The current offensive against the Iraqi insurgency consists of both military and political components. Both are crucial to Iraq’s fledgling democracy, and achievement in one area spills over to the other. Military successes in securing Najaf, Fallujah and other sections of Iraq led to the successful execution of the January election. The election has led to the fitful yet democratically negotiated creation of a legitimate Iraqi government with the mandate to establish security and defeat the insurgency. Operations in Western Iraq, the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad have the consent of the Iraqi people through their elected government. These operations are showing the insurgency the futility of fighting, and are forcing some insurgents to question the logic in continuing.
Some of the holdouts are getting the message. The Los Angles Times and the Washington Times both report high level negotiations are occurring between the domestic elements of the insurgency and the US military. Assistance in negotiations is coming from Sunnis in the Iraqi government and members of the Muslim Scholars Association. Certain groups now wish to enter the political process they unwisely thought they could derail via boycotts, subversion and insurrection.
Former Electricity Minister Ayham Sameraei, a Sunni Arab, told Associated Press this week that the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujahedin Army, two militant groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on Americans and kidnappings of foreigners, have approached him about the prospect of making peace with the new Iraqi government.
The Islamic Army in Iraq (al-Jaish al-Islami fi al-Iraq) is not a minor insurgency organization. It is believed to have thousands of Iraqis fighting in its ranks, and has cooperated with al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah. Getting them to put down their arms would be a feat in itself, and the potential for access to intelligence on al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah may be a precondition to an agreement.
Perhaps more important than the high level negotiations are the lower level negotiations occurring between the Coalition and tribal chiefs and local town leaders. Strategy Page (June 9 entry) reports that a political foray is being made in the Anbar province. The message being communicated is: clean up the insurgency in your own towns, or we will do it for you, with both American and Iraqi troops.
More towns in Iraqi’s “wild west” are being pacified. The usual drill is not another Fallujah, but a government official meeting with local tribal and religious leaders, where an offer is made. Iraqi and American troops are coming. Neighborhoods that support the government will see little or no fighting as a search is made for weapons, bombs and the like. Neighborhoods that wish to resist will be hit hard. By now, everyone knows how smart bombs work. Increasingly, Sunni Arab leaders are being told, by their followers, that all this violence is not worth it
For Sunni Arabs to support the government, it often means fighting with the terrorist groups, and sometimes the criminal gangs they are allied with. The government offer includes help in building up local security. It has not gone unnoticed that Iraqi police are a lot more effective than they were a year ago. The government also has police commandoes who can go into any area, no matter how well defended, and take out terrorists or other heavily armed enemies. No longer does the government have to depend on the Americans for this sort of thing.
The military and political advances since the January election cannot be viewed in isolation, but must be viewed as part of the overall plan to push through the Sunni Triangle and the restive Anbar province and pacify it, either through negotiation or military action. Military operations in Qaim, Haditha, Mosul, Tal Afar and various other towns and cities in the untamed areas of Western Iraq have demonstrated the capacity of Coalition forces to execute large scale missions in areas thought to be untouchable. The insurgency has experienced the unpleasantness of direct military confrontation with US forces, and knows the closest they can come to success is IED or hit-and-run attacks that will not alter the situation on the ground.
Getting the local tribal leaders to split with the insurgency as well as splintering off the domestic elements from the radical elements of the insurgency (al Qaeda and the more intractable Baathists holdouts) will have a noticeable impact on the political and security situation in Iraq. The importance of these efforts cannot be underestimated.
The drive westward is occurring, both militarily and politically, and the Syrians are no doubt taking notice of this. Bashir Assad must soon calculate if it is beneficial to continue supporting an insurgency which is being squeezed both politically and militarily and risk direct US military intervention, or if it is time to cut his losses and pull the plug on the Syrian Ratline.
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