Talabani to Meet with Resistance Leaders; Shiite Coalition in Friction
Al-Hayat: President Jalal Talabani [Ar. ULR] is preparing a meeting in Sulaimaniyah to be attended by the Americans and by leaders of the underground Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. US Ambassador Khalilzad has announced that he would be willing to talk to any groups save the Saddamists (direct cronies and strong supporters of the overthrown dictator) and the jihadi terrorists (e.g. the group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi). Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, has been trying to reach out to elements of the Sunni Arab resistance for the past couple of months, using clan leaders and clerics as intermediaries. An initial agreement of principles is said to have been reached, but of course the guerrilla leaders will want certain guarantees. Earlier contacts between the US Department of Defense and the guerrilla leaders faltered because the guerrillas had demanded an upfront commitment of the US to a withdrawal timetable, which the Bush administration rejected. And then the US began large-scale sweeps in Anbar province against guerrilla positions.
Al-Hayat‘s sources say that several changes have occurred in the arena of guerrilla action in 2005, which have benefited the Iraqi nationalist groups that reject attacks on civilians and the practice of “excommunicating” (takfir) other Muslims. The method of “national resistance” has instead gained advantages over the bloody tactics of the jihadis, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam. More than 50 guerrilla bands, including “Phalanges of the 1920 Revolution,” “the Army of Islam,” “The Army of Holy Warriors”, “Holy Warriors of the Armed Forces,” are actually led, despite their Islamist names, by officers of the former Iraqi military. They have decided to unite their ranks and will soon announce a Front for the Iraqi Resistance, which will comprise all these guerrilla groups. They will adopt joint military and political stances. This front will be led by a “Consultative Council” that includes former officers, clerics and clan elders. It will be charged with working to prevent attacks on civilians and with promoting dialogue for the purpose of “expelling the occupiers.”
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that UN envoy Ashraf Qazi visited Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Thursday, in the run-up to next Thursday’s elections. He said that Sistani had blessed UN work in Iraq and urged that it help the country rebuild and move toward social harmony.
The same source says that there is substantial election-related violence in Iraq, with attacks on political offices and assassinations. (These don’t seem to be being reported, pace Mr. Rumsfeld, above). A member of the list of Mithal Alusi was killed on Thursday, and the office of secular ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi was again attacked in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
The trial of Saddam Hussein is highly polarizing for the Iraqi public, according to Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times. Making Shiites and Sunnis live through his massacre of Shiites at this particular juncture strikes me as a bad idea. And, the trial has been conducted in a completely inept way. The Shiite witnesses have sometimes repeated hearsay, or they were children in 1982, as Riverbend notes.
Now the Baghdad Press Club was founded by the US military. This finding is the result of continued investigation of Pentagon attempts to shape Iraqi press reporting. The Club journalists were actually given monetary rewards.
Ed Wong of the NYT reports on the tensions in the United Iraqi Alliance, the coaltion of Shiite religious parties, which has now included the Sadr movement of Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadrists are keen rivals of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the militias of the two parties have fought. Wong raises the question of whether the Sadr/SCIRI rivalries are enough to break up the coalition, giving an opening to the secularists and Kurds to outmaneuver them.
Similar speculation about the UIA’s ability to stay together was voiced in January, 2005, and those concerns were overblown. It should be remembered that the Iraqi government has on the order of $17 billion a year in petroleum revenue. Being the dominant party means that your deputies and cabinet members get to control the revenue, which turns into political patronage and power. I predicted last January that the UIA would stay together, because the alternative was to allow someone else to monopolize that money. But Wong is right that Muqtada and the Sadrists are a wild card, one could imagine him pursuing a scorched earth policy even against his own former allies.