Haggling over Amnesty

Muhammad over at Iraq the Model blogs on the seven (or six) insurgent groups coming in from the desert and proposing a truce.
He doesn’t really add much to my previous post, but he does have an interesting comment:

So far, everybody in Iraq feels good about Maliki’s plan and expressed their hopes for it to meet success and ease the suffering of the Iraqi people; everybody except for the Sadrists and the association of Muslim scholars who both criticized the plan and said it wasn’t acceptable and expected it to fail.

I’m not in Baghdad anymore so I have no idea if “everybody feels good” about the plan. I doubt that’s true, but I’m sure most people _want_ to feel good about it. That’s not my point. What’s interesting is the point he makes about the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is also the Muslim Clerics Association “I mentioned previously”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/06/coming_in_from_the_desert.php. The MCA, headed by Harith al-Dhari has alleged connections to the 1920 Revolution Brigades through al-Dhari’s son, Muthanna, and which is allegedly one of the groups seeking a truce. What gives?
I’m not sure at this point, but I suspect al-Dhari’s playing both sides of the field at this point, withholding his group’s support for more concessions from the government, while dangling the 1920 Revolution Brigades as a tease. Politics in Iraq are like haggling in a bazaar: outrageous demands, emotional appeals, walking away… all just before agreeing on a final deal. Middle Easterners _love_ this stuff.
Moqtada al-Sadr, who commands the loyalty the Mahdi Army, is certainly doing the same thing. If anyone wants to be declared a legitimate, national resistance who should get amnesty for killing U.S. troops, it’s those guys. Not only are they guilty of “killing American Marines in Najaf”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2004/08/inside_the_imam_ali_shrine.php, they’re also heavily enmeshed in the Shi’a-on-Shi’a violence in Basra as they “jockey for position against their rivals”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/08/clashes_between_badr_and_sadr.php, the Badr Organization and the Fadullah Party. Have they killed Iraqis? Yes. Will they get their amnesty? Answer hazy; ask again later.

Coming in from the Desert?

Interesting. The day after PM Nouri al-Maliki introduced his “plan for national reconciliation”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/06/english_version_of_reconciliat.php, seven insurgent groups from the Ba’athist/Nationalist side of the insurgency have reportedly contacted the Iraqi government in order to offer a truce.
The groups include the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Muhammad Army (jaysh al-Muhammad), Abtal al-Iraq (Heroes of Iraq), the 9th of April Group, al-Fatah Brigades, and the Brigades of the General Command of the Armed Forces. The seventh group was not named by the Shi’ite legislator who says these groups are seeking the cease-fire.
The 1920 Revolution Brigades is allegedly led by Muthanna al-Dhari, son of Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, who is head of the Muslim Clerics Association, a hard-line Sunni group. Harith al-Dhari’s grandfather was a leading figure in the 1920 revolution and allegedly shot the English Col. Gerard Leachman, sparking the uprising against the British in the west. “I’ve written about _jaysh al-Muhammad_ before”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/a_note_on_jaysh_almuhammad.php, and you can read about its place in the greater insurgency.
And here’s a chart from IntelCenter “showing the linkages between the various groups”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/Files/Iraqi-InsurgentsLinks13Feb2006.jpg (283KB .jpg).
As for the four other groups, I confess I don’t have a lot of data on them.

