis favor a near-term US withdrawal. Many Shiites, like the rebellious followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, are Arab, not Persian, and favor a unified Iraq. In addition, the Sunni minority will be supplemented by Sunnis from neighboring countries if their existence is threatened. As one former Jordanian minister, Munther Haddadin, told me, “The Sunnis are not really a minority because the Arab League is their counterweight to Iran.”
Prince Hassan pledged to take any opportunity to promote a win-win settlement that would include oil guarantees for the West along with real Sunni representation in Iraq’s governance. The recent bombings of four Amman hotels underscored his urgency about containing and reversing a conflict that threatens to ignite wider sectarian violence across the region.
The American strategy after December 15 appears to be outreach to the Sunnis to become junior partners in their own occupation, combined with an invisible air war and reliance on “Iraqization” in order to lessen American casualties during the 2006 election season. The only alternative, the source emphasized, is acceptance of talks with opposition Iraqis about ending the unpopular occupation itself.