Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Sunni Political Front

Over at the Agonist, fellow guest commentator Cernig has written a post about an article that appears in the Guardian describing the willingess of some major Sunni insurgent groups to move towards greater involvement in the Iraqi political process:

Speaking in Damascus, the spokesmen for the three groups - the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas - said they planned to hold a congress to launch a united front within the next few weeks and appealed to Arab governments, other governments and the UN to help them establish a permanent political presence outside Iraq.

Abu Ahmad, spokesman for Iraqi Hamas said: "Peaceful resistance will not end the occupation. The US made clear that it intended to stay for many decades. Now it is a common view in the resistance that they will start to withdraw within a year. "

Here's some analysis of this article from Marc Lynch, via Kevin Drum:

These moves by the major insurgency factions over the last several months don't fit well within the preferred American narrative. Their actions are not motivated by the 'surge', but rather by the belief that the US will soon leave. Their hostility to the Islamic State of Iraq/al-Qaeda does not translate into support for the United States or the current Iraqi government. They vow to continue armed struggle until the US forces leave, and to stop the violence when they do. And they have clear demands for changes to the Iraqi political system on behalf of Sunni interests — demands which may be unacceptable to other Iraqis in their current form but at least offer a starting point for real political talks.

...Leaders of the three groups - who did not use their real names in the interview - said the new front, which brings together all the main Sunni-based armed organisations except al-Qaida and the Ba'athists, has agreed the main planks of a joint political programme, including a commitment to free Iraq from all foreign troops, rejection of any cooperation with parties involved in the political institutions set up under the occupation, and a declaration that all decisions and agreements made by the US occupation and Iraqi government are null and void.

I made this point in comments to Cernig's post, but it's important enough to make it here as well. If in fact major Sunni groups are willing to become more involved in the political process once we leave, that's an argument for getting out of Iraq as soon as we possibly can. As I noted in comments, that the Sunni insurgency was motivated largely by our occupation of Iraq is a fact that has been lost on a lot of Iraq analysts over the last several months, what with all the fury over al Qaeda and the surge. But this development is worth noting because it means that if the Sunnis are willing to come to the table, then there's still time to stave off an even bloodier civil war in Iraq. And if they are willing to come to the table as soon as we get up and leave, then we need to leave Iraq as quickly as possible. Why would we stay? The Sunnis are turning on al Qaeda, they now appear willing to come out into the open to forge some sort of political alliance with allied groups, and this is an inevitable first step in any sort of peaceful resolution of the conflict. Don't get me wrong: this news most assuredly does not mean that there aren't long years of fighting ahead for the Iraqis. But it may mean that eventual peace will only be possible if and when we leave, and that's something we need to very, very seriously consider bringing about. To do so we're going to have to drop the pretense that Iraq is the major front in our eternal war with al Qaeda, and give the Iraqis a chance to take their country back from two unwelcome groups: us and al Qaeda.


adam said...

I agree. Things may get worse after we leave, but unless we do leave, these Sunni groups won't take part in the political process like we want them to.

Jeb said...

Great post.

Here's my question, though: does this coalition really speak for the majority of Sunni militants? It's unclear. It seems likely that, despite the wishes of this umbrella organization, at least a section of Sunni militants will continue to operate. An attempt to create such a Sunni political front has been tried before, I believe, and it failed for precisely this reason.

Eric said...

It seems likely that, despite the wishes of this umbrella organization, at least a section of Sunni militants will continue to operate.

Actually, the plan is to continue the armed resistance as well. A bullets and ballots approach. This political wing is not meant to supplant the armed wing, but work in tandem.

Xanthippas said...

Good comments guys. Eric, your comment makes me think of the IRA/Sinn Fein dynamic, though of course that's replicated in numerous insurgencies around the world through history. Still, Sinn Fein was the vehicle through which peace was eventually achieved. Having an organization that represents a majority viewpoint makes it easier to reach political accomodation. I still think years of fighting may be in store to convince either side to reach some accomodation, and it doesn't help that the Sunni are in a very definite minority. I still think any political development is good, even if it's not quite a precursor to peace. But I'm with Jeb in wondering how legitimate this is, and how long such a movement can last.

Eric said...

Agree. 100%.