English version of Reconciliation Plan

BEIRUT — So, anyone have a link to the English version of Maliki’s reconciliation plan? I’d like to actually, you know, read it before shooting off from the hip.
But: An amnesty for people who haven’t done any killing of Iraqis or other “terroristic activities” “terrorist acts” isn’t much of an amnesty at all.
*UPDATE:* Well, thanks to a friend at the Embassy in Baghdad, I found a BBC media monitor “translation/summary of the main points”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5114932.stm of the plan. It’s exasperatingly vague:
# Amnesty for detainees not involved in terrorist acts, war crimes or crimes against humanity, as long as they condemn violence and pledge to respect the law. [This seems to exclude quite a lot, but it’s so vague. This might not be so bad, though as it allows plenty of room for, ah, _practicality_ in deciding to whom to grant amnesty. — CA]
# Negotiations with the US-led coalition to prevent the violation of human and civil rights in military operations.
# Compensation for those harmed by terrorism, military operations and violence.
# Preventing human rights violations, reforming prisons and punishing those responsible for acts of torture.
# Ensuring that Iraq’s justice system is solely responsible for punishing members of the Saddam regime, terrorists and gangs guilty of killings and kidnappings.
# Ensuring that military operations take place in accordance with judicial orders and do not breach human rights.
# Compensation for civilian government employees who lost their jobs after the fall of the Saddam regime.
# Measures to improve public services. [Possibly the most popular aspect of the plan for Iraqis — CA]
# Measures to strengthen Iraq’s armed forces so they are ready to take over responsibility for national security from the multinational forces.
# Review of the armed forces to ensure they run on “professional and patriotic” principles. [Militias, he’s lookin’ at you. — CA]
# Ensuring the political neutrality of Iraq’s armed forces and tackling Iraq’s militia groups. [Ditto — CA]
# Insistence that Iraq’s elected bodies, including the government and parliament, are solely responsible for decisions on Iraq’s sovereignty and the presence of multinational troops.
# Insistence that all political groups involved in government must reject terrorism and the former Saddam regime.
# Return of displaced people to their homes and compensation for any losses they have suffered. [This one’s going to be tricky. The Kurds have been demanding a settlement on Kirkuk for _ages_ and the various Shi’ite governments have been dragging their feet on this. At the same time, the Kurds have been ejecting Arabs from Kirkuk and I’ve heard reports of Shi’ites ejecting Kurds from some neighborhoods in Baghdad. — CA]
# Improved compensation for victims of the Saddam regime and deprived people throughout the country.
# Formation of a National Council for the Reconciliation and National Dialogue Plan, including representatives of the government and parliament as well as religious authorities and tribes. [Talk to Nicholas Haysom, former/current head of UNAMI’s constitutional advisory board in Baghdad. He was instrumental in helping write South Africa’s constitution and developing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that seemed to work well there. — CA]
# Creation of National Council subcommittees at regional level
# Creation of “field committees” to follow up on the progress of the reconciliation process.
# A series of conferences of tribal leaders, religious scholars, political groups and other members of civil society will be held to back the reconciliation process. The conference of religious scholars is expected to issue _fatwas_ supporting the policy. [Whoa. I know the clerics wanted a tight bond between the government and the mosques, but I don’t think they expected the government telling them what _fatwas_ to issue. — CA]
# Talks with other Arab and Islamic governments, especially those that support the terrorists, to inform them about what is happening in Iraq.
# Adoption of a “rational” discourse by the government and political parties to restore mutual trust and ensure the media are neutral. [But not independent? — CA]
# National dialogue including all the opinions of those involved in the political process.
# Adoption of constitutional and legal legitimacy in resolving the country’s problems, including extra-judicial killings.
# Review of the de-Baathification committee to ensure it respects the law. [This is long overdue. Schoolteachers who were forced to join the party should not still be paying the price. — CA]
# Co-operation with the United Nations and the Arab League to pursue the work of the Cairo Conference for National Reconciliation.
# Making it easier for Iraqi citizens or groups to work on rebuilding the country, as long as they have not committed any crimes or been banned from the political process.
# Taking a united stand regarding the terrorists and other hostile elements. [Well, duh. — CA]
# Starting work on a large-scale development campaign for the whole country, which will also tackle the problem of unemployment.
Well, it certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. I would like to see a better translation before making any (more) snap judgments, though.

Hard at work

BEIRUT — Sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been hard at work on a story about Iranian influence in Lebanon and what it means for the region, and I’ve not had much time to blog.
But this “new reconciliation plan from Maliki”:http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html is interesting, to say the least. Possible amnesty for killers of U.S. troops? No firm time-table for withdrawal, but Casey says “significant troop reductions by end of 2007”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/world/middleeast/25military.html. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in American domestic politics. It seems, at first blush, to hand the Democrats much of what they’re asking for (conditions-based plan for redeployment), but it also seems to take away the Republicans’ and George Bush’s “Dems are ‘cut-and-runners'” card. I suspect the GOP will do an about face, say it’s what they wanted all along and run with it.
At least, that would be the smart thing to do. What remains to be seen is whether the Sunni insurgents will buy into this. I have a feeling a good portion will, although how significant that portion will be is unclear. “To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch … And to those who insist on killing and terrorism, we present a fist with the power of law to protect our country and people,” Maliki told Parliament.
This deal has been in the works for a long time, since November 2004, actually. Michael Ware of TIME, now CNN, reported on the secret negotiations between the Ba’athists and the then-Allawi government and the U.S. military commanders. If Maliki is announcing this, there’s a fair chance that most of the kinks have been ironed out. You don’t drop this on a war-weary public if it doesn’t have a fair chance of working.
This is a sketchy entry, I know, but more on this later… Discuss amongst yourselves if you wish.

