Efforts to subdue the Sunni insurgency has three dimensions: political, economic and military. Zalmay Khalilzad, Ambassador to Iraq, in a recent interview in Newsweek, discussed the political efforts to draw elements of the Sunni population from supporting the insurgency. Ambassador Khalilzad sees very real opportunities to cleave off elements of the insurgency which are not beholden to the Saddamists or jihadists. His words should be listened to closely as he has engineered highly successful political deals in both Afghanistan and in Iraq:
Hersch: Let’s talk about the Sunni insurgency. It seems as if the strategy of trying to divide extremists from those Iraqi Sunnis with whom we can negotiate has been central to your approach.
Hersch: Could you talk about which Sunni insurgent groups you are hopeful about winning away?
Khalilzad: My philosophy is that we need to isolate two groups from the rest. The first is [Abu Musab] Zarqawi and the jihadists, some foreign and some Iraqis. And the second is the Saddamists, those who want Saddamism to come back. As far as the rest are concerned, our effort has been to win them away. I have been very active with Sunni Arabs, reaching out to them.
Hersch: On the tribal level?
Khalilzad: Across the board. Tribes, yes. Nontribal political leaders, yes. Academics, professionals, yes. Some former government officials who were not criminals, yes. You name it.
Hersch: What particular successes can you point to?
Khalilzad: One is we’ve got some key Sunnis supporting the Constitution. Second, many more are supporting the political process. Now we have some tribes coming forward, like the Albu Mahal, that are saying they will fight against Zarqawi. So what’s happening for maybe the first time since the liberation is a real struggle going on in the Sunni community between those who want to participate in the process and those who want a protracted insurgency.
We have seen evidence of this policy over the course of the past few months, including the Albu Mahal’s fight with al Qaeda on the Syrian border, the agreement by three prominent Sunni parties not to boycott the constitutional referrendum, and most recently, an amnesty offer to junior officers of Saddam’s defunct army. Iraq’s Minister of Defense Saadoun Dulaimi has stated officers of the rank of major and below “who wish to rejoin the new Iraqi army to serve the precious homeland should go to recruitment centers opened around the country…”
No single amnesty offer or other program will defeat the insurgency, but they set the stage for chipping away at the insurgents who are weary of fighting and recognize the futility of fighting the increasingly effective Iraqi Secrity Forces. They now have options other than violence, and this is critical in bringing in the saner elements of the insurgency.