This goes hand in hand with Bush’s new approach to Iran, of course. He needs to show progress by September, and if that means making nice with America’s enemies to calm the violence and give Petraeus something to show Congress, so be it. KIAs are up this month too, partly due to the new strategy of embedding in Iraqi neighborhoods and partly due to the jihadis trying to drive up casualties to raise the pressure back home for a pullout.
Whatever friction there may be between Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda, you would think they’d smooth it over and refuse to negotiate given how close they are to their goal of driving us from the country. But you’d be wrong, it seems:
US military officers in Iraq are attempting to negotiate ceasefires with some insurgent groups that have been responsible for the violence in the country.
Lt General Raymond Odierno, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said on Thursday the US was responding to insurgent groups that have signalled an interest in reconciliation.
“We’re talking about ceasefires and maybe signing some things that say they won’t conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces,” he said…
However, the insurgency is highly decentralized and it is very difficult to tell whether self-declared insurgent interlocutors actually have the power to stop attacks in any given area, or whether an agreement is being honoured.
A clear, public ceasefire in which a major insurgent group suspends attacks on US and Iraqi government forces would be major indicator that a political solution is possible. US and Iraqi officials have been increasingly confident that such a deal could be achieved with the more nationalist branches of the insurgency, isolating the more radical al-Qaeda-affiliated branches.
Odierno estimates that those nationalist branches comprise 80% of the insurgency, but like the article says, how much command and control is there? It’s not even clear anymore how much of the Mahdi Army Sadr controls and he’s the most charismatic figure in Iraq. An agreement signed with insurgent “representatives” will end up with some portion of the 80% laying down its weapons, but the more intractable types will defect to Al Qaeda to continue the jihad. On the other hand, having ex-insurgents as tipsters will be a huge help in gathering intel on AQ. We’ve seen how well it worked with Sunni tribesmen in Anbar in tamping down the insurgency there; imagine the information we’d gather from people who’ve actually fought alongside the jihadists. That’s part of Odierno’s thinking here too, I’m sure: if we can kill or capture the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq or AQ before September, it’d be a huge trophy.
Exit question: What exactly do the insurgents get out of this deal? Besides a continued U.S. presence in the country to shield them from the Shiite government they fear and loathe, I mean.
Update: There are reports out now that U.S. gunships have intervened in the fighting in western Baghdad and are targeting Al Qaeda. Does that mean we’re fighting alongside the insurgent groups there?
Update: And now they want chitchat with Sadr. Sometimes I wonder how we’d respond if Al Qaeda said it wanted to talk.