Zarqawi Killed in Airstrike


Photo courtesy of IntelCenter

In a crucial development, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/blog-mt/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Zarqawi, has been killed in an airstrike north of Baqouba in Iraq, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is saying right now. Also, later today, Maliki says he will present his candidates for Defense and Interior ministers. These two stories are intricately related.
Details are very sketchy, obviously, as this is breaking now, but Maliki, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and American commander Gen. George Casey said a reliable tip on Zarqawi’s location came in and allowed the U.S. to call in the bombers. The attack occurred last night at about 6 p.m., BBC says, and he may have been betrayed by someone in his inner circle. Zarqawi’s body was identified by facial recognition, Casey said.
[ADD 2:57:40 PM +0200 GMT: Intriguing detail: Jordanian intelligence was involved, apparently. No friend of AMZ they, seeing as they had a number of scores to settle with the guy. But considering Jordan’s ties with the Ba’athist insurgency, which mostly hated AMZ, this looks more and more like the Ba’athists saw the time had come to turn in AMZ to cement the political deal in Baghdad.]
If true, and this should be a very big conditional, This is a big, _big_ success for the Iraqis and the Americans. Zarqawi wasn’t the sole force behind the insurgency, but he was the driving personality behind the _jihad_ aspect of the Sunni fighting, which has much larger influence within the Iraqi insurgency than the size of its roster would suggest. It was his connections that brought in a lot of money from the Gulf, and with that cash and influence was able to bleed off some of the Ba’athists and Iraqi Islamists to his part of the insurgency.
*Also, this indicates that bringing the Sunnis into the government seems to has worked.* One of the gambles of bringing the Sunnis in was to see if they could start ramping down the violence through tips, turn-ins and general cooperation. That has always been the central question: Do the Sunnis in government have control over their factions in the insurgency? I’ve argued here that they don’t, but if today’s news is true, I may very well need to admit I was wrong on that. Gut feeling is that I was.
Casey said they got information on the safehouse where Zarqawi was hiding from local tips, so that indicates the Sunnis have started cooperating with Maliki’s government, which means this government may hold up after all. But it is important to realize that this will _not_ end the insurgency. It has numerous factions, not all who are loyal to Zarqawi (obviously, since someone tipped the Americans off.) And it won’t end the sectarian violence, because Shi’ite death squads are still operating out of the Interior ministry and other police forces and many Sunni insurgents are not foreign jihadis. They have their own fight with the mainly Shi’ite Maliki government, which they see as a tool of Iran. Remember how happy everyone was after Saddam was captured? And remember how it just kept getting worse and worse?
But it is also significant that Maliki says he will announce his new Defense, National Security and Interior minister later today. (He declined to give their names at the press conference on Zarqawai, saying that would wait until the parliamentary meeting in the afternoon.) This indicates to me that the Defense and Interior slots have been being held open as a carrot for Sunnis to start bringing their fighters to heel. Now that the Sunnis have delivered a big prize in Zarqawi’s alleged corpse, it’s time to reward them with a big post. Will they get both Interior and Defense? No. In fact, Reuters is already reporting that Interior will go to Shi’ite Jawaad al-Bolani, formerly of the Fadhilla Party, and Defense will go to Sunni Gen. Abdel Qader Jassim.
Al-Bolani is an interesting choice, because he is reportedly a former Army colonel under Saddam and has been affiliated with numerous factions in Shi’a politics, including Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and Sheikh Karim Al-Mohammadawi, the “Prince of the Marshes,” a local Shi’ite boss in the south opposed to Iran, Chalabi and sometimes — but unreliably — allied with Moqtada al-Sadr. Mohammadawi is reliably in favor of Mohammadawi. Jassim, a Sunni, is currently the commander of the Iraqi ground forces and has worked closely with the Americans. He also was the general who advised Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991, further endearing him to Washington.
Both choices seem likely to be approved, or at least not opposed, will be supported by the Sunnis, as neither is closely tied to Iran. (The former Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, was tied with the Badr Organization _neé_ Corps, which is still closely connected with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.)
[ADD 2:18:08 PM +0200 GMT: Going back through some old notes, I found a brief interview I did with al-Bolani in January 2005, before the first elections, when he was president of the Shi’a Political Council, a rival group to the United Iraqi Alliance. At the time, he said he didn’t think the constitution will be based on Islamic _shari’a_, even though Islamic parties are calling for this. “Democracy is a strange idea in Iraq, but democracy is a demand of everyone,” he said. “I can assure you there are many Islamic political movements that don’t want government like Iran’s. But this Islamic identity and the Islamic traditions cannot be removed from this country. … So I think the Iranian system will never happen in Iraq, and most Islamic movements agree wth me on that.” That will please the Sunnis and the Americans.]
So now we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the coming days and weeks. There will no doubt be a flare of violence thaht could last up to a week or so, but after that, If the level of violence starts to decrease, then that means the Sunnis are playing ball. Now it is time for the Shi’ites to curb their militias; that’s the deal. If that doesn’t happen, expect the Sunnis to let their fighters loose again.
[UPDATE 5:49:39 PM +0200 GMT: DefenseTech has “a good roundup”:http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002483.html of news on Zarqawi, including links to the “video of the bombing run”:http://www.mnf-iraq.com/zarqawi/video/Zaqarwi_Clip.wmv.]
[UPDATE 6:18:34 PM +0200 GMT: The story I did for TIME Magazine is “here”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1201993,00.html.]
[UPDATE 7:05:36 PM +0200 GMT: Right on schedule. Several suicide car bombs have gone off in Baghdad killing an unknown number of civilians.]