A blog by Marc Lynch - July 31, 2007
Amidst all the talk about how the Sunni insurgency joining up with the American side represents the greatest evidence of success in Iraq and proof that the United States can now win, I thought (at the risk of repeating myself yet again) it might be worth pointing out two recent statements by the Islamic Army of Iraq. The IAI is by most accounts the largest insurgency faction and the main pivot for the various "nationalist" political formations (such as the Reform and Jihad Front and the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance). The first is a July 19 posting on the IAI's official al-Boraq forum attributed to the Amir of the Islamic Army in Iraq entitled "a letter to the American and Arab people"; to the best of my knowlege, the American people haven't received the letter, so I thought I'd pass it on. The other is a short statement by IAI spokesman Ali al-Na'imi, released today, denying reports of insurgents joining the Iraqi security forces. These two recent statements, made over the last ten days, have thus far been almost completely ignored. But they should remind everyone that the major Sunni insurgency groups have not changed their position towards the Maliki government or the American occupation at all.
First, the letter from the Amir. Much of the letter advances a series of arguments that Iran is the real problem for Iraqis and Americans alike. It's full of sectarian complaints, as you'd expect, and its aggressive assertions of Iranian mischief in Iraq might find a welcome reception in certain quarters. While the occupation of Iraq has proven a disastrous, expensive failure for the United States, it argues, Bush has at least achieved great strategic gains for Iran. Iranian influence is on the march throughout the Gulf while Baghdad and the southern provinces have become the property of Iranian intelligence. He writes that he knows that Americans don't care about Iraq's suffering or about millions of Iraqi refugees, only about hegemony and wealth and Israel's security. But even so, why has America given Iran hegemony over Iraq at such a bargain price? I suppose that this might be read as a plea for American-Sunni cooperation against a common enemy, just as the current American narrative suggests.... except that the common enemy is the Shia-dominated and American-backed Iraqi government, and not al-Qaeda. But hey - the principle is the same, right?
The second major point of the letter is to "address the conscience of the American people". After a recitation of the costs of America's occupation of Iraq, the letter warns that Americans are being deceived by their own lies. American claims that the insurgency is either declining or aligning with the Americans and the Iraqi government are pure fantasy, and in fact the number of [Sunni] "mujahideen" is increasing. While it calls at the end for unity among the resistance, it says nothing overtly about al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq - which is itself interesting, since it was the IAI's very public break with the Islamic State of Iraq a few months ago which set much of the current 'Sunni strategy' in motion.
Finally, the letter looks to the future. It warns against plans to partition Iraq: the Sunni resistance which frustrated America's imperialist agenda will be more than capable of frustrating any plans to partition the country. While it makes no explicit mention of the new political front reported in the Guardian, the letter's argument that the only real solution is to sit down for substantive negotiations with the real resistance is certainly compatible with it. Given that the letter claims a Sunni majority in the country, and absolutely rejects the current government and the existing Constitution, such talks would involve major changes indeed. But in any case, the letter addresses a "clear message to Congress... that you must issue a binding law to withdraw your forces in a defined period... before we can talk about anything else." I cannot emphasize enough how consistently and clearly the insurgent groups have made this point publicly: once a binding commitment to withdrawal has been made, they're ready to come to the table. Congressional pressure for a commitment to withdrawal isn't the problem here, it's a big part of the solution.
What about American and Iraqi claims that these groups are coming to the table anyway? Today, Islamic Army of Iraq spokesman Ali al-Na'imi released a statement challenging the claims of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that resistance factions had been leaving the resistance and joining the armed forces. It repeated its call for the Tawafuq Front to leave Maliki's government for good and end its participation in the political process. And it repeated its categorial rejection of the current Iraqi government as the product of illegitimate American and Iranian occupation. Finally, it warned against paying attention to any unauthorized statements attributed to the IAI - and, implicitly, believing media accounts about the insurgency.
Insurgency statements like these, while obviously crafted for public consumption, should have a sobering effect on those who claim to believe that the current American 'Sunni strategy' is on the road to success. Sure, some insurgent groups have been willing to take American weapons in order to rout their local rivals and to beef up their capabilities in advance of an anticipated showdown with the Shia militias (and Iraqi government) when the Americans finally leave. I long ago pointed out the real grievances that these groups had against an over-aggressive al-Qaeda (Islamic State of Iraq) muscling in on their territory, and I have no doubts that the strategy of arming 'former' insurgents and Sunni tribes is having some effect at the local level. But this has little to do with the insurgency's overarching strategy or its views of either the American presence or the current Iraqi government. Listen to what the leaders of the insurgency groups actually say, not to what American spokesmen project upon them: the major insurgency factions remain committed to fighting until the Americans withdraw and the current political system is revised.