Posted: 19 Jul 2007 11:02 AM CDT
I just want to draw attention to a really important story about Iraq, which could easily get lost in the questions about the Mashhadani capture - the report in the Guardian about the moves to cement the public political profile of the major Sunni insurgency groups, based on a rare interview with leaders of some of the major factions.
For four years, the resistance has stayed in the shadows, without a public face and apparently leaderless, while delivering an ever more violent and devastating campaign that has brought the world's most powerful army to the brink of defeat and changed the balance of global power. As al-Qaida-style suicide atrocities against civilians and Sunni-Shia sectarian death-squad killings have escalated in the past couple of years, they have tended to shift attention away from the guerrilla war against the US and British occupation forces and their client Iraqi army and police. But it is that growing war of attrition - there are now more than 5,000 attacks a month against US forces across Iraq and the past three months have been the bloodiest for US forces since the 2003 invasion (331 deaths and 2,029 wounded) - that has pushed the demand for withdrawal from Iraq to the top of the political agenda in Washington.
Until now, the resistance groups have operated entirely underground and their leaders have communicated with the outside world mainly through internet postings, if at all. (Omary's group specialises in hi-tech communication and produces photos and videos, some of them reproduced here, which are strongly reminiscent of IRA propaganda of the 1980s.) Now they have decided to speak to the western press for the first time as they prepare to launch a public face and a common political programme in anticipation of eventual American and British withdrawal from Iraq. Seven of the most important Sunni-led armed organisations - excluding al-Qaida and the Ba'athists - have agreed to form a united front and have drawn up a series of demands to form the basis of future negotiations with the occupation forces.
These are the same groups about which I've often written (the Guardian names Iraqi Hamas, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the new Ansar al-Sunna, Jaish al-Islami, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jama' and Jaish al-Rashideen), coming together around the same political agenda: distaste for al-Qaeda, but armed resistance as long as the United States keeps forces in Iraq and a demand for reshaping the Iraqi political system to better represent Sunni interests. These leaders also say that it is their belief that the US will soon withdraw its forces, and not the strength of the American 'surge', which has prompted their decision to step forward into the public political realm ("it is a common view in the resistance that [the US] will start to withdraw within a year.... Right or wrong, that is one of the factors that has led to the decision to form the new front, which is planned to be called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance.")
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. These factions have been articulating these positions very clearly and consistently for several months now. But they repeatedly seem to be marginalized or discounted because they don't fit the American narrative, in which al-Qaeda is the primary enemy and most Sunnis and insurgency groups are switching to the American side. I really hope that American officials don't really believe their own propaganda and are paying attention to the really significant developments on the Sunni side - because if not, then the political resolution which everyone seems to agree is needed will never be achieved.