Driving the Wedge

The prophet’s predictions of political failure in Iraq have been discredited just over a week after being uttered. The Iraqi transitional assembly has chosen Kurdish Jalal Talabani as president, along with Shiite Adel Abdul Mahdi and Sunni Ghazi al-Yawar as vice presidents. They immediately appointed Shiite Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister, and he is now tasked to form a government [the Council on Foreign Relations has a quick primer on the leaders of the transitional government and the responsibilities of the new government]. The Iraqi assembly has engaged in a spirited debate over several issues. The suggestion of a woman in the assembly is given credence and the view of a Sadr’s representative on releasing prisoners is met with no support.

The new government recognizes a unique opportunity exists to fracture the insurgency while they are stunned from the success of the recent elections. Rumors are flying that the Iraqi government may spare Saddam from the gallows in exchange for the surrender of the Baathist insurgents. President Talabani has speculated that Iraq can handle its own security within two years and US generals agree Iraq is on the path to allow a draw down of American forces. Talabani has floated the idea of pardoning a certain group of insurgents. Talabani recognizes the need to split the native elements of the insurgency from the more violent foreign and jihadi elements:

There are two kinds of killing: In battle or in action, this could be covered by the amnesty. Those who are involved in killing innocent people, detonation of car bombs, killing people in mosques and in churches, these would not be covered by the amnesty  It is essential that we separate those who came from outside the country, like all those organizations affiliated with al-Qaida, from Iraqis.

Talabani is making a statement that some crimes against the Iraqi people will not be tolerated. Al Qaeda recognizes the dire threat this represents for its ability to operate effectively in Iraq as well as its potential impact on recruiting locals. Zarqawi’s al Qaeda Committee in Mesopotamia [Iraq] has issued a statement in response to Talabani’s offer of amnesty (translation by Evan Kohlmann of Global Terror Alert and The Counterterrorism Blog):

” the ally of the Americans Jalal al-Talebani announced a supposed pardon for the mujahideen and invited them to join in their disbelief and political games. Therefore, those of us from al Qaida’s Committee in Mesopotamia declare that we will not forgive your disbelief, your spilling of Muslim blood, and your affronts to our honor. We follow no law but that of Allah  O’ agents of the Jews and Christians, you can expect nothing from us other than the sword. We shall not abandon combat and the path of jihad until the laws of Allah reign over this country and its people.

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • Justin B says:

    Three weeks ago in Finding the Exit I made the same statement as Talabani.

    It is tough to grant amnesty to people that are involved in the insurgency. Unfortunately, as we have seen throughout history, punishing people is not the answer. See how the French punished the Germans for WWI. The Baathists are far different from the Jihadis that are targetting innocent civilians. Attacking military targets is not the same and is expected in a war. We must differentiate between the groups. But we must error on the side of reason. Those that voluntarily turn themselves in and give up their weapons are allowed to return to their homes and start over. If we catch you, life ain’t so good.

    It has been our capacity for forgiveness that has allowed countries to grow and expand after devastating wars. See our own Civil War and WWII. In both cases, we did punish the “WAR CRIMINALS” if that is the term for it, but most of the rank and file folks were not held accountable for their actions. This precedent should allow us to differentiate between Al Zarqawi and many of the former Baathists. The difference is the Baathist just have not surrendered yet and we have to allow them a way to do it and avoid the humiliation that Germans endured after WWI.

    If it means coming to a compromise regarding sparing Saddam’s life or reduced sentencing for him, to get the Baathists to turn themselves in, I don’t think that is something that we have much place in making a determination on. Again, it is up to Talabani and the Iraqi government, not us on how they want their justice system to work. It seems that Mercy is the biggest thing that the Insurgents lack and demonstrating it may bring about a quicker end to the insurgency.

    I think that is somewhat of a bad idea, but in reality his prosecution and the upcoming trial serves little purpose except to openly expose his crimes (and we already know what they are) and to later punish him. If the situation arises where sparing Saddam the death penalty combined with a plea bargain of some sort where he admits to his crimes stops the insurgency, then this is something to look at seriously. It does set a precedence that the new government is not about the harsh vengence killings that the insurgency preaches and further demonstrates the difference between the totalitarian regimes that simply kill those that disagree or commit crimes and the new more modern government. It is tough to see how executing Saddam is more of a priority than stopping the Sunni insurgency. I think this topic is worth a much more careful and thoughtful review. Pros and Cons, etc. But ultimately this will be a true test of the new Iraqi democracy since they are the ones that get to decide.

  • Rod Stanton says:

    When I read “Regime Change” sometimes it makes me sick/mad too mmany terrible things going on there. No wonder the French and the UN are supporting them. Calculus read what they did to a Canadian journalst!
    Spain turned its government over to the Socialist to appease the “Religion of Peace”. Now they are arming friends of Sadam, in particular one Hugo Chavez. The War on Terror is a truly global war – or soon will be.


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